By on October 23, 2015

Kreutzer T&C reveal

It’s Friday and once again it’s time for an update from Japan where my efforts to get my Town & Country licensed and street legal continue unabated.

Last week’s baby steps have led to modest results. My visit to the local police station netted me a parking permit on Tuesday and, although I am immensely self-satisfied at the results, I am aware that the permit’s issuance has started a 30 day countdown clock. If I cannot complete the entire registration process within that window, I will have to repeat this step of the process.

Naturally, I would rather avoid that.

Additionally, on Thursday, I received a communique from the recycle bureau. Apparently, they are serious about not wasting paper because there was no letter enclosed, only a bill for 15,300 yen (~$125 USD) and instructions on how I to send it. I took care of that first thing on Friday morning with a visit to the post office which, it turns out, doubles as a bank. I simply presented the bill, paid the post office in cash and they handled the rest via wire transfer.

The recycle bureau is supposed to review the account on Monday and mail my certificate out the day after that. If all goes well, this step should be completed by the end of next week.

Japanese parking permit sample

Meanwhile, I have been sweating the load on the safety inspection I had scheduled for the 26th. While this inspection is not supposed to be a Shaken, it does look to contain all the same tests, and that means they are going to be quite thorough. Naturally, I want to pass it as quickly as possible. So, on Thursday afternoon, I went to the garage to ask a few questions.

Rather than answer my questions, the guys at the garage did me a huge favor and put the T&C on the actual test rig they will use for the inspection. It’s a sophisticated gizmo made up of mirrors, a camera and a moving platform. Once the van was parked in the right position, the results came quickly. My fears were confirmed. The driver’s-side headlight is right on the edge of the zone and borderline illegal while the passenger headlight, which sits on the centerline of the road, aims so far to the right that it shines directly into the eyes of anyone unfortunate enough to cross my path. Bad news to be sure.

Hayakawa jidosha

Some online research and a quick check under the hood found that the T&C’s headlights are not horizontally adjustable and the lights would, therefore, have to be corrected. More work on the internet showed me two possible ways to do this: One is to put some sort of light redirecting stickers over the lenses and the other was to replace them with the same lights from a right-hand drive version of the van. After thinking it over, I ordered the stickers from Amazon.com and then, after thinking it over some more, I decided to try and source the right-hand drive lights too.

Kreutzer T&C lightInternet searches for the appropriate lights were mostly futile. After a day’s worth of work, I gave up and drove forty minutes to the nearest Chrysler Jeep dealer in Yokohama — only to find that they were closed on Tuesdays. Unhappily, I returned home and went back to work on the internet where, after hours of work, I was finally able source the lights from the United States of all places. After calling the source in order to verify the claim that the lights were, in fact, equipped with right-hand drive optics, I was — after some research — assured they were right and that they were one of the few export parts that could, for some unknown reason, actually be sent from the United States.

Tonight, about $700 later, I am sitting here, acutely aware that the countdown clock is ticking, hoping the lights arrive before my inspection appointment, which I have now pushed back a week to allow for some added breathing room. Then, once they finally get here, I have only to tear the entire front fascia off the van in order to install them.

Once I am done, however, the van should cruise through its inspection, the final step prior to visiting the LTO one last time and bolting on my plates. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Thomas M. Kreutzer currently lives in Kanagawa, Japan with his wife and three children. He has spent most of his adult life overseas with more than nine years in Japan, two years in Jamaica and almost five years as a U.S. Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. Although originally from Snohomish, WA, he has also lived in several places around the United States including Buffalo, NY and Leavenworth, KS. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, Kreutzer has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

[Photo Credit: Headlight testing courtesy of hayakawa-jidousya.com]

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57 Comments on “Swimming Upstream: 30 Day Countdown...”


  • avatar
    kcflyer

    Thomas,
    It’s not to late to come back to Buffalo. The Sabres have a new prodigy, the bills aren’t eliminated from playoff contention yet, and the Snow season is fast approaching. Maybe you can bring a new Honda S660 back with you. After you get it through the import process I will take it off your hands and throw in some wings at Duffs. Besides, after all the hoops you have jumped through for the van, dealing with the Albany circus should be easier.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Sorry kcflyer, Jack Eichel is completely negated by Evander Kane. Its a slow working poison, but in time, it will strike.

