Automotive rental, trading and export – Japan

Driving in Japan

A guide to ownership of a motor vehicle in Japan.

Page contents

1. Benefits
2. Shaken
3. ETC
4. Taxes
5. Insuring a car in Japan
6. Maintenance in Japan


Convenience –  Go anywhere, any time. At A-ret cars we know the the frustrations of the ‘adult curfew’ imposed on us by JR and other rail companies. For a country that has such long working hours, supermarkets and convenience stores that are open 24/7 , having the trains shut down at midnight is ridiculous. A car is a major enabler just to pop to the shops, take a trip or commute to work – when it suits you. 

Cheaper transportation – Using a private vehicle, even in the cities will often result in cheaper transport costs in most occasions with the exception of traffic congestion periods.

Unlimited freedom – So much of Japan’s wonder and culture is out of reach when relying on the time schedules of buses and trains. It can act as an escape when you need a change of scene, you’ll be surprised what you can find while exploring the roads of Japan.


What many deem as the greatest cost of owning a car in Japan is the Shaken, or the vehicle safety certification which comes around every 2 years for most vehicles older than 3 years. This is due to the large sum payment that comes with the shaken, and this can be very deterring for many people who might otherwise drive a car.

Shaken typically includes only a few compulsory costs:

  • Weight taxes – 25,200 yen
  • Testing fees – 1,800 yen
  • Compulsory insurance – 24,950 yen
  • Paperwork (a few yen)

All other costs are decided by the garage you choose to get shaken with and when you do the math, Shaken is actually cheaper for a regular sized vehicle per year than the annual automobile tax. Typically most garages will charge 80,000 to 100,000 yen to put a shaken on a regular size, 2 litre engine car.

For further information on how to make your next shaken cheaper, please see our shaken guide.

ETC card machine

Expressways – ETC

Using motorways is almost a necessity if you are travelling medium to long distance by car. Since the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, the fees for using the roads have increased dramatically. However, by having an ETC card and ETC  machine you can save a lot of money on toll road fees! ETC offers several benefits such as 50% discounts on ETC fees on the holidays and weekends and similar discounts driving at night.

In addition to discounts, you’ll breeze through ETC gates without the hassle of pulling over and tugging an ETC ticket from the gate.

How do I get an ETC card?

Many cars come with ETC readers pre-installed, however if your vehicle doesnt have a reader, its a simple install at your local autobacs (might cost you between 8000-20000 yen for the install and device). A lot less simple is getting an ETC card.

ETC cards are available to most credit card holders in Japan and all you need to do is tick a box upon application. This sounds easy enough right? Wrong! As you may know, foreigners have a hard time acquiring credit cards in Japan, thus we have pretty limited access to the ETC card. If you aren’t successful in getting a ETC through a credit card, there is an alternative.

Pre-paid ETC card.

The prepaid ETC card is an expats way around the ridiculously strict credit card issuance rules in Japan. The process involves a Japanese bank account, a bit of money (40,000 yen which is refunded when you surrender your card), proof of your address and a Japanese helper (if your not confident in your own Japanese ability).

Step 1: Visit your nearest ETC toll booth and ask for a pre-paid ETC application.

Step 2:  Write the necessary details in the form. Use Kanji where ever you can. (ie, address)

Step 3: Post your proof of address (a utility bill works best) and the application off.

Step 4: ETC will send you a bill for the deposit, pay it at a convenience store.

Step 5: The card should then be mailed out to you. Expect it to take a week or so.

How the pre-paid card works

Once you receive your card, whack that bad boy in the ETC card reader you have pre-installed in/on your vehicle. The prepaid card appears to work like any other ETC card, where it lifts the barrier, then displays a fee when you leave.

The difference is, the prepaid card will charge your registered bank account for the amount you use at the time you leave the expressway system. Regular credit ETC cards will sum all of your ETC charges together at the end of the month (so the cash isn’t needed at the time of travel).

Because of this, it is important to make sure you have sufficient balance in your registered account before you set off on your journey.

The 40,000 yen deposit is a security measure, just in case you don’t have the necessary funds when driving the expressway. In the case you are charged over your bank balance, you may be asked to top up your deposit.

For  additional information on registering for ETC, visit


The annual automobile tax (jidosha-zei 自動車税)

 This costs comes around May annually and varies depending on the vehicle you drive.  This tax is issued at a prefectual level and is payable at banks. Proof of tax payment is required at the shaken inspection, so keep the receipt in a safe place with the shaken certificate.

Automobile tax – costs

Total Displacement Personal Use Business Use
Kei cars 7200 5200
-999cc 29500 7500
1000cc-1499cc 34500 8500
1500cc-1999cc 39500 9500
2000cc-2499cc 45000 13800
2500cc-2999cc 51000 15700
3000cc-3499cc 58000 17900
3500cc-3999cc 66500 20500
4000cc-4499cc 76500 23600
4500-5999cc 88000 27200
6000cc+ 111000 40700

As this annual vehicle tax is a big income source, most prefectural offices are strict about missed or late payments. You can expect a late fee (which can be an additional 10% of the total tax) if you fail to make the payment on time.

For a detailed guide on the annual automobile tax please see the AccessJ website.


There is a compulsory insurance and an optional Insurance in Japan. The compulsory insurance is paid bi-annually as part of the shaken and in the case you cause an accident, it covers damage to other people, not their property. However, the compensation is the bare minimum, so it is also important to have the optional insurance to properly compensate victims, as well as being able to pay for other damages such as vehicle damage or infrastructural damages.

Optional insurance is a little more similar to western insurance policies. You can purchase varying levels of cover to protect yourself, your vehicle and it’s occupants.


Japanese tend to have very good car maintenance habits and this is often assisted by their garages or car dealers excellent customer service. Be sure sure to take your vehicle in twice a year to the local garage for servicing – if its a good garage may even remind you to do it and clean your car as part of the service!

Keeping a clean vehicle

Not only does your vehicle look much better when its shiny and clean, but it also protects from the harsh, changeable Japanese environment. With temperatures widely ranging between winter and summer, extreme winds in typhoon season, snow and Japanese aerial smog, its important to get smog, brake dust or other dirt off the paintwork. If this is neglected, it has the potential to lead to surface rusting and which could result in costly work to remove it, or worse, potentially irreversible damage.


Having a vehicle in Japan is an enormous convenience, even necessity ( especially for some of those remotely located ALT’s) and can take you to some incredible places in comfort. If you are in need of a car, please don’t hesitate to inquire and see what we can find for you!