Japan is famous for possessing one of the world’s most efficient and practical public transportation systems. At least, this is in major cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto. Outside of these urban areas, getting around Japan becomes a trickier situation – one that typically requires personal transportation such as a car.
The prospect of buying a car in Japan, especially if you’re a foreigner, can be a daunting one. Further complications are also added to the mix due to registration and the country’s special driving laws.
Fortunately, this guide is here to help. If you’re living in Japan and want to get a set of wheels, the following information will walk – or drive – you through the process.
The import solution
Before you think about purchasing in Japan, it’s wise to explore the idea of importing if you already own a car. It can end up being the more cost-effective option than simply buying a new vehicle outright.
Figures from Autoshippers show the cost to ship a car to Japan may be cheaper than you expected. Based on importing a vehicle from the UK to Japan, the price starts at a very reasonable £902. Keep in mind this figure can go up depending on the car size and type of service selected.
One worry is the paperwork involved with importing to Japan. If you pick a reputable shipping company, however, they can help with the likes of filling out paperwork, covering all regulations, and registering the vehicle in Japan.
You also have to keep in mind the cost of road tax and having your vehicle declared roadworthy. These two elements can set you back over ¥600,000 (£4,500~) in total, so it’s far from a cheap process. Although if you have a car that is at least moderately priced – and you’re particularly attached to it – this expense can be worth it compared to buying new in Japan.
The car buying process in Japan
Finding a car to buy in Japan is never going to be an issue. It is said there are close to 70 million automobiles on the road in the country. Japan is home to some of the biggest and most revered automobile manufacturers around, and used cars also have a reputation for generally being kept in great condition.
As for finding the right vehicle, your search should begin on the internet. You’ll likely find a range of car makes and models you’re unfamiliar with, so research is essential. Look at reviews, compare features, pricing, and so on. If you’re going the used car route, also take into account the following points:
• Date of manufacturer
• The reputation of the car dealership
• The due date for compulsory motor-vehicle inspection (shaken)
Regarding the shaken, this is a vehicle inspection which takes place every two years. The inspection is conducted at either a car repair center or gas station, and the vehicle needs to score a passing grade for it to be deemed roadworthy. The inspection can set you back ¥120,000 or more, although it does incorporate third-party insurance as part of the deal. New cars are exempt from the shaken.
Once the research is done, aim to narrow down your selection to two or three cars. In most cases, it’s inconvenient to actually reach a dealership in Japan if you don’t already have a car – a cruel irony when in the market for such a vehicle. As a result, you want to avoid visiting dealerships on a whim. This will only waste time and effort.
When going to a dealership, it’s also highly recommended to bring along a friend or translator who is fluent in Japanese. Even if the dealership has a staff member that can speak English, it’s easy for specific points to be lost in translation. It goes without saying, but this is something you want to avoid with a significant purchase like a car.
There’s also another reason for fluent communication: negotiation. Did you know that, in Japan, it’s uncommon to not do any sort of negotiating? So when you’ve selected a car, ensure you do a bit of haggling. You might only receive a minimal saving or a free upgrade, but it’s better than nothing.
Once you’ve gone for a test drive and are happy with everything, you just need to fill out the relevant paperwork. One advantage of going through a reputable dealer is that they will help to register the car – whether it is new or used.
The best place to buy
Where you purchase, a car is dependent on certain factors, including location and whether you want a new or used vehicle. If it’s a new car you’re looking for, your best bet is to do this directly through the relevant official dealership. As for used vehicles, there are many options available. Some of these, such as Auto Direct, also offer full English services for that added convenience.
The parking dilemma
If you’re going to buy a car, you need to have a place to park it. This is the law in Japan. Not just that, but you also have to prove you have a valid parking space when purchasing the vehicle from a car dealer.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a home that has its own parking space, this step is easy enough. Otherwise, you will have to rent a space. Either way, you need to acquire a ‘parking space certificate’. This certificate is issued by local police stations, and it serves as proof of parking. A rented parking space needs to be within two kilometers of your place of residence.
As for renting a parking space, this can typically be done on a month-by-month basis – although you may need to pay an upfront deposit to the value of three months. The price will differ depending on location. A prime position in Tokyo city center can set you back around ¥60,000 (£450~) each month.
A cost breakdown
Aside from the general cost of purchasing the car, shaken inspection, and potential parking space fees, there are various other expenses associated with owning a vehicle in Japan. These include:
• Automobile tax
• Tonnage tax (¥75,000)
• Auto tax (¥30,000-¥50,000)
• Tonnage tax (¥70,000)
• Liability insurance(¥30,000)
The prices given are an approximation, but it’s clear to see you cannot drive in Japan on the cheap. You need to be prepared to spend a significant amount of cash to not only get on the road but also remain there on an ongoing basis.
An acceptable driving license in Japan
Several different international driving licenses will legally allow you to drive in Japan. All you require is an official copy of the license that’s translated into Japanese. Accepted licenses are:
There are various ways to receive a translated copy of the license. The easiest way is to visit the Japan Automobile Federation. Alternatively, you can go to your country’s consulate or embassy in Japan. This copy will be applicable for up to a year.
If you have a license from a different country, this means you’ll typically require an International Driving Permit (IDP). This IDP is issued in your home country, and this will be needed alongside your driving license in Japan. Note that the IDP only allows you to drive in Japan for a year. After this period has elapsed, you have two options. One is to return back to your home country for three months, receive a new IDP, and then go back to Japan. The second option is to sign up for a Japanese driving license.
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