    • 0 avatar

      I would love to go back to Buffalo if the job was right. I liked what I did there, but there weren’t enough positions above me to ensure any kind of promotion. I just wasn’t ready to hang up my spurs so I decided to move on.

      We made great friends there, though, and the kids still Skype with their buddies every couple of weeks. The funniest thing is my youngest daughter, who is four, telling everyone she is a “Buffalo Gal” since she was born there.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Someone should make sure that a certain former editor of this website reads this series. You know, that German guy who kept claiming that importing cars into Japan was easy and cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, it doesn’t sound like Chrysler is doing much to help themselves by having their dealers closed on Tuesdays.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair to that former editor, he is looking at the macro level while I am looking at the micro. I am sure there would be costs involved in bringing certain cars to the Japanese market, but I do not believe that American companies are “locked out” of the Japanese market through regulation and government imposed costs.

      On an individual level, getting this car legal is costing real money. Yes, I could have bought a Japanese vehicle on the used market that would have worked but I’m not wired that way. I don’t throw perfectly good things away and in my household no one gets left behind – even the van. It’s important to me that my kids see and understand this so I will bear the cost for this object lesson.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      It’s easy and cheap compared to personally importing a <25yo car into the US.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Nobody who has written for or edited this website has ever claimed that personal imports into the US were particularly cheap or easy.

        On the other hand, this website was led for a time by a guy who was quite fast and loose with the truth with respect to imports into Japan (and, for that matter, with just about everything else.) You should take much of what he said with a grain of salt.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          So you can tell the difference between personal imports and manufacturer imports? Because that makes your original post even more asinine.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I take everything nearly anyone says with a grain of salt. Doesn’t change the fact that the primary factor keeping US automakers out of Japan is that they don’t make products the Japanese want to buy, not that it’s “too hard”.

          At least if a Japanese citizen decides there is a car they want that is not sold there, there is a not completely unreasonable procedure for them to get it on the road.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            You keep missing the point, presumably because you want to.

            I am pointing out that the former editor of this site was fast and loose with the truth. He was not a credible source of information.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            You haven’t made your point at all. All you’ve done is make assertions about someone who has many times the credibility that you do. That you had to build a strawman to try to have any grounds to attack his veracity only proves that it is you who is beneath contempt.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “In other civilized parts of the world, such as Europe and in allegedly closed Japan, legalizing a non-approved car is as easy as checking that it has lights and brakes. You have it inspected, you sign a few forms, and you are good to go.”

            https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/only-a-nutcase-would-import-a-car-to-america-b-s-wants-to-change-that-and-he-needs-your-signature

            That’s how the aforementioned editor described this process. Pretty comical.

            As usual, a swing and a miss for CJ.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Bertel was a lunatic. Doesn’t mean he was necessarily entirely wrong on this. As usual the truth is likely in the middle. Yes, Japan has plenty of non-tariff barriers to entering their market. They also have a bureaucracy that is more than happy to be politely unhelpful. It doesn’t matter, because there isn’t enough market for American cars there to matter.

            Your point is pointless.

            AS for the linked article – BS is being glib, but ultimately he is not far off the truth. So far the only actual CHANGE that Thomas has had to make to his van is the headlights (which he should have thought of before shipping it). So characterizing the process as forms and inspections is pretty much spot on. Some of what he has had to do is no different for someone buying any car in Japan (parking), and a lot of it would have been handled on his behalf by the vendor. He would likely have had to make more changes to get it into Europe, but the bottom line is that it is POSSIBLE for a mere mortal to do it at fairly reasonable cost. The reverse is not true – I cannot bring a <25yo Renault Espace into the US for love or any rational amount of money.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            As noted, you go out of your way to miss the point. Not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

            The process being described here is lengthy and expensive. The assertion that “you have it inspected, you sign a few forms, and you are good to go” is clearly nonsense.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            You are being incredibly pedantic as usual.

            Compared to the process involved in getting some random car into the US, I think it is perfectly fair to glibly summarize what Thomas is going through as “filling out a few forms and an inspection”. Doesn’t seem unreasonably expensive to me either. The only test I think is a tad over the top is the noise test, emissions and safety seem perfectly reasonable.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Schmitt claimed that it is easy.

            It obviously isn’t.

            You’re trying to change the subject by making it about the US, when I’m talking about Schmitt’s inclination to get things wrong. Go find another thread to complain about other countries’ laws, because this isn’t it.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            “a <25yo Renault Espace"

            Eeee! Greenhouse Nirvana!

