Jan 23, 2017

The cost of keeping a car in Japan

The cost of keeping a car in Japan photo

Breaking down the cost of keeping a car in Japan.

The more observant expat might notice a common theme among license plates in the area of Tokyo in which this blogger resides; large numbers of them seem to have been issued from the north eastern district of Tokyo, Adachi-ku (足立), some distance from where I actually live. 

Fair enough, Adachi-ku is one of Tokyo’s lowest income areas and thus might make for a cheap place to buy a car, so one could perhaps expect to see a few ‘Adachi numbers’ here and there. But there really are large numbers of them, and where I live isn’t exactly booming with attractions for the day tripping family. No, a lot of these cars are actually ‘resident’ here.  

Why this is worth paying attention to, is that one could reasonably assume that a significant percentage of the owners of these ‘Adachi numbers’ are breaking the law.

In Japan one can not buy a car without providing proof to the dealer that one has a place to park it. That parking spot must be within a specific distance from where you reside (somewhere around the 2 km mark). This is paperwork that would need, at some stage, the stamp of authority from police before being presented to the car dealer. That’s fine. But what if your parking spot (and home) isn’t in the same district as where you bought the car? In which case, you need to change the license plate (so that you have one reflecting of where you live); which means paperwork and cost.  It's probably not that expensive in and of itself, but it may require a driver in Japan to take a day off work to get it done.  

The fact that many car owners are willing to break the law in the way above (together with the reality that it is half-heartedly enforced) is perhaps testament to the collective understanding that owning a car is an expensive business in Japan. When it comes to cutting back on this, every penny counts. 

With this in mind we’ll look at just how much it costs to keep a car in Japan. The model will be that belonging to this expat as such it may not present a universal set of truths.  However, hopefully it will give a good idea of the costs along with a couple of noteworthy caveats; mine is a kei-car/kei jidōsha (up to a 660-cc engine and thus about as cheap as a car can be to maintain) and it stays in Tokyo (probably the most expensive place to have a car in Japan).

*Note - This is about keeping a car in Japan, not buying one (hence I’m not going to reveal how much mine cost).


The cost of keeping a car in Japan photo

For the Japan newbie it may come as a surprise to learn that where you park your car may end up being some distance from where your apartment/house is. Japan is not like other countries where you can just try to be the first back from work to claim the best street side spot in your hood. In my case, the motor spends most of its time in a car park about 200 m down the road from the apartment building.  

Cost of renting this parking spot: 16,000 yen per month ... 

... (with an annual payment of 16,000 yen to the real estate people for doing the monthly paperwork).

This is where being in Tokyo (albeit on the fringes) comes into play. The price above, by nationwide standards, is to be considered expensive (although probably not so when compared to more illustrious parts of the city). If you’re resident in rural Japan, you may not have to concern yourself with this cost aspect of keeping a car.


This is one area where having a kei-car comes into its own; you’ll be in a lower tax bracket.

Annual payment (the paperwork comes around May/June): ~ 8,000 yen


The Japanese partner deals with this. We’re both ‘gold standard’ drivers (i.e. we haven’t incurred any penalties) which saves us a bit of money, and we’re both the wrong side of a certain age, which saves us even more.

Monthly premium (between the two of us): 2,600 yen

Age breakdown for insurance premiums in Japan

21 yrs and over
26 yrs and over
30 yrs and over
35 yrs and over


Gas prices have been fairly steady over the last month and are currently around 127 yen per litre. This has increased from around 118 yen in mid October.  

According to GlobalPetrolPrices.com … 

Hong Kong1.93

(Prices in U.S dollars on Jan. 16, 2017)

To fill the tank of my particular kei-car you’re looking at around 3,000 - 4,000 yen.


We covered this in an earlier post - “At the carwash, yeah!” The Cost of Cleaning Your Car in Japan - Here we’ll just ‘paste’ in the price list as displayed at this driver’s local carwash.

ビーナスガード / Venus guard1,600An effect similar to hand waxing your car with a high-grade polymer. Protects against stains/marks caused by rain
Gポロテクト / G Protect1,200Excellent against rain. Gives a mirror like shine & very smooth. Use of a polymer
撥水DU / Water repellent DU800Uses a wax that will prevent blotting on windows due to rain
ワックス / Wax500A simple clean for the car
シャンプー / Shampoo400Washing with brushes and jet sprays. No wax
水洗い / Water wash400Water only

MOT/Motor vehicle inspection

In Japan this is known as shaken (車検).  Here, car owners have to put their motors through this inspection/service every two years. Of course, dealers/makers will let you know of plans/services that you can do every 6 months, but these are not required by law. Only the once-every-two-year job is required. Costs vary, and if your car is a good ten years old, there will likely be some unwanted extras added as a result.  

For a kei-car in good condition shopping around might get prices down to ~ 50,000 yen but expectation of up to 80,000 yen will help to avoid shock. Taking it to the garage of the car's manufacturer will likely be more expensive as they are equipped with more intricate knowledge about parts/spec of the car and thus are better placed to push onto you bits of kit that 'should' be added/updated. A neutral garage would be a cheaper option, or indeed, returning to the dealer where you bought it may bring about some kind of discount  

As with any product/service in Japan that requires a substantial outlay of money, prices for a shaken inspection will almost certainly be broken down into parts such that it can hard to get straight to the point i.e. How much does it cost in total?  One might expect prices to be broken down thus … 

車両重量 - sharyō jūryō - weight

自賠責保険料 24ヶ月 - jibaiseki hoken ryō 24 kagetsu - mandatory vehicle liability insurance (24 months of premiums)

重量税 - jūryō zei - tax based on car weight

印紙代 - inshi dai - stamp charge


The cost of keeping a car in Japan photo

As much as parallel parking might be a 'must' in some countries, the reverse parking manoeuvre should be considered indispensable for those driving in Japan. Where I come from we tend to go in forwards. It came a surprise to nobody then that during the early days of acquiring a new parking spot I over arched it on the reverse in, and gave the front bumper a good scrape. It’s not been fixed yet (as you can see from the image taken this morning) but we’ve been quoted in the 20,000 - 30,000 yen range to get it sorted out.  

Summary table of costs for keeping a kei-car in the Tokyo area

Parking16,000 per month (16,000 annual 'handling' fee)
Tax~ 8,000 annually
Insurance2,600 per month (basic 3rd party coverage)
Gas127 yen / litre
Cleaning400 - 1,600 depending of type
Inspection/servicing~ 50,000 - 80,000 (every two years)
Scratch repairIn the case above 20,000 - 30,000

How much does it cost to keep your car in Japan?  Share your experiences, tips, and advice in the comments below.

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“At the carwash, yeah!” The Cost of Cleaning Your Car in Japan

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Light Motor Vehicle Inspection Organization (for number plate changes for kei-cars)


Top (license plate pixelated): MIKI Yoshihito Flickr License

Middle: OiMax Flickr License



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