Unlike mainland Japan public transportation in Okinawa can be difficult, especially if you don’t live around a populous city or live on a remote island. The bus system is manageable but rarely punctual.

Necessary Documents

Before you even start looking for a car you need to have to have these things (Note: If you’ve been in Japan for over a year, you will need to switch over to a Japanese Driver’s License.):

  • Inkan (印鑑 inkan) – nifty little stamp with you name in Japanese
  • Alien Registration Card (外国人登録証明書 gaikokujin tōroku shōmeisho)- Government issued card stating who you are, and what you are doing in Japan
  • Proof of Parking (車庫署名賞 shakoshōmeisho)- Only if you get a white plate (explained later)
  • International Drivering Permit (IDP) or Japanese Drivers License
  • Money for the car, the mandatory car inspection for the car and possibility a deposit for the parking spot depending on your apartment.

Types of Vehicles

  • Yellow Plates (軽自動車 keijidōsha “K-cars”) Smaller vehicles, with engines that are less than 660cc. Extremely popular because of the huge tax breaks associated with them. Easy to park, cheaper to own, excessively small.
  • White plates Easily identified by their white license plates. Probably the car you are use to at home, able to climb hills, pass other cars and come in different shapes other than cube and sphere. White plates are cars that have an engine larger than 660cc. White plates may offer you that va-va-va-vroom feeling, added cargo space and “did you just see that (insert luxury vehicle name here) go by” mind-set, but can be more expensive than Yellow plates.
  • Scooters offer an inexpensive alternative to getting a car. You can find a sufficient, used, “one seater” for about 50,000円. To drive a scooter you do need your international driving permit.
Car Type Price to buy Insurance Parking Requirement Road Tax per year Full Tank Cost
Yellow Plate
Around 300,000円 or more for a good used car(bargains in the 100,000円 range sometimes)
Slightly cheaper than white.4,000円 a month
No proof required/ usually no deposit (in bigger cities most parking spots are not included in your rent)
Cheaper than white, usually less than 10,000円
White Plate
Around 250,000円 or more for a good used car(bargains under 100,000円 common, but do not include shaken)
Full insurance about 5,000円 a month
Proof of Parking required(車庫署名書 shakoshōmeisho)
Ranges from about 30,000 up to 90,000 depending on you car (usually about 40,000)
50,000円 and up
10,000 to 30,000円 a year
No proof required
Around 3,000円

Where to Buy

There are several places on the island to get cars. One of the easiest ways is to ask a teacher (some even have free cars to give away). Websites are tricky to navigate if you don’t know Japanese, but have a teacher or co-worker help you. Also look around your neighborhood–I found my car about 2 blocks from my house. Not only is it easy to get the paperwork sorted out if you stay in the neighborhood, it’s also easy to get repairs and maintenance done. And last but not least, ask a JET or see if any previous JETs are selling their car.

www.car-ciao.net (Japanese only)
www.o-cross.net (Japanese only)
JapanUpdate.com Classifieds, a website mainly used by military people that are selling items because they are moving

Don’t forget to get Optional Insurance!

JA共済 (Japanese only)
SBI Insurance (online application, Japanese only)
ACE (Kumoji Branch, Japanese only)

Changing Car Ownership

The process of changing ownership of a car when you buy one second-hand is called “meigi henko.”

Necessary Documents

  1. If the car is a white-plate you need a Certification of Parking Space (車庫証明 shako shomei) from your local Police Station (get inkaned proof of your parking space from your landlord and take it to the policestation). The police will usually confirm that the parking space is valid by visiting the space themselves and then give you a sticker for your car and certification.
  2. Your inkan and if it’s a white plate you also need a Proof of Inkan Certification (印鑑証明書inkan shomeisho) from your local municipal office.
  3. Your IDP, driver’s license, and Residence Card.
  4. The inkan and Proof of Inkan Certification of the person you are buying the car from.
  5. Proof of Payment of Automobile Tax (自動車税納付証明書¸ jidoshazei no fushomeisho) from the person you are buying the car from.
  6. Car Registration Certificate (車検書 shakensho) from the person you are buying the car from.
  7. Compulsory Automobile Liability Insurance Certificate (自賠責保険証¸ jibaiseki hokenshou) from the person you are buying the car from.

Take all of this stuff to the local Land Transportation Office (陸運事務所 rikuun jimusho) and they will give you forms tofill out. Have you supervisor (or someone who speaks Japanese) to call before hand to make sure you have all the correct papers. It will probably take around 10 days to complete the entire process if you are buying a white-plate, or 1 day if you are buying a yellow-plate.

