Mistakes to avoid when buying a car in Tokyo / Japan

A guide on what to expect when buying a car in Tokyo / Japan and pitfalls to avoid.

Related article

Finding a parking space in Tokyo, Japan.


Buying a car in Japan can be way more difficult and expensive than you imagined, the population's density is extremely high in Japan, therefore, when it comes to purchasing a car there are strict regulations. It also follows that parking space is a scarce commodity (this is especially true in Tokyo). Add to that ridiculously expensive highway toll (round-trip Tokyo-Nikko ~10,000 yens just for the toll VS train at 6,000 yens), with absurd speed limits (often 80km/h... Although you could argue nobody seems to respect those) and guaranted traffic jams and accidents (especially on national holidays)  you may consider whether or not you really need a car. In many cases the train is faster, safer and cheaper! Not to mention quite convenient and always on time.

Count at the very least 150,000 yens for your yearly expenses (insurance, taxes, inspection and minimal maintenance like oil change). This does not include parking, gas, changing tires or unexpected malfunctions / accidents.


First let me summarize all the required steps before owning a car using a minimal amount of details:

  1. Prepare paperwork:
    - get Japanese driving license
    - register your seal / 印鑑 [inkan] (at your ward office / 役所 [yakusho)
    - get "seal registration certificate" / 印鑑登録証明書 [inkan tōroku shōmeisho]
    - get "certificate of residence" / 住民票 [jūminhyō]

  2. Decide on a car type and size

  3. Search a parking space within a 2Km radius,
    (call to check the car fits and actual availability)

  4. Buy/order your car. bring:
    - inkan
    - driving license 免許証[menkyoshō] , other IDs just in case
    - "seal registration certificate" / 印鑑登録証明書 [Inkan Tōroku shōmeisho]
    - "certificate of residence" / 住民票 [jūminhyō]
    - cash or credit card etc.

  5. Sign your parking contract. bring:
    - jūminhyō
    - inkan
    - inkan Tōroku shōmeisho
    - driving license, money
    - a proof of purchase/order for your vehicle (for instance 注文書[chūmonsho] )
    - cash

  6. Apply for a "proof of parking space" (車庫証明[Shakoshōmei]
    (made at your local police station / 警察署 [Keisatsusho]  kōban)
     - 2500 yens
     - papers from your parking landlord
       (with the parking address, size etc. as well as car size type etc)

  7. Come back at the specified date (2-3 days later) and get your shakoshōmei. bring:
    - 500 yens
    - Application slip previously given at the police station

  8. Send back documents to your car retailer / owner:
    - shakoshōmei
    And if not already given:
    - jūminhyō
    - inkan tōroku shōmeisho
    - 委任状[ininjō] (authorization to delegate paperwork to the retailer)

  9. Once the store/owner is ready ask for information needed to insure the car:
    - number plate ナンバープレート
    - mileage a.k.a total number of Kms
    - date of first registration of the car / 初度登録年月[shodo tōroku nengetsu]
    - serial number of the car 車体番号[shatai bangō]
    - car type number 型式番号[keishiki bangō]

  10. Choose an insurance

  11. Pick up your car! You will get:
    - your car
    - car keys
    - papers 車検証[shakenshō]
    - 自賠責保険[jibaisekinin hoken] (usually written as 自動車損害賠償責任保険証明書 on the document)
    預託証明[yotaku shōmei sho] (recycling bound/リサイクル兼)

  12. Send a copy of your 車検証[shakenshō] to your parking landlord.


In more details and with tips:

  1. Prepare paperwork:
    印鑑 [Inkan] registration can only be done at your 役所 [yakusho] and not in Konbinis or elswhere.
    If your passport name is not written with Kanjis, your Inkan must use Katakana or Latin characters.
    A registered Inkan is called 実印[jitsuin].
    印鑑登録証明書 [Inkan Tōroku shōmeisho] and 住民票 [jūminhyō] can be done at your 区役所 [kuyakusho] or in a Konbini if you own the "individual number card" a.k.a マイナンバーカード.

  2. Decide what car type you want to get:
    size matters: parking price and avaibility varies largely on size.

  3. Search a parking space:
    Laws requires you to park within a 2Km radius from your residence.
    Call to check the car fits and actual availability and price.
    Parking websites and Ads bait customers with unavailable and low priced parking spaces.

  4. Buy/order your car.
    If it's a second hand car bring a check list to be sure not to forget things in the heat of the moment
    You can give yourself some time or sign an order / pay an advance the same day.
    Explicitly ask your retailer to do the name change for the car's 自賠責保険 (Jibaiseki Hoken) .
    (lazy retailers won't do it because it's not required by law)
    (You can do it yourself afterwards but you will have to call the insurance company written on your jibaiseki certificate and go to one of their branches with your 車検証[shakenshō])

  5. Sign your parking contract.

  6. Apply for a "proof of parking space" (車庫証明[Shakoshōmei].

  7. Come back (2-3 days later) to get your shakoshōmei.

  8. Send back documents to your car retailer / owner.

  9. Ask for other information needed to insure the car.

  10. Choose an insurance:
    make sure your car insurance starts on the day you pickup your car
    (alternatively buy a 1 day car insurance at a Konbini)

  11. Pick up your car!
    Bring a checklist, carefully check names and addresses on the papers, re-check the car.

  12. Send a copy of your 車検証[shakenshō] to your parking landlord.

  13. if you postponed really take that car insurance now...


Yearly count at the very least 150,000 yens (for insurance, inspection and minimum maintenance). But realistically if you park in Tokyo you can add 25,000 yens/month = 300,000 yens/year. Which means expect at least a yearly expense of ~450,000 yens/year if you park in Tokyo.

Here is more details on what constitutes all those expenses. Every 2 years you need to pass the mandatory car inspection it's about 100,000 yens or more and includes:

Not including oil exchange, new tires, break plates etc. often needed to pass your car inspection

Other yearly fees:

Mistakes caveats to avoid

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