This step-by-step guide to buying a car is a follow up to the articles below on how to buy a car in Japan:
- Do you need a car?
- Do you want a car?
- Costs of car ownership in Japan
- What kind of car should you get?
- Where is the best place to shop for a car?
(You may want to start by reading Costs of car ownership in Japan, if you haven’t yet found and reserved a parking space near your home, as this is a pre-requisite for buying a car in Japan.)
So, you’ve found a car you like, along with a nearby parking lot with an open space.
Here is where the real work begins. Even after I put money down for my car, the paperwork took a huge amount of time. Had I been properly prepared ahead of time though, I probably could’ve shaved a few weeks off my total wait time.
In this article, I would like to go through a quick outline of the steps, and then go into detail about each individual step.
- Step 0: Get a “jitsu-in” and register it with your city
- Step 1: Reserve your car
- Step 2: Submit an application for your parking space
- Step 3: Apply for a parking certificate at the police station
- Step 4: Send everything back to the dealership
- Step 5: Get the keys!
Bear in mind that I only have experience buying a used car with cash upfront, so your mileage (haha) may vary.
Step 0: Get a “jitsu-in” and register it with your city
I’m actually starting with Step Zero, because honestly this is something I wish I had done earlier on during my stay in Japan.
If you live here or have researched about moving here, then I’m sure you know about inkan, the personal stamps that all Japanese people use. Luckily for us foreigners, a lot of the time we don’t actually need a proper one with our name on it. Sometimes banks might require them, but I personally was able to make two bank accounts, both with random Daiso inkans. For buying a car however, something much more serious was required…
A jitsu-in or “real seal” is the largest form of inkan and is basically used only for major things, like buying a car or house. While normal inkans do not need to be your exact name, a jitsu-in needs to have your name exactly as it is on your residence card. Middle name, capital letters, and all. Even after buying it, you need to get it officially registered at your local city or ward office as proof that this is indeed your real seal. You will need to have a copy of your inkan shomeisho or “proof of inkan certificate” in order to purchase the car.
After a bit of searching I was able to find a website online where I could quite easily buy a jitsu-in. I ended up purchasing a set of a normal inkan, a bank inkan, and a jitsu-in from the aptly named inkans.com. At one point it turned out that my name was too big for the size I had chosen, but they kindly called me and upgraded the size free of charge. After purchasing the inkan set, I had the stamps in my hands in just a few days!
As a side note, I would really recommend getting a full set of inkans soon after you move to Japan if you plan on being here long term. Because I didn’t standardize my inkans early on and used two different ones for both of my bank accounts, I’ve had trouble registering my bank account with credit cards for automatic withdrawal. Learn from my mistakes and plan ahead!
Step 1: Reserve your car
This part of the process is actually very easy! Once you’re in contact with the dealership, they’ll usually let you know exactly what to do. I went in person to test drive the car and paid ¥30,000 down in cash, which of course went towards the car’s total price. You can also reserve without going to the dealership by paying via bank transfer, but if possible, going in person first to see the car is always recommended!
Once you reserve the car, you’ll get a few important pieces of paper.
- In addition to the receipt, you’ll get a form with information about your future car and its repair history.
- Second, you’ll likely get an ininjyo, which is a form that you’ll need your jitsu-in for later on. This form gives the dealership permission to act on your behalf, which they use to transfer ownership rights from the previous owner to you.
My dealership also helped me write out my application for proof of parking for the police department, though I know some places charge for the assistance. Information on how to fill out the paperwork can be found on the website for your local police department, but it’s usually easiest to just have the dealership prepare most of it so you minimize the risk of missing something. We’ll go into more detail about this in Step 3!
Step 2: Submit an application for your parking space
Now this is the step where you’re going to be doing a lot of waiting.
After getting my car reserved I was able to apply for the parking space I found online. That consisted of inputting my basic information (name, address, the usual) and a photo of the front and back of my license. Their “approval process” just consisted of asking me where I was from, how long I’ve had a license, and how long I was planning on being in Japan. Within a day they told me everything was okay and they’d send out the documents.
