In Japan, there is the usual assortment of cars you’d find in any country, but there is also a range of vehicles only available in Japan called K-cars or keijidosha (軽自動車) meaning ‘light cars’. They are the cheapest option, and are easily identifiable by their yellow license plates.
The main advantages of K-cars are their fuel economy, lower road toll charges, cheaper parking, cheaper shaken, and a of course, a cheaper sticker price. Disadvantages are obvious, the moment you see one. Basically, K-cars are embarrassingly small, and usually lack airbags.
White plate (“regular”) cars range from mid-sized to larger vehicles. There are not any cost advantages for white plate cars, but they are certainly safer, more stable at higher speeds, and have more passenger and cargo room.
Finding a car
- Ask around at your school, your town hall, your acquaintances, anyone with whom you can communicate and tell them you need a cheap car. The number of JETs who can get cars for free, or next to nothing, is amazing.
- Newspapers and car magazines have some good deals, if you can read them.
- Most JETs spend about ¥50,000 – ¥150,000 on buying their car.
- Predecessors are a convenient and fairly trustworthy source for getting a car. Of course, be skeptical if the price seems too high, but sometimes the convenience is worth paying a little bit extra.
- There are a few rental companies around who offer cheap lease cars to foreigners. These are generally much cheaper than owning a car, and are great because servicing and breakdown costs are included in the lease charges.
English Speaking Car Dealerships
Wataki Motors: In Toyooka. They have plans for buying new and used cars or leasing.
- A valid international driver’s permit or a Japanese driver’s license.
- A valid car parking space (not required for k-cars). To obtain this document, visit your local police box and ask for a piece of paper confirming that you have a parking space available.
- Insurance. Visit your town bank for this.
- Hanko (see Personal Seal)
- Residence Card.
- And of course, you’ll need some cash.
When you are buying a used car/motorbike directly from the previous owner, you will need to register the vehicle at your local town/city hall. When registering, you will need all the documents noted above, and also a “vehicle abandonment certificate” (廃車証, haishashou) and “transfer of ownership certificate” (譲渡書, joutoshou). The person selling you the car will need to get these documents from his/her city/town hall.
In Japan, the charges for car registration, warrant of fitness/vehicle safety, compulsory insurance and tax are all included in one lump charge called shaken (pronounced “shah-ken”). It’s convenient, but very expensive.
- Shaken is charged biannually for cars under 10 years old, and annually after that.
- Shaken charges consist of:
- registration costs,
- charge for checking roadworthiness,
- charge for compulsory 3rd party insurance,
- charge for road tax.
- If any repairs are needed to bring the car up to standards, an additional quote will be given. Repairs are usually ridiculously expensive, as second hand car parts are scarce. Repairs are almost always made with new parts. And beware – garages will often want to change car parts because they are old, and not because the parts are worn out!
- Compulsory insurance only gives limited cover for accidents involving death and injury to people, or to oneself.
- Shaken costs vary based on:
- the age of the car,
- the type of car (small K-cars are cheaper),
- the car’s history (i.e. Has it been in any accidents?), and
- repair charges if the car needs to be serviced to meet the standards.
- Shaken is completed by garages/car repair shops. Take your car to a garage to get it done, but ask around about where the cheapest garage is since prices can vary significantly.
- There is also a car tax that needs to be paid once a year. It’s not too expensive, and is paid at your nearest traffic/automotive authority.
- Shaken costs vary based on:
How Much to Pay for a Car
- After 10 years, most cars in Japan are thrown away. This is because the maintenance cost of the car increases rapidly after 10 years.
- The shaken charge (which costs anywhere from ¥30,000 – ¥150,000) is charged annually once a car is over 10 years old.
- As such, it’s not very difficult to find someone getting rid of a car for next to nothing, even if the car is in good condition.
- Bearing in mind that it costs to have a car destroyed or taken by wreckers, usually in the upwards of ¥30,000, people are usually very eager to get rid of older cars. In some cases, people may even pay someone to accept their car in an effort to avoid the wrecking charge.
- Just remember that it’ll cost you to get rid of it, too.
¥20,000 – ¥100,000+
- When buying a car, check when the shaken is due next, as this usually costs more than the actual car’s worth.
- For a K-car about eight years old, with no accidents and in good condition, shaken will be in the region of ¥80,000.
- Without valid shaken, such a car is worth perhaps ¥20,000, whereas with shaken it would be worth ¥100,000.)
- An old white-plate car (i.e. a larger, non K-car) without shaken is worth ¥40,000 – ¥100,000.
- Do not buy a car in this price range that doesn’t have valid shaken.
-  (Japanese) Information on transferring ownership of a scooter under 125 cc.