Golden Week to Tokushima

Golden week is a time where the people of Japan can take a piece of their lives beyond the daily routine of a repetitive and scripted life. The seeds of creativity were planted on the New Year’s holidays and at last, they are free to bloom on Golden Week. And bloom they did, on our 7-hour drive from Nagoya to Tokushima, you could see cars slow down to embrace the view of the beautiful ocean on top of the world’s tallest suspension bridge. They politely shifted to the left and drove well below the speed limit on the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge as if we were at the Fuji Safari Park enjoying the view of animals. I’ve never seen such a take on driving before! Traffic was backed up but people were enjoying themselves in a polite and very Japanese manner of queuing.

The trip that was supposed to take 4 hours ended up taking 7 instead, but we weren’t even upset. The sunniest and hottest day of the year provided us with much to see around Kansai’s mountainous and sea backdrops and Shikoku’s vast and natural backdrop was the icing on the cake. We didn’t see many whirlpools because of our late arrival, but we got to enjoy a view of the bridge from below, and riverside downtown before the event started.

We got to enjoy food from the famous local “limes” to Tokushima Ramen. Of course, I also ate at the typical chain restaurants ranging from McDonald’s to Sushiro as well. Driving along the rivers was a lot of fun and climbing to the top of Bizan Park by Ropeway was also a blast. Visiting the old castle site allowed us to see many cranes and koi fish.  There were plenty of “Itasha” cars around and on display on the red carpets inside the shopping arcades as well.



4th Anniversary Driver

Getting a car is no way easy in Japan, and without the right help, things can and will get very expensive.  Coming to my rescue was my good friend in Ibaraki, who works in the  import/export automotive trade and possesses the power to buy from auctions around Japan. My friend began digging around the USS-R, a famous auctioning company for a car that fit my profile. Considering how complicated owning a regular can be in Japan, requiring you to apply for a parking spot, having it examined by police, and requiring it to be near where you live, I decided to buy a K-car.  A K-car is as compact as you can get, usually small, these days boxy designs that run off engine smaller than 1L and usually packing a turbocharger (pretty cool).  Everything else would cost less as well, including road tax, inspection, parts, parking and gasoline. securedownload (6) securedownload (5)After less than a month, we found a car that fit me well a Subaru Pleo, for under 200000 yen ($2000~), but it had high mileage, and the buyer cancelled the auction when all the was offered up to was 150000 yen.  It was a disappointment, but my friend was back on top of it and found a Suzuki Kei Works (Works being a top sports model version) and I fell in love with it.  He said it might be twice as expensive, but I set a cap of 300000 yen, and he some how managed to win it at just below that!  I was going to be a driver in Japan! However, this is when things begin to get complicated. securedownload (4) securedownload (3)

Before I can have a car transferred to my name I need the usual documents, including the most important, at Jitsuin (official stamp) that is recognized by the city.  After getting this stamp, you can get a piece of paper that confirms the stamp is legitimately yours, and is normally used to buy cars.   securedownload (1)The paper is cheap, about 300 yen, and the stamp is about 2000 yen at it’s cheapest and must have a name from your license or passport on it.  The stamp takes about a day to make, so prepare in advance!  And of course remember that having a Japanese driver’s license is a must.

After all was said and done, I did not have any paperwork from my friend yet, so picking up the car (which was still under his name) required my license, and my friend’s office’s confirmation at the USS-R, near the port.  The walk was long, but once you arrive, you have to find the office.  I got a bit lost and ended up surrounded by a lot of cars, including several American cars.  I finally found the office and after a small talk, I got to see the car!  This was one of the most exciting moments of my life in Japan.  The car, my car, waiting for me to take it, and carry it off to far off adventures around Japan.  I took a picture of everything before I drove off just for future reference and set up my dash cam.  However, there was no power! I went back in and they told me to find a battery cart and jump the car.  After a few moments, I was off.  The most difficult part was getting use to the high clutch, which was located a lot higher than my RX-7 back in Canada. It was an hours drive, but I got home and parked it near my apartment. Everything felt great.

