Buying A Car

Buying a vehicle may seem daunting but it can be fairly easy. Someone in your town (perhaps even your supervisor) should be more than willing to help you out. You have two options when buying a bike or car. You can either buy from a private seller or through a dealer. The easiest place to buy from is a dealer, because they do all the paper work for you. Keep in mind that purchasing from a dealer will be more expensive than a private deal.




In Japan there are two kinds of cars, yellow-plate cars and white-plate cars. You can tell the difference by the color of the license plate. Yellow-plate cars are quite small and the engines are pretty weak (660cc). However, they are cheap to buy and operate. White-plate cars are larger, more powerful and safer in the case of an accident, but they are more expensive. You need to balance these factors and decide your priorities.


Japan also has many kinds of motorcycles. They’re cheap and handy. Be aware, however, that Toyama is a fairly rainy area and in the winter the snow can get quite deep. All motorcycles in Japan are classified by engine size, and the engine size will determine what you can and cannot do with a motorcycle. A very helpful website if you are considering buying a motorbike is the Japan Biker FAQ, at




Registration/Inspection (車検) “shakken”


Shakken is Japanese for inspection. It is the most dreaded word for vehicle owners. All cars and large motorcycles need shakken. Shakken is conducted every two years and is very expensive. Most Japanese people would rather sell their vehicles and buy new ones than renew the shakken on their old vehicle. If you buy a used vehicle, find out when the shakken expires. Vehicles with their shakken almost up are dirt cheap, but you will pay a lot of money to renew it. The older the vehicle, the more expensive it is to renew the shakken, and depending on the condition of the vehicle, the more repairs you may need to do to pass the shakken.


Parking Registration (車庫証明) “shako shomei”


Japan is a small country with a lot of people. Land is at a premium here. When you buy a car, you have to prove that you have somewhere to park it. When you register your car you will need a parking registration certificate. You can get it from your landlord if you register the car yourself, or the dealer you buy it from will take care of it for you. Motorcycles don’t need this certificate.


Highway/Tollway (高速道路) “kosoku-doro”


There is a highway (the Hokuriku 北陸) that runs right through Toyama. Any car can have the pleasure of driving on this highway but will pay the price to get off it. Motorcycles with engines less than 250cc cannot ride on the highway. See the ‘Using the Expressways’ section for details.


Tax (税金) “zeikin”


In Japan you must pay tax depending on the type of vehicle you own. This tax is to be paid in April or May on a yearly basis. This chart outlines the cost of car tax as well as other related information.


Vehicle shakken parking highway insurance tax (yen)
yellow-plate car yes yes OK yes 3,000-7,000
white-plate car yes yes OK yes 30,000-50,000
50cc scooter no no no need 1,000
50-90cc moped no no no need 1,000-4,000
90-250cc motorcycle no no no need 2,000-4,000
250-400cc motorcycle no no OK need 3,000-5,000
400cc+ motorcycle yes no OK yes 4,000+


Insurance (保健) “hoken”


Your vehicle must be insured for you to be able to use it in Japan. If the vehicle has shakken, then it is automatically insured (although minimally). For motorcycles less than 250cc, you must buy optional insurance (任意保健) “nin-i hoken” to ride the bike. If you buy a vehicle from a dealer, all of this can be taken care of for you.


Optional insurance is a little confusing. By law, your car or motorcycle must be insured to operate it. When your vehicle gets its shakken, it gets insured. Any insurance after this is not compulsory. However, if you ever get in an accident and the accident is your fault, this shakken insurance probably won’t cover much. Given that shakken doesn’t truly cover the total amount of most accident claims, the majority of Japanese people also buy optional insurance for their vehicles. Optional insurance can be bought with various levels of coverage. It is highly recommended that you get optional insurance. In the case of an accident, both parties are ALWAYS assessed some level of accountability.


Want car insurance? Talk to Hiro Shimada. His English is stellar. Lived in NZ for 3 years. He is very helpful and even took an ALT at one time to change the ownership of their car even though it is not a part of his job. Highly recommended.


Name of Company:

Pro Hoken (puro hoken- プロ保険)

Insurance Salesman: Hiro Shimada

TEL: 090-2128-3022 076-424-7356






Buying a car at a dealer can make things much easier for you as they handle all the registration, parking details (may not apply if you live in rural areas and are buying a yellow plate car), set up voluntary insurance and prepare the car to be ready to drive. In addition to paying the sticker price for a car at a dealer however, you will have to pay fees for registration and required taxes that are not included in this price. When looking at used cars, keep in mind that these additional fees will usually run up to 100,000 yen alone and if the car requires a shaken inspection before it can be driven, those shaken fees plus required repairs may make the final purchase cost much higher than expected. Consult with the dealer representative and/or your supervisor should they be involved to help you out with figuring your final cost of vehicle purchase.


Once you decide on your car, the paperwork process and preparation can take up to two weeks, so you’ll have to wait patiently until all matters are cleared and your car can either be picked up or delivered to your home.


  • Jeff Newby (11 years)

    Do you have any information, pros and cons, on leasing a car from the dealership? This may be the safest route for me.

  • Catherine D. (11 years)

    It really depends on your situation. The benefits of leasing a car are not worrying about shakken (expensive car check ups), insurance, some maintenance, or buying winter tires. You also don’t have to stress about selling it right before you leave Japan. However, you will have a limited selection of vehicles, are often given an older model, and it can be quite expensive to lease a car for a longer period of time. Ultimately it boils down to what kind of deal you can find on a used car or leasing from a dealer, and how long you’re going to stay in Japan. Most people who stay 1 year recommend leasing over buying to avoid huge initial expenses (shakken, insurance, taxes), whereas re-contracting JETs can save a lot of money buying a used “kei-car” (cheaper yellow plate cars). They pay a lot in the beginning, but can get by on lower costs over 2-3 years.

    I would recommend looking into both the costs of buying a car and leasing a car based on how long you think you’ll stay in Japan. And if/when looking for used cars, make sure you ask for shakken estimates (the car’s paperwork or dealer’s information will always include the past shakken costs) to get an idea of how much money you’ll be paying later.

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