Okinawa Land Transportation Office (沖縄陸運事務所)
512-4 Aza Minatogawa, Urasoe-shi,Okinawa-ken 901-2134
〒901-2134沖縄県浦添市字港川 5-12-4
TEL: 050(5540)2091 FAX: 098(876)7233 Closes at 4:00 pm

Miyako Land Transportation Office (宮古陸運事務所)
1037-1 Aza Shimozato, Hirara,Miyakojima-shi, Okinawan-ken 906-0013
TEL: 050(5540)2092 FAX: 0980(73)3861

Yaeyama Land Transportation Office (八重山陸運事務所)
863-15 Aza Maezato Uehara,Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa-ken 907-0002
TEL: 050(5540)2093 FAX: 0980(83)5065

To Leaving JETs: If your successor will not arrive before you leave then you will need to get somebody to do all of this on your behalf, in which case you may need to organize a letter of attorney to empower them to do so. Without a legal power of attorney, you are just trusting that person on good faith that everything will get done, so please choose carefully and get everything ready for them so that it makes their job easier. And of course, please show your appreciation after everything is finished. Please also note that necessary forms may vary by municipality, so it would be best to check with the Land Transportation Office beforehand to confirm which forms will be required.

Safety Inspection (Shaken)

All vehicles must undergo a periodic vehicle safety inspection called jidōsha kensa (自動車検査) or “shaken” (車検) for short. Frequency is usually every two years, but may be more frequent for older vehicles. (A new vehicle will undergo the first inspection three years after purchase.) Costs will vary depending on the age of the vehicle and the size of the engine, ranging from 100,000円 to 150,000円 or more. A certificate and sticker will be issued for vehicles which pass the inspection. The certificate of inspection must be carried by the driver at all times while driving and the sticker displayed on the front windshield. You will be provided a replacement car when you take your car in for the inspection.

Kobac (Gushikawa, Urasoe, Okinawa City, Itoman, Chatan)
Relatively cheap Shaken that offers a lot discounts such as referral, 1 month early appointment, payment by cash and more.

Junking/Recycling Your Car

Junking or recycling is an excellent way to be rid of your damaged or otherwise unsellable car. Many garages or insurance companies offer junking services, but these may come at a price, especially if your car requires towing. Others are free, but you receive no compensation for the scrap metal. Also bear in mind that while there exist several junking guides for SOFA residents, JETs are civilians and therefore the process has some differences. It is, however, relatively easy to do on your own.

There is the potential to turn a tidy profit if you do the legwork for junking yourself. However, seeing as the locations necessary are in the central and southern parts of the island (Chatan and Urasoe, specifically), it may be less stressful for a northern JET or outer islander to simply pay a garage or seek out a free service to dispose of the vehicle rather than spend the time and effort of driving back and forth.

Necessary Documents
Before heading to the junkyard or LTO, you’ll need to make sure that you have:

  • A current shaken 車検 (Japanese inspection tax that consists of two parts: the sticker beside your rearview mirror and a green-patterned certificate in your car’s registration)
  • Your inkan, should you have one. Otherwise, a signature will do.
  • An up-to-date jidōshazei 自動車税 (Car tax, different from shaken, paid annually. Look for the small white slip with your car’s paperwork – it comes from City Hall around April/May.) (E/N: I, personally, may or may not have been three days overdue on my car tax, but I was not made to pay at the LTO.)

Step 1: The Scrapyard

There are several auto recycle centers on Okinawa, and their function essentially the same, but for the ease of example, this article will reference Miyagi kaitai in Chatan.

Miyagi Scrapyard (宮城解体)
245 Sunabe Chatan Okinawa 904-0111 Japan
Hours: 08:30-17:30 Mon-Sat (12:00-13:00 lunch)
Closed on Japanese Holidays

Miyagi Scrapyard is easily accessed and easy to navigate. Heading north on Route 58 from American Village, turn at ‘Sunabe’ (砂辺) intersection. The main gate is straight ahead. Parking is immediately to your left after the fence (and a bit limited), but you won’t need it long. Park your car and take your shaken in to the main office, which is a small, squat building on the right with a difficult-to-miss enormous arrow and the label ‘MAIN OFFICE’ on its side.

