What Are Those Stickers on Japanese Cars?

When the Tofugu team was in Japan earlier this year, we were very lucky to have the Gakuranman drive us around to places that might be hard to get to otherwise. We rented a car, and I was a little confused by a big, green and yellow sticker on the front and back of the car.

I asked the Gakuranman what it meant and he explained that the sticker was for beginner drivers. I would soon find out that the Gakuranman had more than earned this sticker, and later found out that it was just one sticker of many.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Japan offers a whole array of colorful symbols for the road, but you might not know what all of them mean. Here’s the breakdown of the four stickers you might see in Japan:

Beginners 🔰

In the US, if you take a driving class before you get your license, you usually get the honor of driving around in a car with a giant, yellow “STUDENT DRIVER” sign so everybody on the road is at least aware of your incompetence.

But once you get your license, there’s no indication that you’re a new driver. You’re free to terrorize the roads without anybody knowing that you’ve only been driving for two weeks.

student-driver

Not so in Japan. For one year after you get your driver’s license in Japan, you have to put the green and yellow “beginner” sticker on the front and back of your car. It lets other drivers on the road that they should maybe give you a little more room and patience than your ordinary driver.

The official name of this sticker in Japanese is 初心運転者標識, but you might know it as the “wakaba mark” 若葉マーク, or the “green leaf mark.” I guess that the implication is that, as a driver, you’re like a fresh leaf, right out of the bud.

copen-wakaba

Photo by Haruka Iwao

What’s really interesting about the wakaba mark is how far it’s spread. Even though it was created for new drivers, people from virtually every walk of life have embraced the symbol.

Car enthusiasts from around the world slap the wakaba mark on their cars, even if they’re not even remotely beginners. Games will use the symbol to indicate the “easy” or “beginner” difficulties. I’ve seen pictures of wakaba stickers slapped onto computer cases. There’s a wakaba emoji. Hell, I even found this picture of a horse with the wakaba mark on it. New rider, I guess?

wakaba-horse

It’s cool to me that the wakaba mark has spread so far beyond its intended purpose and is so widely understood. Could the wakaba mark one day become the universal symbol for beginners? Time will tell.

Elderly People

At the beginning and end of people’s driving careers, they tend to not drive as well. In the beginning, it’s because of inexperience; towards the end, it’s because judgement and reaction time aren’t what they used to be.

The way that the Japanese tackle the issue of elderly drivers is, you guessed it, with another sticker. It’s called the 高齢運転者標識, or the “koreisha mark” (“koreisha” meaning “elderly”) for short.

koreisha-cars

Drivers aged 70 and older have to display the koreisha sticker on their car. It can let other drivers on the road know to have a little more patience with a driver with this particular sticker on their car. Plus, you get other perks like reserved parking spaces.

koreisha-parking

Koreisha means “elderly,” but people have given the mark other, less flattering names. Instead of the green leaf mark of beginner drivers, people will sometimes call it the autumn leaf, dried leaf, or even fallen leaf mark.

As you might imagine, the image of a withered, dried up, fallen leaf is kind of an offensive way to describe the elderly. Because of this branding problem, in 2011 the koreisha mark changed from the orange and yellow teardrop shaped sticker to a bright, colorful clover symbol.

new-koreisha-mark

The change to the new symbol wasn’t that long ago, so you still might see the former koreisha symbol around on cars in Japan.

Handicapped People

Like the US, Japan also has a catch-all handicapped permit for cars. Unlike the US, Japan has doesn’t always use the International Symbol of Access, the universally recognizable symbol of a person in a wheelchair on a blue background.

yotsuba-mark

Instead, Japan also uses a weird, four-leaf clover umbrella symbol called the 身体障害者標識. It’s supposed to be encompass more disabilities than the obvious physical disabilities represented by the International Symbol of Access.

Plus, it fits in with the rest of the other, nature-themed stickers, and disabled otaku can go nuts over having a sticker nicknamed the “yotsuba mark.”

Hearing-Impaired People

Aside from the general handicapped sticker, Japan also has one just for hearing-impaired people. The symbol (called 聴覚障害者標識 in Japanese) is yellow and green, and supposed to represent two ears arranged as a butterfly.

hearing-impaired-sticker

I get that it’s supposed to fit in with the nature theme, but an ear butterfly sounds like something you would find in a serial killer’s house.