One of the most difficult points of car ownership in Japan was parking so the day before I picked up my car I went through a bit of a stressful search. My apartment was undergoing repairs and parking was forbidden, many parking places don’t want anyone who can’t speak fluent Japanese renting spots, even if you have a friend who can speak fluent Japanese.  My friend who use to work in the apartment business began asking contacts and she was a bit unsuccessful in that search.  She ended up finding a spot one station from my home for about 12000 yen a month ($120).  A little steeper than what I wished, but an incredibly close and friendly place.  We worked out the contact and everything was peachy!securedownload (2)

The final two thing I was worried about was name transfer and insurance! We went to Sompo Japan and were able to acquire some good insurance for about 5000 yen a month after an hour of negotiating. The most difficult part was having the car transferred to my name before getting insurance.  We had to go to the local Kei offices near the harbor and fill out 3 complicated forms!  At some palces if you paid someone 1500 yen they would fill it out for you, but this place didn’t have such a thing.  The lady was nice enough to help us through all of it.  I was really thankful she was so nice.  My roommate filled two sheet, and I filled the other. We had to give back the old license plates, and run around from booth to booth passing papers around over the course of two hours.  It was really bureaucratic, but when I finally got my new plates, it was like seeing my car for the first time, this time she was really mine, all mine.  I was really lucky to have 3 good friends help me do everything, without them owning a car in Japan would have taken a lot longer and things would have been really stressful. For those thinking about doing everything themselves I wish them luck with the challenge and can assure them it’s all worth it.

Racing Miku Figma

Can you guess what is coming?

Today we look at another toy by Good Smile Company, but more specifically GoodSmile Racing.  There are a lot of GoodSmile Racing figures and toys, and some may wonder why that is.  The reason is in Japan, twice a year, GoodSmile Racing holds a fund raising event for their racing team.  If one chooses to support their season, they will reward you with gifts.  Sometimes they’ll hand out Figma, and sometimes they distribute Nendoroids, but they’ll always give you a racing package that you can wear to cheer on your team.  My racing package is in Japan, as well as a little trophy they gave me for my figure, but today I’ll look at Racing Miku’s Figma, which won the 2011 GT300 races! It was GSR’s first ever victory and they wanted to celebrate! They were so happy that they released the puchi racing set, which I reviewed yesterday, and the full scale figure, which I did not purchase.  If you’d like to support their 2012 team, which unfortinately isn’t doing too well, then you can visit GoodSmile Racing!

The puchi’s definitely allow more facial details, but figma’s are more flexible and in a sense more fun. I decided to pose her with the trophy and the umbrella and along side 2010’s car.  With the new camera she came out quite nice, I only wish her neck didn’t come out so far, it makes her look a little awkward. Her smiling face however is brilliant. The smile reminds me of Fuuka from Yotsubato and I think it is really adorable.  This Miku also has something that few other figures do, but it sure makes it strange, and that thing is boobs. Is this really Miku?!

Can you guess what I’ll review with my camera tomorrow?

Racing Miku Set 2011 Puchi

It’s been over a week since my last update.  So to welcome myself back I picked up a Sony Nex5n to show off some my new collection of figures.  Part one will be Racing Miku’s puchi set, celebrating last years GT300 victory!  It comes with a tiny race car which isn’t featured here, but Miku, Rin and Luka are featured with some of their default parts.  The care they put into each of these figures left me with a lot of plastic, but it really did keep the puchis pristine.

Ongoing Hatsune Miku BMW Z3

After two days and many hours of grease, mistakes, and more grease, I’ve gotten to the point where I need new supplies to continue on.  I need to pick up the electronics that the car didn’t come with in order to fasten them to the rest of the car.  It’s been an enlightening experience, and in some ways it feels like working on a real car.  Except for the fact that real cars aren’t screwed on by a hundred fasteners, but a thousand or so fasteners.   After I finish the electronics, its onwards to the body!


The move, the drive, the future ( Cost of car ownership in Japan)

With the acquisition of my Japanese Driver’s License, the next step, the purchasing of a car comes closer.

