Thursday, September 29, 2011

Driving in Japan: Part 1

One of my BOE's "Niko Niko" Vans

Chances are, if you end up with a rural placement in the JET Program(me), you're going to need a car. I do know some people get by without by having the convenience of living very close to their schools, or perhaps they live in a small town with crazy things like buses. It's best to assume you'll need to drive though, so make sure you have your home country's license for a minimum of 90 days, and an International Driver's Permit.

The thought of driving on the left side of the road can be a bit daunting, especially for an American like myself. However, you will soon realize this is the least of your problems. It will also take 2-5 weeks to get a car established for your personal use, unless you're lucky and buy/inherit from your predecessor. Renting and buying a vehicle requires your Gaijin card, so enjoy the wait for that by taking the train (if you have one) and getting acquainted with your town, or lack thereof.

There are two main types of cars in Japan, white plate and yellow plate (kei cars). Do your research and shop around, if you have that luxury. Do remember that it's unlikely you'll be in Japan for life, so splurging on an expensive car probably isn't the best financial decision.

You may or may not have a choice when it comes to buying or renting. Most of the AETs in my area rent from a nearby dealership, but the costs for rental and insurance are quite high. You should go into a rental knowing that you will have full coverage and most likely roadside assistance, but in return you don't have an investment to sell when you leave Japan.

Our car! Suzuki Wagon Kei Car.

On the other hand, buying can be quite tricky. Finding a local seller can be daunting -- we lucked out through a contact with our landlords. You (or someone else to translate) will need to know Japanese for the sale to happen. You may have to find your own insurance provider, but this allows opportunity to choose a plan that suits you. Some sellers will not deal with payments, so having cash upfront is a must. Most importantly, as a car owner you will have to pay shakken at some point. Even with all of these odds against us, Matt and I decided buying would be our best option. No ongoing rental fees, and even if we are unable to sell the car, it still will end up cheaper than renting one.

This blog post was getting kind of lengthy, so I'll save other topics for Part 2!

I'll leave you with a video of me driving to one of my farthest schools!


  1. This is such a fun post! It does look intimidating driving on the left-hand side of the road, but at least the traffic doesn't look as insane as India's!

    Your posts are always fun and informative! I love learning all this fun stuff about Japan. Thanks for sharing it all! :)

  2. I'm jealous of your car, but I'm not jealous of having to drive. The town you live in is really pretty though!


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