Many foreigners coming to Tsukuba find it necessary to invest in a car for transportation needs. The "rules of the game", however, are likely to be very different from one's home country, so it pays to have some foreknowledge of how the used car market works in Japan.
Without a doubt the biggest factor involved in making the used car market in Japan very different from, for example, the American market is the "shaken" system. The high taxes do not go down as a car ages, and with the compulsory insurance added in, it takes close to ¥10,000 per month in these mandatory fees alone just to own a vehicle. The highly recommended voluntary supplemental insurance (typically about ¥4000 - 6000 per month) is on top of this. Even if one goes the absolute cheapest way by doing the shaken oneself and having only the compulsory insurance, a typical car still comes out to about ¥7000 per month (minicars are, of course, considerably less).
This system has the effect of increasing the supply and decreasing the demand for "older" cars (more than 7 or 8 years is considered "old" in the Japanese market). The net effect is that the value of such older cars is mainly in the amount of shaken still left in them. The actual value of the car itself is far below what it would be worth in other markets.
This has both its advantages and disadvantages. Since a car depreciates in value much more quickly than in countries that do not have a similar system, buying an older car that is highly (artificially) depreciated in value and yet that still runs well makes the most sense for most people. Most used car lots, however, often don't carry many of these cars (not to mention their rather high mark-ups), and so buying directly from an individual usually gets one the best deal.
For foreigners trying to sell an older car when leaving, however, a frequent problem is trying to sell the car at a price comparable to what it is worth in one's own country, which is likely to be considerably more than its worth in the Japanese market. The problem, of course, is in how to determine what a car is really worth, given the different dynamics of the Japanese market and one's home country. If you really have no idea what a fair price is, it is possible to get a quote from a dealer on the wholesale value of an average car of a certain year, make and model. For instance, if you want to buy or sell a used Toyota of a certain make and model, you can call a Toyota dealer and get such a quote. Of course, if the car is in particularly good condition with lots of shaken left, etc. it is worth more than this quote. Likewise, if one were to buy such a car at a used car lot, there would also be a significant mark-up, and so that needs to be taken into consideration as well.
Once you have decided on a car to buy, the first thing you have to do is to get a "proof of parking" certificate ("shako shomeisho") from the police department. This takes about a week, so allow plenty of time to get that done. The forms can be purchased (¥120) at the central police station. The forms include one that must have the seal of the property owner where your parking place is located giving you permission to park there. Be careful when filling out the forms, for a mistake (particularly on the registration numbers of the car you're buying) may necessitate starting all over. There is a fee of ¥2000 (payable at the police station) for this "service".
The set of forms also includes a page for drawing a detailed map of one's parking place and the surrounding area. Be sure to draw a map of the surrounding area to a scale large enough to include major landmarks such as parks and stores (another drawback to most streets not having names). Also, you need to give the approximate dimensions of the area you'll be using for parking, along with the width of adjacent roads. If you'll be parking in a parking lot, then, of course, the parking space number must also be included.
Once you have gotten the "shako shomeisho" approved by the police, you take that form with you to the motor vehicle department ("Rikuun Jimusho") located on Higashi Odori just north of the Joban Expressway (the same place where "shaken" inspections are made). If you are using an "inkan" (also called "hanko") seal, you will also need to have a "proof of registration" ("inkan shomeisho") from the city hall branch where it is registered. Foreigners do have the option of using their signatures (something Japanese are not allowed to do), in which case, you need to have both your passport and "proof" of alien registration ("gaikokujin torokuzumi shomeisho", which is different from your Alien Registration Card), which is also available at your local branch city hall for ¥200. For either "shomeisho" (of your seal or of your residency), go to the Alien Registration Desk of your local branch office.
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