First thing I need to secure is a parking spot.  Actually,  to make procuring a parking spot more convenient, moving to an apartment with parking readily available for rent is the first step.

When I have acquired the papers that promise a parking spot.  Which will cost me 26,250 yen per month ($313) where I live, then I should be on my final steps of purchasing a car.

That means as I’m in the process of renting my parking spot, I should be on the look out for a good second hand car.

There are heavy costs to pay before acquiring a car.

——————————— ( Once )

Besides bringing a boatload of documents, I must be ready to pay an Automobile Acquisition Tax, which costs 5% of the car. So, if my car costs 500,000 yen ($6000).  I will pay 25,000 yen ($300).

Next up is a weight tax known as an Automobile Tonnage Tax, the tax is based on your vehicles weight.  The maximum they can charge you is 75,000 yen ($900), but if you own a Kei car, it will usually be below 50,000 yen. ($600)

Then you must pay to change the car’s name over, and that Name Change costs 3000 yen ($36)  for a K-car and up to 25,000 yen ($300) for a normal car.

That’s what it costs to acquire a car, before paying for the parking!  So for a normal car under 500,000 yen, it could cost up to $150,000 yen ($1800) on top of my car’s price or half that much for a Kei car.

——————————— (Every 2 years)

Then comes the SHAKEN.

The Shaken is a special Japan only type of car inspection.  Other countries have emission testing, but Japan has the mandatory Shaken car inspection, to ensure you car is road safe and up to regulation.

It can cost as little as 70,000 yen ($850) for a Shaken all the way up to double that for a regular sized car, and even more for older cars.  The Shaken is good for 2 years.  There’s also a follow up inspection for cars older than 10 years.  This inspection takes place every year, and costs about half the price of a regular Shaken to as little as $120.

So, every year for a car older than 10 years old, you will be paying at least $550 (for Shaken and follow up)/ year and up to $1500/year for a bigger car.

It will be over a grand for a K-car and about $3000 for a bigger car every 2 years.  It will be cheaper if your car is newer, these are for 10 year old cars.

——————————— (Every year)

Finally is insurance, which isn’t as expensive as some might think.

Insurance can start at about $360 per year and run up as high as $1000 for premium insurance.

The standard Automobile Tax runs as high as 20,000 yen ($240) for Kei cars, depending on the age, but is generally lower, and as cheap as $60. For bigger vehicles, the cost can run as high as 50,000 yen ($600), but is usually less, depending on the age.

Kei car’s yearly cost can be as low as $420 and big car’s yearly basic insurance can be as high as $960.


Based on these facts, to own a car like the Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R from 1999, you’d be forking out somewhere around $2500 USD/CAD a year, for insurance, tax, and Shaken, plus parking (almost $4000 in Nagoya City!) would be almost $6500. This is before toll costs and gasoline, maintenance and public parking away from home.  The GT-R itself would probably cost around $20,000. With 5 years of driving or less in Japan, your taxes, Shaken, and insurance would have paid for another used R34 GT-R.

For a cheap, little, 10 year old, K-Car, the price could be half as much per year. An the initial purchase of the car could be around $3000.

So, the size of your pocket book makes the difference.  You should be making at least $60,000 a year to live comfortably with an expensive car, or half that to maintain a K-car. Or just export your car to your home country, but where’s the fun in that?


How to get a driver’s license in Nagoya!

Yes! I have my driver’s license and it costed under $100, but costed many hours!  I would say it was worth it, but I got to see the worst of Japanese bureaucracy.

Things I did right included, having the same driver’s license for the past 4 years, it’ll expire soon.  That way they are sure, by checking my passport that I’ve driven in Canada for at least 3 months.  Not renewing my passport, which is also expiring soon was another good step in re-enforcing that I’ve driven for at least 3 years.  Getting a translation of my driver’s license at JAF (3000 yen) took a while because I had to bike there.

Things that almost went wrong included, having a gaigokujin card that was near expiration, and with corrected address.  Also, being able to fill out information in katakana helps, but they will help you if you have the information.  I almost forgot I needed a resident certificate from any ward office (300 yen) to confirm my address.  I thought  the gaijin card was enough, but apparently it won’t cut it.