The staff speaks variable English, and should be able to communicate the basics to you. Hand them your papers, and they will calculate the price of your car based on the weight listed on the registration and the current rate for scrap metal. (E/N: My 2001 Suzuki Wagon R was roughly ¥14300.) They will then produce a rusty bucket for you to borrow tools from in order to remove your plates and any tax stickers. Your plates may have aluminum seals over the screws that have the Okinawa Prefecture seal (the ‘oki’ kanji). If necessary, pierce them through to get to the screws beneath and remove them. Keep the seals. Using the scraper tool, remove the tax stickers from your windshield and bring everything back in to the office.

At this point, you will get three things: cash payment, a receipt, and a second ‘recycled’ slip that will be stapled to your shaken. It’s the same color and print, but bears a large red stamp as well as the stamp of the junkyard. Take your plates, seals, stickers, and augmented shaken, and you’re finished.

Total time taken: 10-15 minutes

Step 2: The LTO

It is highly recommended that you begin the process two weeks before your car must be de-registered.

This second step cannot take place until your car has been processed, crushed, and recycled. This can be up to a week (or more) after you dropped the car off, but you cannot de-register your car without knowing the exact date it was completed. Call the junkyard and ask, being sure to write down the completion date. Once that is finished, you can go to the LTO.

Okinawa Land Transportation Office (沖縄陸運事務所)
512-4 Minatogawa, Urasoe, Okinawa
Hours: 08:45 – 04:00 Mon-Fri (11:45-13:00 lunch)
Closed on Japanese holidays
050 – 5540-2091

Edited as of 6/18/14. The LTO is also fairly recognizable. When in Urasoe on Route 58, turn at the intersection with the Pharaoh pachinko parlor. (There will be a sign at the intersection.) Follow the signs to the LTO, taking a right down a small hill and following the road to nearly the very end. You will pass a large walled-in parking lot and the main LTO building on your left. Immediately after the parking lot walls, take a left. Take a right into the opening marked “Gate 1,” and park here. (E/N: There are no English-speaking staff in the offices we need. If you’re in trouble, you can go to the main building and go to the window marked ‘Military’ to talk to an English speaker, but you might have to wait a while for help and they won’t be able to process the paperwork for you at that window.)

What you will need:
  • Your shaken and attached recycling slip
  • Your license plates
  • Your inkan, if you have one
  • Your bank card and home branch name (where you opened your account, usually)
  • Knowledge of how to write your name and address in Japanese
LTO Part 1

Directly after the gate on your right, there will be a brown brick building, and next to it is the Small Vehicles Office. It’s white and has almost no signage. Go through the first door, which will be unmarked and close to the brown brick. You’ll see a series of numbered counters. The farthest right will be window 7. Beside it, you will see a large machine with metal indents inside. Put both license plates in faceup, and the machine’s screen will display the plate reading. If it’s correct, touch the ‘yes’ button and take the sticker that prints out.

The staff at the window will give you a piece of white paper and tell you what to write and where. This one’s easy – the sticker goes down at the bottom, and there are two spaces at the top for your name and license plate information. If you can write your name in katakana, the kanji for ‘Okinawa,’ and the hiragana on your plate, you’ll have no problem.

LTO Part 2

Go to the next counter, window 0. (Yes, zero.) Give them your shaken, recycling slip, and license plate paper. They’ll tell you what to write and where, and it’ll be mostly serial numbers. Poor spoken Japanese is okay here; they’ll circle what you need to write and indicate it on the forms. If you have any remaining time on your shaken, they’ll need you to also fill out a furikomi (money transfer) form. That’s where you’ll need to know your bank name, home branch name, and bank number (embossed on your cash card). You’ll also need to write your address in kanji three or four times here. Fill it out on one of the tables, then bring it back and they’ll double-check it for you.

LTO Part 3

Go two windows over to number 3 and put the bundle of papers clipped together into the basket and wait for your name. Pay 300 yen, then wait again at window 2. They’ll check the papers and might ask you for more information, like phone number or other details. Finish all the little stuff, then take your papers with you and go to the last section of the office.

LTO Part 4

There will be a touchscreen number ticket dispenser on the left. Press ‘1’ and get a number. Detach the top half and stick it under the paperclip, keeping the matching bottom half for yourself. Drop the papers off in the basket at window 1 or hand it to the clerk, then have a seat and wait. When your number is called, you will receive a copy of your shaken and white paper with your plate numbers on it, stating that your car has been de-registered.

Total time taken: 30-45 minutes

Step 3: Insurance

In the easiest step of all, stop by your insurance company and close out your coverage, as you may be entitled to a refund.