I do. I currently drive a used Nissan March. It’s trusty but I realize I will have to upgrade if I plan to stay here longer. Riding the train for long distances makes me sick, along with the overall feeling of being cramped into a space. However, I love driving, plus having a car allows me to explore new places off the beat train path and also take road trips with my friends. My parking space is included in my apartment, so I’m kinda lucky. What do you ladies drive? Is it a full-sized car or a kei car, with a smaller engine? Do you enjoy driving? Do you love your J-car? Do you pay a lot for a parking space? Do you have any tips or info you want to share about driving?
I drive too because it is hard to live in Tsukuba without a car. I tried to manage without a car for about 4 months when I first got here, but just doing small errands (going to the city hall, or the bank, or the video shop) took SO LONG to complete because everything is located so far away from everything else (and the buses aren’t always faster than biking there yourself) that I found I had no free time once all my chores were finished in a day. As soon as I got a car, I found myself able to complete tasks in a fraction of the time, and my job prospects even improved because I could travel around and meet people rather than having to stay in a small central area.
I also drive a used Nissan March (1997 I think). There is enough space for two cars to park in front of my house and the spaces are free. I don’t mind driving, but I am definitely feeling the sting of the high gas prices lately.
I guess the only tip I have about driving is to get a JAF membership (http://www.jaf.or.jp/). I think it only costs 4000 yen per year, but it is a nice thing to have when you are stranded because of a flat tire or your keys are locked inside your car. And, if you have a JAF membership and you are in a friends’ car, the JAF people will still come and help. I have asked JAF for help twice—and both times were for problems with someone else’s car. One of them happened during a holiday (O-Bon, if I remember correctly), so the towing fees alone would have been off the charts if I didn’t have a JAF membership.
That said, some insurance companies are offering “Road Service” these days, which includes some of the same services that JAF offers, so you might want to check your insurance policy before you sign up for something that you may already have.
Good point Shaney! I was thinking about the AAA we have in the States and was wondering if there was anything comparable here. Do they speak English? Also do you like your car? Have you had to do a lot of maintenance to it? Or pay a lot for shaken? I did my shaken this past May and luckily nothing major was wrong—I only spent 50,000 on some needed repairs, but I’m wondering if it will be cheaper next time with a newer used car or better with this one and keep it maintained…
Sunrise, I’m so jealous! I want a hybrid! Anything to help with the high gas prices…toll roads aren’t that bad. They usually get you there in half the time, so I don’t mind paying. What about ETC? I heard if you have this, your toll fees are a little cheaper…anyone know for sure?
I just thought of another tip. I have a garage that I always deal with and I take my car there for 6-month (usually around 5000 yen) and 1-year (usually around 10,000 yen) inspections and repairs. This means that my car is getting serviced every six months which gives my mechanics plenty of time to notice anything that looks like it is running down before it turns into a major issue. Since I know NOTHING about cars, this makes me feel more safe when I am on the road. Since I have developed a good relationship with this particular company, they often give me little extras for free, like if they notice some small thing that just needs to be replaced, they will give me both the part and the labour for free. Because they know that I will be back, regular as clockwork, in six months, they always report issues with my car in terms of whether they need to be dealt with immediately or if they can wait for another six months. This saves me money because it means that I cannot be scared into paying for a heap of potentially unnecessary repairs all at once. It also means that, come shaken time (every two years), they can’t tell me that my car suddenly needs thousands of dollars worth of repairs.
Here are some words you can use if you want to try out this system.
6 month inspection: 六ヶ月点検 (rokkagetsu tenken)
1 year inspection: 一年間点検 (ichi nen kan ten ken)
Not every garage offers the 6-month inspections as a standard part of their services. (One-year inspections are mandatory in the off year in between doing your shaken.) When I lived in Fukushima, I used to go to a garage that would send me out a reminder that it was time for my 6-month inspection, so I thought that this kind of thing was normal. When I moved to Tsukuba, I was surprised that my new garage did not remind me, and in fact, they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about when I said “6-month inspection”. However, they seem to have muddled through it the first time, and now it appears to be a regular part of their service repertoire. I am pretty sure that was inspired by me!
It may seem a bit too much to take your car in every six months, but if you don’t know anything about cars and you want yours to last a long time, I would recommend this method. I would particularly recommend building up a relationship with one particular garage so you can get the side benefit of becoming “somebody” in their eyes, so the chances of them trying to take you to the cleaners on shaken day decreases.
ETC is the system for paying for your highway tolls electronically through a transponder in your car that is linked to a credit card. It means that you don’t have to wait at the tolls gates when you get on or off the expressway. This can be very convenient because the on and off ramps tend to be the first places that clog up when traffic is heavy.
I can’t remember exactly, but I think that the garage I mentioned above installs the transponder for about 15,000 yen in total (for the equipment, parts, and labour).
The discounts you get depend on the roads that you are using and the time that you are using them. For example, using the Shuto Expressway (in Tokyo) with an ETC will get you a 3% discount during peak hours (6am to 11am, 3pm to 6pm) on weekdays and Saturdays, a 10% discount on off-peak hours (11am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm), a 20% discount during the night (10pm to 6am), and a 20% discount all day on Sunday.