So the first thing I did was get a all day pass and headed down to Hirabari station by taking the Tsurumai line.  I walked South from Exit 1 for 35 minutes and reached the driving centre.  Its all uphill from the station, but all downhill on the way back.  Inside there were many, many counters and much more people running around than at the immigration centre!  Asking for help I found my way to line 12, which was the line to change a Canadian license to a Japanese license.

Why go through all the trouble?  The first reason is that my International Driver’s license expired 2 months ago, and the second thing is being Canadian, you get to bypass spending thousands of dollars and many days doing exams that other foreigners and Japanese nationals have to do.  Its a good deal, especially if you want to plan road trips or get a car.

After getting a number and waiting for almost 2 hours for the people in front of me to finish, it became my turn.  They had opened up another counter and there I plopped down all my information.  I could tell the work for a Canadian was a lot easier and quicker because he quickly stapled my things together (passport, gaijin card, resident certificate, Canadian driver’s license copies), glued my picture in and told me to fill out a form, and pay the 2400 yen for the stamps that go on my form.  After than I took it to Counter 13-14 where they made small name revisions and gave me a ticket to get my eyes checked.  After they confirmed everything was good they sent me to take an eye test.

I thought it would all be over after the eye test.  Looking at the letter C and describing which way it was facing in English and a colour test they gave me another ticket.  This time it was one that said I had to wait another hour, after lunch to pick up my license.  I began to suspect it wasn’t going to be so easy or cheap.  After an hour they called in the foreigners, explained in Japanese we had to buy another stamp to pay for our license and the picture they would take for our license.  So we went downstairs and lined up, waiting for their lunch break to be over.  The queue was quite long, but we got through pretty quickly.  The employees, with the exception of some were like robots, day in and day out doing the same thing.   So we were back upstairs, and they pulled us to one side as regular Japanese licensees got their pictures taken.

Once they finished and went downstairs we were given a little lecture on some license rules and the changes that would occur in a month concerning small trucks.  After we signed some sort of waver, I couldn’t understand so well since everything was in Japanese and all the Spanish speakers relied on one translator, I just did as they did and got my license.  I had to fill in a IC number card and input it into a machine with my license.  Once that was done I was out of there!  4 hours over and done and with my license!  That IC card things is still kinda weird, and I’m really not sure what the explanation was about.  However, I am a full fledge driver, and I got through the driving centre without any translator!

If I were to buy a car…

I’m in Japan, indisputably one of the worlds top 3 car producers in the world,  tied with Europe, ahead of America, and following from behind is Korea.  In this age where China and India are racing to join Korea in a journey to usurp the declining giants, there was an age where Japan was the climbing car maker.  From behind they changed the industry, not just on the roads but on the railroad tracks.  But now fans are left looking back at the glory days that got Japan to where they are.  I am one of those looking back, back at the light, all wheel/rear wheel drive, dragons on wheels.  So if I wanted to get a car in Japan, which car should I get?

First of all, it must be unique, and difficult to acquire in Canada.  That rules out major vehicles like the RX-7, Skyline, Supra, WRX, EVO, and so on.  The most unique cars in Japan are Kei-Cars, a shorten name for cars that are eco-friendly, small, efficient and can be quite fast.  They carry yellow license plates, and also a spot in my heart.

Here are the candidates I’ve decided upon:

Subaru Vivio


Suzuki Alto Works


Nissan GTi-R



Suzuki Cappacino


Honda Beat:


So which one hmmm, I guess it depends a lot on the price, condition, and wither I want a convertible or mini-box!  I also don’t think the Nissan is a K-car, but its a powerful beast!

Some fame:

The Subaru Vivio was featured on Lucky Star beating a RX-7.  The Cappuccino was on Initial D and it lost to the AE86.  The other cars are pretty similiar, except the GTi-R has twice the power.

My Car! (Retroactive)

I wish my RX-7 had more torque, but the torque is just as invisible as my car right now, so I give you some pictures from this winter. The heavier branches from the tree almost fell on top of it, but luckily it didn’t.

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