Owning a Car in Japan

January 7, 2009

Although I haven’t had any problems yet with a car. I owned an old Light bodied “kei” car before, and currently earn a big hybrid car that gets about the same kilometers per gallon as the kei car did but seats eight.

A very long time ago I wrote about getting a license and some advice for people who have to take the test (like Americans do) here : “Advice for the Driving Test in Japan“.

Once you have a car (or if you plan on getting a used car) you are going to come up against two big money drains… the “shaken” car inspection, and taxes. The bigger the car, the higher both of those will be. For some in depth information on the “shaken”, check it out here at the Big in Japan blog “The Shaken: A Motoring Scourge in Japan”.  Dave over at Big in Japan often writes about cars, so if you’re interested in cars in Japan, please go check it out.

If public transportation is an option for you, and your place of work will pay for it, you can save a lot of money by avoiding buying a car, but if you have a family, or live or work in an inconvenient place and have no choice, well… good luck to you!


1 Dave January 8, 2009 at 12:27 am

Thanks for the link through. I had a small kei-car before which was great and I had no complaints with it. And if my car now died spectacularly I would probably go back to one as they are cheap, economical and ideal for use in Okinawa. To be honest though, if I was in mainland Japan and not way out in the sticks I would probably just save my money and use public transport. I like using the trains and buses, maybe as it’s such a novelty in mainland Japan to have a functioning public transport system, but I find it a good way to get around.

2 jay January 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm

I miss my kei car too. I was less nervous about wrecking it. I had a Honda Life which I think is one of the bigger ones. If I lived someplace more convenient I wouldn’t have a car at all!

3 George Donnelly January 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I had a car in Japan for around a year. I was commuting from a suburb of Osaka to a college north of Kyoto. The car saved me at least 1 hour and sometimes 90 minutes each way compared to the train (IIRC had to catch 3 separate trains and then a bus). And the gig paid very very well.

I drove on my US license + international license the whole time.

I tried to take the Japanese test but the cop who tested me was an anal retentive asshole (redundancy intended). I walked away from it in disgust.

I occasionally noticed, on my daily drives, some cops eyeing me up but I think they were more scared of stopping me than I was of being stopped. No surprise there.

The shaken. Ugh. I practically re-purchased the car in order to pass shaken. I suspect I was ripped off. It’s intimidating enough to face off with a mechanic but to do so in a foreign country as strange to me as Japan was, I just couldn’t handle it.

4 Dave January 8, 2009 at 2:40 pm

George Donnelly – well I can have a strong guess that you weren’t ripped off. As I have recently talked about on my site, the shaken is a huge price that all motorists in Japan must face every 2 years.

As for the test, people who don’t go to Japanese driving school usually take a few attempts to pass. This seems to be because the driving school teaches a student how to pass the driving test (in very much the same way as the education system teaches a student to pass the university entrance exam). It doesn’t necessarily teach you how to drive well. So being a good driver and passing the driving test in Japan are usually mutually exclusive.

5 George Donnelly January 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm

LOL, true and funny.

I had a relatively new car and IIRC paid around $2700 USD to prepare the car for shaken. (I forgot what little Japanese language and monetary designations I knew the moment I stepped on the plane outta there.)

I had no way to know actually if I was ripped off or not, which is almost as bad as being ripped off.

6 jay January 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm

I wrote about this before but, the first time I failed the driving test was because I failed to stop TWICE at a stop sign. You stop once at the line (just in case there’s a big truck trying to turn onto the tiny street your on and needs room), then you go up to where you can actually see if there is any traffic coming and stop again. If all is good, you pull into the left lane and go. The proctor for this test did not give me any advice.

The second time I failed, I lost a lot of points on my right turn. In the U.S., we would turn into the closest lane. That means that when making a right turn, you’d turn into the rightmost lane. However, the Japanese way of driving says everything starts in the left lane… so a right turn should turn into the left lane. In practice, nobody does this. I lost some other points on the snaking course with all the turns because I backed up too many times.

After the second time I took the test, the proctor spent a minute or so giving me advice and explaining the right turn thing to me.

7 George Donnelly January 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm

stop twice. That’s too funny. How Japanese.

8 Dave January 8, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Jay – that comment about the right turns is bizarre, but very believable. Unfortunately, in Okinawa they seem to believe this idea even when 2 lanes are turning right into two lanes. I’ll frequently be in the left of the 2 lanes to turn right, and have to slam on the brakes because the driver to the right of me has decided he’s going to either enter my lane or enter my car through the driver’s side door.