Many foreigners who are planning on gracing Tsukuba with their presence for more than a short time find it necessary to invest in a car for their personal transportation needs. Like most everything else in Japan, this is, of course, not an inexpensive proposition, and there are pitfalls to watch out for.
Perhaps the cheapest way to get a used car (other than having the good fortune to have one given to you) is to buy an older car from an individual. There are a number of used car lots in the area from which you can get reasonably priced (a relative term, of course) cars, but there is still a significant mark-up that can be avoided if you buy the car directly from an individual.
One thing that is significantly different about used cars in Japan when compared to the United States, for instance, is that the depreciation of a car's value is much more rapid. In fact, for a car that is more than 7 or 8 years old, the value of the car itself is very little. When a car of that age is being sold, most of the value of the car is in the amount of "shaken" that is still left on it. Until a car is more than 11 years old, the shaken is renewed every two years (every year after that). There is also a seperate road tax that is due yearly at the end of May, and for most cars runs about ¥40000. This adds up to approximately ¥5000 per month of shaken left and about ¥3300 per month left on the yearly tax. The figure for the remaining shaken, however, is figured from the amounts paid for compulsory insurance, taxes and fees and does not include the charges a garage would make for running a car through shaken. Adding those charges would run the figure up another ¥1000 or more per month.
When a individual is selling an older car, they are often quite happy to sell it if for essentially the remaining shaken and tax value left in the car. Thus, this is usually the best way to get "cheap" transportation. Thus, if you don't mind driving an older car that will obviously have more likelihood of needing repairs, then buying a car that is at least 6 years old will likely save you money. Even if the car breaks down completely just after you buy it, it is still not a total loss, as you can get back the compulsory insurance and shaken tax (but not the yearly tax) on a pro-rated basis when you junk the car.
If you find a car you would like to buy from another individual, the transfer of ownership is not all that difficult. If buying from a Japanese citizen, they will need to have an "inkan shomeisho" (a form documenting the registration of their seal) along with the car's papers. You will also need to get a "shako shomeisho" (proof of parking) form from the police station, the same as you would if buying a car from a dealer. Foreigners, however, are not required to use a seal (though, of course, you can if you want to, in which case it would be handled the same way as a Japanese), and so a signature will suffice. In order to prove authenticity of one's signature, however, a "sign shomeisho" can be obtained from a branch city hall, or you can use your passport. We recommend the latter, as it does not require a special trip to the "yakuba"/"shisho" and is adequate for the purpose at hand. When both parties involved are foreigners, each only needs to bring his or her passport along with the car's papers and "proof of parking" forms.
If the car has a Tsuchiura license plate (which is not necessarily the case even when buying from a local resident), then one need only bring in the papers listed above. If, however, the car is registered in a different region of Japan, then you must also take the car with you when going in to make the change of ownership. New Tsuchiura liscense plates will be issued at that time.
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