            *cough*
            Sorry… carry on.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Thomas, I know you’ve received both criticism and support for this, but I’m really enjoying this series of articles. Thanks for documenting this process and publishing it here. I hope your lights are correct, easy to install, eliminate the problem and that you pass the inspection and receive your plates!

  • avatar
    pbr

    These posts are very interesting … not so much the details of foreign bureaucracy, more the the imagining a life so different from my own.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I began my response before completing paragraph 2, then thought better of it and confirmed you were about to explain the lamp bias between LHD and RHD automobiles. Most drivers don’t understand how critical their automobile headlamp’s lens faceting is, and why properly adjusted lights shine up and to the right hand side in North America.

    And I’ll use this time to admonish all those clueless poseurs who think it’s cool to run JDM headlamp housings in a LHD world – you inconsiderate pricks.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      This is a key point. JDM headlights should never be used in North America. They are designed for a different traffic orientation.

      Felis, if I can be pedantic for a sec, LHD and RHD matter not for discussing headlamps, the terms that are correct for discussing this is RHT and LHT for right hand/left hand traffic. RHD and RHT can coexist, (imported cars, mail trucks) so long as a car used in a RHT area has headlights designed for such.

  • avatar
    callmeishmael

    Looks like you’re having almost as much fun as a person registering a kit car in California.

  • avatar
    tpepin

    I wonder how hard it would be to bring my wife’s LHD Cube BACK to Japan, I mean the parts (head lights) should be pretty simple to source if any are needed.

  • avatar
    watermeloncup

    I’m curious, how did they get the van into the shipping container? It looks like there would be enough room to open the sliding door and crawl out, but is there room to open the front doors enough to get out? Or do they just put it in neutral, push it in, and tie it down? I guess they’d have to disconnect the battery since automatics don’t usually allow you to take the key out in neutral, but that would probably be a good idea anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      What you can’t see is that the passenger window is open. The guy in the photo stepped up on the front tire and slipped right inside. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a grown ass man crawling all over the inside of my van, but in typical Japanese style he removed his boots before he did it.

      • 0 avatar
        OliverTwist

        I wondered whether it would be easier to drive in and crawl out of the tailgate rather drive in reverse into the container.

        It seems they have it more convoluted.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    TK, please give us the itemized grand total when complete. I can’t keep track. It sounds like the inspection to the inspection plus another inspection. How many thousands of dollars will it cost and what happens next year (or at the next reg cycle)? Good luck!

  • avatar
    BobinPgh

    Why did you call this series “swimming upstream”? It conjures up an image of you strutting around on a Japanese beach wearing a gray Speedo (matches the van) and your family pretending like they don’t know you.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of taking my American car to other places in the world where it was virtually unknown. A year or so ago, I wondered what it would be like to drive my Taurus in Germany (on the Autobahn and around the ‘ring), in Japan and in Australia. I also would like to visit the rest of Europe.

    I wonder how difficult it would be to get temporary permission to drive in these countries. Not to register the car there on a long-term basis, just for a few weeks or so as I tour the country.

    There are so many European and especially JDM cars Id love to drive, but imagine how many looks Id get driving a 1995 Ford Taurus around Tokyo, or London, or Sidney. I suppose one way would be to join the military and hope to get stationed abroad, lol, but that would be a bit extreme for a trans-continental road trip!

    • 0 avatar
      ccode81

      Check out “AIT/FIA Carnet de Passages en Douane” you can bring in the car easily with the promise to bring it out in 1 year.
      frequently seeing an Egyptian registered Rolls Phantom near my place. Such a cool thing.

    • 0 avatar
      varinki

      I don’t know about the second gen Taurus but the third gen was sold in Japan and Australia.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Yes, the oval gen was the first. Its weird, the first and second gen were sleek and good looking cars. They would have fit those markets well.

        I am a fan of the second generation, but have owned several of each. I still want an 86-87 Taurus for a collection.

        Im especially proud of the second generation, it was truly world-class in my opinion. I could wake up rich tomorrow, but my 95 Taurus wouldnt be going anywhere. Except with me lol

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, I’ve always dreamt of importing a Ford Falcon to the US for the same reason. It’s an everyday car in Australia, but would turn some heads here in the US.