So if you’re ever driving in Japan and see one of these stickers, give those drivers a little more room, consideration, and patience. Who knows? The Gakuranman might even be behind the wheel.

  • Brad Garrett

    Interesting post!

  • DAVIDPD

    Woah! That is very clever. Especially the one for the elderly. Smart!

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Hehe. Yes, I wrote about those stickers in my blog as well.
    I had the “beginner” sticker on my car here in Japan until last year. Of course, I was not a beginner, but you have to do that for the first year after receiving your Japanese driver’s license! ;)

  • Chaudie

    I wish this was adopted in America. Especially the elderly parking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JuliaDaugherty Julia Daugherty

    Ahhhhh, Know I get the symbol on one of the frogs from Sgt. Frog…..XD

  • Tiffany Harvey

    We could definitely use something like that in the US!

  • http://www.facebook.com/LukeHero Luke Hero

    I think all countries could benefit from this.
    Apart from warning others it may give a fresh driver a little more confidence and help them not feel pressured.

  • http://twitter.com/hiinotama Nagi

    I am instantly reminded of this…

  • http://twitter.com/Cupucuups Hamyo

    Oh japan!! you doing it right, but still lot of people in Japan that just have a Driver License but they are not driving a car quite often, this people called as a “Kardo doraibu” or card driver. i wonder if there is a special sticker for their car. XD
    okonomikatsu.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/Cupucuups Hamyo

    So if you have passed the first year, you can take it away and then it means you don’t have any stickers that stick on your car??

  • bob

    Japan sucks

  • bob

    Japan sucks really bad

  • bob

    but japan sucks

  • bob

    if your a loser

  • MallPall

    You mean from Keroro Gunso(Sgt. Keroro)

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Using the wrong “you’re” is obviously the sign of infinite losering.

  • Jesse Cadd

    We just removed our “new driver” stickers a couple of months ago. Another benefit of using them is that in an accident, the fact that you display your stickers counts in your favor. I was told that in an accident situation, blame is never assigned 100% to one party, but starts out at 50/50 and is then adjusted based on various factors. Haven’t had to experience this myself yet, luckily…

    One down side, however, is that depending on what type of sticker/magnet you use, they can discolor your car! We used the magnets, and by the time we discovered the discoloration, we figured we might as well finish out the year. I would strongly recommend the stickers that are intended to be removed, or the suction cups. Steer clear of the magnets!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.morris.186 Steven Morris

    I’m always weary of the cars with the elderly mark– especially the old elderly mark. There’s nothing more dangerous than old old drivers in Japan. They’re like blue shells in Mario Kart.

  • Henro 88

    In my part of Japan, the sticker system doesn’t really mean much. In fact, the sticker actually tends to mean the opposite of what it’s supposed to.

    See, in my part of Japan, running red lights is standard. At least 1 or 2 cars will run the red at every intersection – but one intersection in town has at least 7 or 8 people run the red on EACH cycle. The extremely low speed limits also make it so people feel safe cutting other drivers off or tailgating – at these speeds, it’s easier to weave in and out of traffic, and people do. Also, people have a weird tendency to just stop and use their cellphones. Like, literally stop on the road, not even pull over – and this causes a lot of problems with getting around them, and pulling into the oncoming lane.

    Anyway, what this means is that, people with new driver stickers? They’re the ones who drive carefully, politely and within the limits of the law. Everyone else on the road? The people WITHOUT stickers are the ones you look out for. It’s the people WITHOUT stickers who will cut you off, tailgate you and generally put everyone else’s lives in danger.

  • Henro 88

    A problem with the system, though, is that it draws attention to the new drivers who are “clearly” going to be a real “menace” on the roads – and draws attention away from the people without stickers who drive recklessly and without regard for human life.

    In my own, personal experience, drivers with stickers drive no differently than others, and the stickers simply distract you. It’s honestly just a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist that doesn’t actually fix anything.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    They’ll never hit anyone unless that person is at the front? That’s… pretty impressive…

  • http://www.facebook.com/perry.brown1 Perry Brown

    Regarding the beginner sticker, one year is nothing! Here in Australia, or at least in my state, new drivers need to display a “P” (for Provisional licence) symbol for TWO years after getting their license. They also have to abide by stricter conditions for driving, such as a reduced legal blood alcohol limit. I wonder if this is the case in Japan too?

