Owning a Car in Japan

Types of car

There are two classifications of automobiles in Japan, which can be recognized by their license plate.
Yellow plate cars (ŒyŽ©“®ŽÔ keijidosha), also known as K-cars, are small in size, have small engines with low power and are very cheap to run. They use little gas, but keep in mind that they are not great for longer journeys and tend to be less safe than larger cars.
White plate cars (æ—pŽÔ, jouyousha) are normal-sized cars. They are bigger, faster, and more powerful than the yellow plate cars. However, their purchase price and maintenance costs are twice as expensive as yellow plate cars.

Proof of Parking

You need to prove ownership of a parking space before you may buy a white-plate car in Japan and also submit certification of such (
shakoshomeishou) to the police. Spaces can be expensive depending on where you live. While a lot of apartments in Sendai have parking lots, they usually arenft free to use. Spaces typically cost between Y5,000 - Y20,000 per month, depending on your location. If there is no parking lot for your apartment building, you may be able to find a space through your real estate agent.

Road Tax

When you buy a car, you'll have 3 main taxes to pay. One is an Acquisition Tax, another is a weight tax, and the 3rd is an annual tax every May. The first 2 you pay when you buy the car. Basically, the bigger the engine, the more you pay. The Acquisition Tax is around 5% of the price of the car. The weight tax for cars with engine sizes up to 2 litres are about Y56,700. Over that is Y75,600. Passenger cars with a 300-something or 33 in the upper right corner of the license plate (including nearly all US cars) are the highest. A 50-something on the license plate indicates a medium-size car, and the "Kei" cars with an engine of 660cc have a yellow plate and are lowest. The annual tax in May for Kei cars is the lowest as well at about Y5000, but for larger cars the tax quickly escalates to Y34,500-Y39,500 for medium cars to Y45,000 for 2.5 litre cars and Y56,000 for 3 litre cars.

Insurance
There are 2 insurance programmes; one is the mandatory insurance (‹­§•ÛŒ¯@kyosei hoken) which just covers the car, and the optional insurance (Ž©”…Ó•ÛŒ¯@jibaiseki hoken) covers collateral injuries/damages you may get/cause. You can decide the extras - theft, vandalism, disaster damage, lost wages, etc. Even if a pedestrian or cyclist breaks the law, if you hit them while driving you are liable for their medical treatment. Insurance in Japan is not too expensive, depending on what you drive, but liability for causing a death while driving is in excess of Y50million.

Insurance costs vary according to your age, if your spouse also drives the car, how many citations you may have had, if the car has an airbag, etc. Since the customer is King in Japan, by all means find a company that has a 24 hour toll-free hotline in English which you can call in case of trouble. Many schools and Boards of Education will be affiliated with a particular insurer who offers discounts to members of staff. Ask your supervisor about this.
*If you are commuting by car to school, Shidoka requires a copy of your insurance papers*

Shaken
Shaken (ŽÔŒŸ) is the Mandatory Vehicle Inspection in Japan. Cars more than 3 years old have to have a mandatory maintenance check (shaken) every two years, broken or not. The costs again vary according to the size of the car, but basically you'll be paying Y120,000-160,000 or so for a mid sized car, and more for a larger one or if there is anything the mechanic can possibly fix. Shaken is required for all cars. If you are buying a car privately find out when the shaken expires and have the price adjusted accordingly. When you buy from a dealer, new shaken is automatically factored into the cost. On a yellow plate car the shaken is usually Y70,000 to Y80,000 plus the cost of any repairs.