      As someone mentioned, the 3rd gen Taurus was sold in Australia with very limited success. The similar sized Falcon was less polarizing and suited local needs better

      It’s still a dream to do it, but I doubt I’d be able to afford it or have the patience with the paperwork

      • 0 avatar
        varinki

        Between the Falcon and the Taurus I’d take the Falcon.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          The Taurus was/is an excellent touring car. Its roomy, comfortable, handles and rides well for what it is. It isnt too big, so it isnt too hard to park. It gets decent mileage and moves along fairly well by 1995 standards (I have no issue what so ever with power or performance in today’s traffic). I also think its a damn fine looking car. :)

          Besides, in other places, it would symbolize a great success as it was United States’ Best Selling Car from 1992-1996. Its a symbol of an American automaker’s transition from an “also ran” into one of the most compeditive.
          4
          Dont get me wrong, I love the Aussie Falcon, but the Taurus is *my* car. I would love to own an Aussie Inline 6 Falcon, but it wouldnt replace my Taurus.

          The idea is that Id use something unique, an excellent American car to show how proud I am of it as I drive around parts of the world it was never meant to see, with the one I love riding shot gun. :)

      • 0 avatar
        STS_Endeavour

        Anyone know if this can be done? I’d be very interested in having a Falcon here in NA.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        @Festiboy
        As have I. I also plan to build a US market RWD midsize/compact with an Aussie Inline 6 head for MPFI conversion to a US 250 C.I. block. Either an early Falcon or a Fox body like Mercury Zephyr or late Granada.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    It is quite easy to take your car overseas for personal use. You can use your own plates and the cost depending upon the size of your car say from New York to the United Kingdom or France would be from $650.00 to $900.00. That would be one way but if you book both ways at the same time it is a little cheaper. Of course you have to take the car with you when you leave the country. Years ago i shipped a truck for a well to do Doctor to my agent in the UK and the good Doctor drove from London all the way into Egypt and then thru Africa. I shipped his truck back from South Africa to New York. He was gone for about 4 months with a bunch of other crazy truckers. He said he had a ball but was shot at a few times going thru Africa. Over the years i shipped many cars overseas for personal travel. I was in the freight forwarding business for over 45 years and owned my own business. I am retired now but still go into the office a few hours a day. I loved the business the first day i worked in it with my Father. My son-in-law now handles the day to day parts of the business.

  • avatar
    BWalker82

    How have they reacted to your front license plate?

    • 0 avatar

      I put that plate on because Kansas, where we moved from, didn’t issue a front plate. The Kansas rear plate and the American flag front were still on the van when it was delivered. I never even thought about removing them. Japan, like most of the Unites States, requires a front plate so it is no longer mounted.

      While the van was being unloaded, however, I heard the longshoremen talking about the how cool they thought the front plate was. I think they were surprised when they opened the container and saw it staring them in the face. Then they talked about what a Japanese flag front plate would look like – displays of the Japanese flag are pretty uncommon, especially by private citizens. They decided it would look lame.

      • 0 avatar

        I love this series. I’m fascinated by the different solutions that different places have. Be it the chaos of driving in Mexico city, the order of the Autobahn or trying to get a normal “murcan” car into Japan…

        The RHD/LHD light issue was brought up as a problem when the chunnel was sunk….I wonder how they fixed that.

        Thanks Tom, please keep your stories of Japanese hoop jumping coming….I look forward to seeing your van in Tokyo traffic !!!

  • avatar
    Onus

    I see you ran into the no horizontal adjustment issue. Most US lights do not have horizontal adjustment. US regulators never thought it was important evidently. Sucks if your car gets tweaked in an accident, since the light aim can’t be fixed.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Fascinating stuff here , good show Thomas .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    luridshadow

    I got my car two days ago and I have started my JATA paperwork.I will forewarn you about your rear plate.I am trying to sort mine out now because I went to the Toyota dealer and they explained it to me.If you do not have this bracket you can not pass shaken><.You are going to need a custom bracket thats riveted in your rear plate area.There is a seal that goes over the left screw after you get your plates.The screw is not supposed to be easily accessed.I found a guy on route 16 who will rivet a bracket in for me at 5,00 yen roughly(bracket included)My customs experience was fun as well.Xray and I had to take any articles out my car.I did not have to pay tariffs on my car though.Tow company and container moved cost me 60,000 yen.Information on that shop is http://www.collections.co.jp his telephone is 042-765-8558 Yoshihiko Honda.

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