    Unfortunately, however, we have nothing to alert road users to the presence of elderly drivers…

  • walker

    i’m pretty sure it’s known as “sgt. frog” in the english promos. since “keroro” is derived from “kaeru,” i suppose. the trouble of mixing linguistics with international licencing vagueries.

    but yeah, cool, now i understand tamama’s(?) livery :-)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    You can take it off after a year, but of course people have all sorts of stickers on their car for decoration or “pet / baby on board” or whatever! ;)
    I have a big pink sakura sticker from a shrine that will protect me when driving for example.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think the blood alcohol limit in Japan for driving is zero no matter who you are, so no confusion on that point!

  • henderson101

    In the UK, we display a red “L” on a white background when learning to drive (a legal requirement), and we adopted the “P” (green on white) about 10 years ago, but it is generally voluntarily displayed I think.

  • thenn42

    In France new drivers have to display the A sticker for 3 years and speed limits are lower ^^

  • Tonylope

    What state are you in? In Victoria we have to have a red “P” for one year, before going on to a green “P” for two years.

  • Tonylope

    Actually, take that back. The green “P” is for 3 years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/perry.brown1 Perry Brown

    I’m in Western Australia. Here it’s red P for 6 months, then green P for 18 months.

  • http://www.facebook.com/perry.brown1 Perry Brown

    Oh okay, that’s definitely something worth knowing!

  • Henro 88

    This is true. Actually, recently I swear I heard someone say that the limit is actually not 0 but a number very close to zero, .001 or something. I doubt that, and even if it’s true, for all intents and purposes, the limit is 0%. I’ve actually heard that you can get pulled over and arrested the morning after, while you’re hung over.

    It’s interesting, too, how gender roles help this – it’s typical in Japan for wives to drive husbands to and from their drinking parties (without joining in; just drop-off and pick-up). I myself am often called upon by my wife to drive her to her parties – so, in a funny way, Japanese marriage customs help to ensure that people don’t drink and drive.

  • Henro 88

    I don’t recall there being any restrictions on your driving – only that you have fewer points on your license, meaning it takes fewer infractions before they revoke your license. The sticker didn’t change how I drove, and the cops didn’t give me any extra attention while I had it.

    But I don’t really remember much about it, because the license testing process in Japan was one of the worst experiences of my life (no, seriously), so I’ve put as much of it out of my mind as I possibly can.

  • keiko chan

    this is an interesting article,i did not know they did that in Japan ^3^ ありがとう

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Thanks for the advice!

  • Being546

    Here in New Jersey if you have your permit you have to have this red little sticker on your license plate. Its supposed to tell people that your a beginner but its more like a flag for cops to pull you over.

  • Tom

    lol wut? Shin Chan was on Jetix? Does/did Jetix have an “Adult Swim”?! (I no longer have cable)

  • Lysanna

    I don’t know Chaudie. My father is disabled and mostly always uses the special parking spots. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen non- disabled drivers park their cars in those spots. I guess what I am trying to say is, a lot of people have a hard enough time respecting the parking privileges of the disabled, that respecting the parking privileges of the elderly might not go over well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/perry.brown1 Perry Brown

    Thanks for the info!

  • http://gakuranman.com Gakuranman

    I graduated from my beginner mark last month after one year of driving :D. It now adorns the side of my fridge!

  • Corbin

    Why do stickers have such long official names…

  • bob1

    hahaha ‘Americans’

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Now people will know to be more patient with you when you have trouble taking out and putting in food, as a beginner fridge user.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I think if you’re a native Japanese speaker they seem a lot shorter

  • Toyotama

    Yeah, it was on Jetix – I don’t remember that channel having anything like Adult swim though – I think they just skipped the more ‘inappropriate’ episodes. iirc, they showed Tenchi Muyo as well. Always loved Shin Chan when I was younger though.

  • Helen Kirifides

    This whole article just cracked me up for at least 10 minutes. So funny. ;D

  • see-saw

    The hearing-impaired butterfly is interesting. The Deafness Foundation in Australia also uses a butterfly as their symbol. Maybe it has something to do with metamorphosis??

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Like I mentioned in the post, I think that the butterfly is supposed to look like two ears side by side

  • http://japanbloglist.com Jonathan Allen

    I just renewed my driving license and in the lecture in Japanese you have to attend (whether you understand Japanese or not ) they displayed these signs. Lucky a quick google search of “red and yellow signs of cars japan’ led me to this!…