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Personal Vehicles

Sometimes public transportation is not sufficient to meet JETs’ needs, particularly in rural areas or for those with long commutes. Following are some things to keep in mind when buying, owning and driving a motorized vehicle.

The most important thing you must know about driving in Japan is that you ARE PROHIBITED FROM DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL.  Do not operate a wheeled vehicle (motorized OR non-motorized) after drinking; IT IS AGAINST THE LAW.

Safety tips for driving in the snow can be found here.

More detailed information can be found in the JET General Information Handbook.

There are two types of cars.  Kei cars have a smaller engine (660cc or less) and are denoted by a yellow license plate. They have lower insurance fees and expressway tolls, shaken rates (see below) and annual tax. They also use less gas and are cheaper to buy. Some safety is compromised at high speeds.
Standard cars are known as “white plates” as their license plates are white. Engine size and features are typical of a “normal” car. White plates are better for long distance travel and are generally safer at high speeds. How to find a used car:

  • Ask colleagues, any and all Japanese acquaintances and other JETs.
  • Ask at a dealership or local auto repair shop, but only as a last option. It is much easier to buy a car from a colleague or acquaintance than to drop in cold to a dealership.

To obtain a car, you will need your:

  • Residence Card (在留カード, zairyu card)  and your inkan
  • Inkan registration certificate (印鑑登録証明書, inkan torouku shomeisho), available upon request from town hall
  • Proof of parking space from your building’s realty company, usually in the form of an official letter and two maps indicating your space. Submit these to the police station (not always necessary, especially in rural areas or for kei cars).

To drive legally:

  • You must have a valid driver’s license. International Driving Permits (IDP), which must be used with a valid home country license, can be used during a JET’s first year only. It is linked to your visa and therefore non-renewable. The clock starts ticking from date of entry.
  • IDPs are available through your home country’s automobile association (AA, Triple A, CAA, etc.) or online. Try www.international-license.com.
  • Before your IDP expires or before you complete one year in Japan, you will have to get a Japanese license. This is an arduous process which may require you to take nenkyu in order to pass driving tests.  Give yourself enough time if you want to get a license.

Owning a car:

  • Shaken (車検) is an official and mandatory government inspection of all vehicles whether they are broken or not. Average cost is ¥80 000 to ¥150 000 and is valid for three years on new vehicles and two years on anything older. Keep in mind when buying (or selling) a car that the length of remaining shaken will affect its value.
  • Tax is owed every spring, not just on new purchases. Rates range from ¥7000 for kei cars to ¥40 000 for SUVs.
  • Insurance, both compulsory and “optional,” is required.
  • Alpha, American Direct, Axa, JA, Sony and Zurich are just a few of the many national agencies in Fukuoka. Their cheapest rates are found online.
  • English-speaking Mojumdar & Co is located in Tokyo. Tel 03-3281-2199. Email larry@gol.com ,  sales@mojumdar.com, or  www.mojumdar.com
  • For any provider, paying a lump sum for the year is cheaper than paying in monthly installments, however this can be inconvenient if you obtain a car mid-contract.

Disposal regulations apply. Cars, like all refuse, must be disposed of properly. As of January 1, 2005, disposal cost (about ¥4000-¥10 000) is included in the price of shaken.


Motorbikes and scooters are convenient for getting around local areas. You can shop for a scooter at many bicycle shops as big supermarkets and department stores generally don’t carry them. The store from which you buy your new scooter should provide information on registration procedures.

To register a used scooter first obtain a registration form from your town or city hall. Have the person who sold you the scooter fill out the relevant sections. Return the completed form to the public office along with the scooter’s license plate to be exchanged for a new one.

To drive a 50-250cc legally you need one of a the following: A current IDP and a valid home license that includes the scooter/motorcycle category OR a Japanese “b” (car only) license (50cc bikes only).

Compulsory insurance (自賠責保険, jibaiseki hoken) is available from most agencies. Shaken is only required on motorcycles 400cc and higher.

Getting a Japanese Driver’s License

If your International Driving Permit (IDP) is expiring soon and you are planning to obtain a Japanese driver’s license, you will need to go through application procedures, and you might even have to take a driver’s test, depending on your country of origin. For more detailed information on how to obtain your IDP in Fukuoka Prefecture, Fukuoka JET Kelsie …

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Driving in winter

When driving in the snow in Japan, there’s a lot you can do to prepare yourself and others in case something goes wrong. I was 5 months into my JET experience when I tried to drive my car after the first snow of the season. The sun was up and the snow was melting, but …

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