• While still somewhat complicated, buying a car in Japan is a simpler process than importing one from your homeland. Nissan, Mazda, Toyota and other Japanese dealers abound, as do many of the foreign manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. In addition, there are dealers that specialize in selling a variety of international brands under one roof.The process of buying and operating a car in Japan can be a rather expensive endeavor, and thus many that are budget conscious opt for alternative transportation means including taxi and train travel. Much like the rest of the world, both leasing and outright purchases are options for car buyers in Japan. Only the most senior executives should expect to receive a car and driver as part of their expat packages, although company provision of cars is a bit more common. Nonetheless, given the continuing downturn in the economy, lucrative expat deals are far less commonplace than they used to be.

    Where to Buy a Car

    While car dealers abound, there are a number that cater to an international audience with foreign vehicles including Yanase http://www.yanase.co.jp/. Yanase offers a significant line-up of new and used Mercedes Benz’s, BMW’s, Corvette’s, Cadillac’s, and plenty more. Their main dealership is located at 6-38, Shibaura 1-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo.

    Aside from Yanase, one of the most prominent used car dealers operating within the city is Auto Direct (http://www.autodirect.jp/), which provides a full suite of services for purchasing a used car, from helping with registration and the payment of taxes, to offering financing options.

    Other used car dealers can be found by running standard search engine queries and by visiting the forums of popular English-language magazines in Japan including Metropolis (http://metropolis.co.jp/) and Tokyo Notice Board (http://www.tokyonoticeboard.co.jp).

    With Japan being a car Mecca of sorts, the domestic manufacturers maintain dealerships across the country, including several in the Tokyo area. While each can cater to an English-speaking audience, Nissan’s Web site (http://www.nissan.co.jp/) provides the most detail in English. Information on Toyota’s operations can be found here: http://toyota.jp/, and Honda here: http://www.honda.co.jp/.

    Generally speaking, foreigners should consider working with a dealer in purchasing a car, versus buying a car from an individual. Aside from the obvious quality implications, the process of buying a car in Japan can be quite complex and sometimes requires one or more trips to Japan’s Land Transport Office, but dealerships often do much of the paperwork for those purchasing a car and can make the process far more efficient than attempting an acquisition individually.

    Registration & Other Formalities

    There are a variety of requirements that must be met when you purchase either a new or used car. First, and not surprisingly considering Tokyo’s already busy streets, you must show proof of at least one parking space (“Shako”) for your vehicle. If your residence does not provide parking, then you must rent one within a two-kilometer radius of your home.

    You’ll also need to pay three sets of main taxes – acquisition tax, weight tax (based on the weight of the car – or more specifically the size of the engine), and an annual automobile tax. The acquisition and weight taxes are paid when the car is bought and registered with the government and the annual tax is paid each May once the bill for the tax is received. While your car dealer will help you with the registration process, more information on registering a vehicle in Japan can be found here: http://www.mlit.go.jp/english/inspect/car12e.html. The process for registering a vehicle is quite simple and can be completed at your district’s Land Transport Bureau. Major district bureaus include:

    1-6-11, Kudanminami, Chiyoda-ku 102-8688
    Tel: 03-3264-2111
    Web: http://www.city.chiyoda.tokyo.jp/

    1-1-1, Tsukiji, Chuo-ku 104-8404
    Tel: 03-3543-0211
    Web: http://www.city.chuo.lg.jp/

    2-19-15, Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku 153-8573
    Tel: 03-3715-1111
    Web: http://www.city.meguro.tokyo.jp/

    2-5-25, Shibakoen, Minato-ku 105-8511
    Tel: 03-3578-2111
    Web: http://www.city.minato.tokyo.jp/

    1-1, Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku 150-8010
    Tel: 03-3463-1211
    Web: http://www.city.shibuya.tokyo.jp/

    2-1-36, Hiromachi, Shinagawa-ku 140-8715
    Tel: 03-3777-1111
    Web: http://www.city.shinagawa.tokyo.jp/

    1-4-1, Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku 160-8484
    Tel: 03-3209-1111
    Web: http://www.city.shinjuku.tokyo.jp/

    Vehicle insurance comes in two forms, compulsory car insurance and additional optional insurance that covers injuries to yourself or third party injuries that extend beyond what the compulsory insurance can provide for. See the “Car Insurance” section for more information.

    “Shaken” is required vehicle inspection (including emissions, brakes, calibrations, etc). Cars that are beyond three years old must be inspected every second year and the costs associated with this process can run well over $1,000 for the inspection itself and any needed repairs. More information on the inspection process, including information on approved Shaken Testing Centers can be found here: http://www.navi.go.jp/english/office/kanto.html