Importance of getting proof of parking document
There was one awkward situation that could’ve turned out pretty bad though. On their application form, there was something asking if I needed proof of parking for an extra fee. I thought, “No, I get that from the police station,” so I didn’t check it. But after doing a bit more research, I realized that there’s two different kinds of proof of parking. If you’re renting a parking space, you need to get a proof of parking certificate from the property manager, which you present to the police station with an application for your ACTUAL proof of parking certificate. It’s extremely confusing, but make sure you get that form. It cost me an extra ¥2,000.
Speaking of cost, at this point I paid my initial parking space fees via bank transfer to the property management company. I had to pay for the next two full months in addition to the current month, in addition to an agency fee. Admittedly it was a lot more expensive than I thought it would be, though I suppose that is somewhat par for the course in Japan.
Waiting for the documents to come took around two weeks… I suppose I should have expected this, considering I work in real estate and have waited much longer for companies to send us paperwork. I would like to hope that you will get your paperwork sooner, but until that paperwork comes, you basically just have to wait, since you need it before going to the police station. Waiting was frustrating, which is why it’s good to understand ahead of time that it could potentially be a while!
Proof of car insurance
In the envelope you’ll probably have two copies of the contract, along with the non-final proof of parking paper that you need to bring to the police station. Hold onto the contracts, as you won’t be sending those back until you get a copy of your shaken-shomeisho (proof of compulsory car insurance) when you pick up your keys.
Step 3: Apply for a parking certificate at the police station
With your proof of parking from the property management company in hand, you’ll need to fill out the other paperwork that you hopefully got from the dealership.
One thing I would like to note is that on my non-final proof of parking sheet, I had to put my name and address myself. However, I wasn’t paying very close attention and wrote my address wrong, and had to correct part of it. When I went to the police station they informed me I have to go to the property management to get their stamp approving my correction. That delayed things by a whole week so again, learn from my mistakes. Be careful when writing your address!
Map showing the distance between your home and the parking lot
Generally what you’re going to need is a printed map of the area around your parking lot, showing the distance between your home and the lot. It will need to be within a few kilometers (again, check with the police department/dealership to be sure) or they won’t approve it. You’ll also need to draw a little diagram of the parking lot and the road next to it. Measurements of the parking space and the road are actually required, which I did not know about until I was being asked to fill them in at the police station. I… may have guessed the sizes on the spot. Please do not be like me. Measure ahead of time.
The application costs around ¥3,000 yen total and you’ll probably need to buy revenue stamps to pay said fees. Luckily you can usually buy the stamps at another desk right there. I believe you can also do your application via mail, although I live pretty close to a police station and did it in person. If you use mail, prepare for a longer wait. Once you finish the application you’ll get a postcard with a date to come back. Had I not foolishly miswritten my own address, I could’ve picked it up just a couple of days later.
I also live close to the property management company but they were off for a weeklong summer break, so I ended up with a massive delay. Once they opened back up I walked into their shop and got the correction stamp, but I can only imagine how long it would be if I had to mail the paperwork and wait for it to come back…
The moral of the story is: a tiny mistake can make the whole process much longer. Once I had that correction stamp though, I went back to the police station and got my final, real proof of parking certificate!
Step 4: Send everything back to the dealership
In addition to the parking certificate, I had to send back the aforementioned ininjyo with my jitsu-in stamped on it twice, plus the jitsu-in shomeisho to further prove that it is indeed my jitsu-in. I sent my dealer a quick email that the documents were on their way and about three days later, I got a call and was told my car was ready to pick up! For this step, I would recommend putting two stamps on the envelope because almost assuredly it will be too heavy for a single stamp.
Step 5: Get the keys!
The final step of the process was also quite easy! The same day I was informed my car was ready, I went to the dealership to pick it up. I paid the remaining balance with cash and after a bit of waiting and set up, I was on the open roads. I went in the early evening (around 6 PM on a weekday) to pick it up and traffic made it take twice as long to get home, but at least I got to spend more time with the car!
I suppose the final, final step was making copies of my shakensho signing the contracts, and sending those back to the property management company. Depending on how long certain aspects of the process take, the property management company may call you and ask about where the contracts are. As long as you explain you’re just waiting on something and you’ll send them ASAP though, you’ll be fine.
I was lucky enough that everyone I dealt with in the whole process was very kind, despite my mistakes and lack of knowledge. I hope that if you end up buying a car, you have a similarly pleasant experience, but learn from my mistakes!
Nathan works for the GaijinPot Housing Service, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!
Lead image: Interior of Nathan’s car shortly have he bought it!