(original photo by grassrootsgroundswell; CC BY 2.0)

Owning a Car in Japan

Buying & Selling

Buying a car involves a lot of paperwork and complicated procedures, but in most cases, for an extra fee, you can have your car dealer do them for you. In order to own a car, you must first find a parking space, and get a Inkan-shomei (, seal certificate) or a signature certificate from their embassy. Aftercare, such as guarantee and support services vary depending on the car dealer, so these are some points to compare aside from the pricing. Also, in addition to the car price, you need to pay extra fees such as registration fees, various taxes and car insurance (see section on insurance and taxes).

When you want to get a new car or want to sell your car before you leave Japan, you can go to the car dealer where you bought your car, or alternatively consult a car buyer. The prices range from one place to another, so it may be better to consult several buyers.

Car Lease

Leasing a car is a great way to drive a car without making a large upfront payment. Another feature is that you only pay for the actual usage of the car. Generally, there is no down payment and fees are monthly. Maintenance fee and insurance are included, so the only cost to the driver is gas. When you leave Japan, the lease company will take care of deregistration or sale of the car.

In many cases, Japanese lease companies require a Japanese guarantor and a minimum lease term of 3 years. Also, because you cannot break a lease contract without a cancellation fee, it is important that you understand the penalty and how the fee will be calculated.

There are mainly two kinds of lease, closed-end and open-end. The responsibilities and monthly payments differ depending on which type of lease you sign, so make sure to check the details before signing a contract.


The Jibaiseki-hoken (, automobile liability insurance) is a compulsory insurance required for all automobiles, and must be purchased when you buy a car. It covers compensation for damages of expected profit lost due to the injury or death of third parties. The contract is renewed at the time of the vehicle inspection.

Most drivers also purchase the Nin-i-hoken (, voluntary insurance), as compulsory insurance has only limited coverage. Voluntary insurance is available online or at car dealers.

Safety Inspection

Shaken (, Vehicle inspection system) is a regular check conducted to confirm whether the car meets the safety standards. The initial inspection certificate is effective for three years, and the vehicle must undergo renewal inspections every two years thereafter. Vehicles can be inspected at licensed service shops or at the Transport Bureau. Car maintenance and adjustment may be needed to pass the inspection. Most car dealers have inspection and maintenance services.

Car Related Tax

Various taxes are imposed when you own a car.

  • Jidousha-shutoku-zei (, acquisition tax) is a 5% tax you pay at the time of purchase of your car.
  • Jidousha-zei (, automobile tax) is an annual tax you pay the prefecture for owning a car, and an invoice will be sent to your home address every April. Tax rates differ depending on the size of the engine.
  • Jidousha-juryou-zei (, tonnage tax) is a tax you pay for the weight of your car. This is collected at the time of vehicle inspection.

Car Dealers

Some companies have full English support. See the list of car dealers .

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