This booklet outlines all of the discounts (but it is only available in Japanese as far as I can tell)
So, I guess it is worth getting an ETC if you think that you can make up for the initial installation and equipment costs over the time that you will be using it, or if you think that the time that you save at the gates is worth the extra cash. (And I think that we women tend to undervalue our time, so this is an important consideration.)
Wow Shaney and sunrisemusic, thanks for all the info!
I guess I need to find a local garage near my house. I usually always go to Autobacs and wait with the other 32782478272382 cars and owners for service. Would you recommend a smaller shop, Nissan dealer, or a chain like Autobacs? In the States I always used my Dad b/c he was once a mechanic and knew my car (a Jeep) down to a T. As a female with NO car knowledge other than the “check the fluids” and change a tire bit, I do feel more comfortable taking it to someone and having a JAF-type service. But I know in the States some shops would rip-off females because of their lack of knowledge. Do you feel this way here? Or maybe b/c of being a foreigner? Japanese ppl are usually pretty honest, but I was just wondering.
Thanks for the hybrid info too, right now I couldn’t spend more than 300,000 yen on a newer car, so I’m thinking I should save up and until then stick with what I have. I don’t want the newest thing, but I would like ETC and maybe Navi on some sort to help when I get lost. I heard there was an ETC discount, but I had no clue about it. I suppose I need to improve my Japanese a bit. I prefer to use the toll roads to save time when I need to get to Yokohama and home, but other than that I rarely go except for road trips and such. I do find that by taking them I save a heck of a lot of time and am less frustrated as they rarely clog up. Once again gals, thanks for the info!!!
I would recommend taking it to a small garage, one that is not affiliated with any particular car company. That will mean that you can continue to take your car there even if you get a new one. Also, the smaller it is, the less likely that you will have to wait (I almost never do) and the more likely you will be able to make a proper relationship with the people who work there.
(JAF is completely separate, by the way. They are just the people you call when you have an emergency like a flat tire or locking yourself out of your car. You don’t need to make a relationship with them because they are always nice!)
When I first got here, I was also a bit concerned about being taken for a ride by the mechanics as I know nothing about cars. However, here is a story about my garage that should make you feel like it is possible to get better service in Japan than back home (not really surprising perhaps) …
One of my friends woke up this morning and found out that one of his tires was flat. This had never happened to him in Japan before, so he wasn’t sure what to do. I told him that I would ask my garage for an estimate for towing his car to the garage to get things sorted out (if he didn’t have the right tools to change the tire himself). They said that it would not be necessary to tow the car, but that they could send someone out to put the spare on the car for about $30 to $40. Then, they told me that he should check his insurance policy first to see whether he had a “road service” clause, because then he could get the tire changed for free (by a garage designated by the insurance company). So, I went to my garage asking for an estimate for towing (which, I assume, would be somewhere in the range of $100) and they talked me down to a less expensive service, and finally talked me into trying to get the service done for free by another garage.
So, try to find a place like that! I think that most companies, especially ones that are run by actual people and not chains, are happy to have return customers, so if you can build a good relationship with the company, they will treat you right.
If you’re afraid of getting ripped off for being a girl/foreigner, why not make your boyfriend go with you? I just bought my car, a red 2004 Daihatsu Mira Gino, last month (here in Okinawa it’s pretty much impossible to live without one), and made my boyfriend come along to make sure everything looked all right. Somehow he talked them into putting brand-new tires on it for free, which we were very thankful for the other day when we had to stop suddenly and almost rear-ended a truck.
I have a question – how much is gas these days up in Tokyo/Yokohama? When I lived there I didn’t have a car, so I never bothered to check. In Okinawa it’s averaging around 171, although yesterday it was only 160-161 so I filled up my tank.
Even though I’ve only had my Gina for about a month, she’s been great – I’m a terrible driver and often crashed into things back in the States, so I find the small kei cars easy to maneuver. Not to mention cute ^_^
I think gas is around 170 here (Ibaraki) too.
Just bought some today at 171…wanted to cry just filling up my small Nissan March…and payday isn’t til the 26th..boohoo!
I saw a sign for 158 just now! Man…can’t believe I wasted 3 yen/liter filling up yesterday.
My boss just told me that gas is cheap on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays. He is not sure why.
I understand what the site does, but what does “Fukumen” mean?
Yes, explain please…sorry I’m confused!
I used to drive a little red Honda Life Dunk, but I sold it so I could buy a professional camera. After having a Honda Accord in England, it was like driving a hair dryer.
Ex hubbie has a deep purple S2000 and Ive driven that from Nagoya to Tokyo. Its an amazing car on the motorway, a really safe drive.
We drove our little Dunk from Suzuka, Mie Prefecture to Minamata in Kyushu and back for New Year once. Honda is quite a reliable make of car.
If you go on the toll roads, stick to the speed limit as much as you can. A lot of the Toyota Crown and Nissan Cederic cars are undercover police cars looking for
If you ever get chance to go the Tokyo Motor Show is quite an interesting day out. Last year I was the only girl queuing to sit in the latest Mitsubishi Evolution (paddle steering!)
I walk everywhere now or get the bus or train, so Ive missed out a bit on the petrol problems (apart from the price of my JAL plane ticket back to London in June – which part of the plane do I now own?)
I love cars
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