By on October 5, 2015

Kreutzer Japan 1

Back in July, just days before my family boarded a Boeing 777 to wing our way to Japan, a truck arrived at my home to haul away my Chrysler Town & Country. In the ensuing weeks, while we struggled through lost luggage and looked for a place to live, the van was trucked to California, loaded into a container and placed aboard a ship. As the summer wore on, while we worked through the details of an overpriced lease and did our best to get the kids enrolled in their new school, the ship crossed the wide expanse of the Pacific and made port in Yokohama. While we were accepting delivery of our household goods, the ship was being unloaded and its containers sent to a customs warehouse. Finally, just as we were beginning to settle into our new lives, I was contacted by a Japanese customs broker. The Town & Country had finally and irrevocably arrived.

Those of us who love cars have likely imagined this same scenario dozens of times, but always in reverse. In our imaginations the car, usually an exotic (to us) grey market Nissan Skyline GT-R or something really interesting like a Mazda Cosmo Rotary, makes its containerized way from Japan to our own sunny shores where it becomes a regular feature at local Cars and Coffee events and drives the wannabe drift racers mad with envy. The scenario is always the same and we never think of it the other way, where a person ships a not-so-interesting car to Japan where it will sit outside in the rain and be put to daily use schlepping the kids to school and its owner to work.

One of the reasons for this is that importing a car into Japan is supposed to be fraught with hardship and additional expense. Just the thought of long forms, written in almost indecipherable kanji, and stone-faced Japanese bureaucrats with their tedious attention to detail and orange-colored stamp pads is enough to drive most people mad. Why then would yours truly undertake such a mission?

Kreutzer Japan 2

I’d like to say that it is for you, dear reader, but that’s not entirely true. The real reasons run more towards the fact that I am reluctant to throw away thousands of hard-earned dollars by selling my still fairly new van at a huge mark down. If I must spend thousands of dollars, I reckoned, then let that money be spent importing the vehicle into Japan where I could use it for the next several years and consume the remainder of its value myself.

Also, despite the transmission troubles it had last year, I still like the van. I like it a lot, actually. It looks, runs and rides good and, because Chrysler stopped selling its vans in Japan around 2010, they are seldom seen here which leads into my last line of reasoning: patriotism. Without being overly maudlin here, having lived much of my adult life overseas, I think it’s important to be a good representative of our country, its people and its products. When I roll up in an American vehicle, people notice and I think it’s important that I send that message.

Will my decision prove to be wise or fatally flawed? Time will tell. However, this I commit to you oh Best and Brightest, I will bring you along for the ride as I work my way through the process. It looks to be a long and arduous one and, as of this writing, the vehicle is here, in front of the house, wearing the temporary tags that will be required to drive it to the various inspection stations it must visit. Tomorrow, I will take it some 50 miles away to a location north of Tokyo for its first round of testing, the dreaded Japanese emissions and noise tests. I am told the test takes two days and I will have to leave the van with them overnight. What will the result be? Place your bets.

Kreutzer Japan 3

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.

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93 Comments on “Swimming Upstream: Importing a Car Into Japan...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    Welcome home Thomas .

    I know this will be interesting and fun to read .

    I’ve direct imported cars from Japan and Europe to U.S. , this should be fun .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice piece and its good to see you arrived safely. I think you should seek out a Toyota Cavalier while you are in country for a second vehicle and to represent America (*starts singing America the Beautiful*).

  • avatar
    motoridersd

    Two days?? And I thought CA’s regulations were stringent.

    What happens if it doesn’t pass the test? Do you have to ship it back?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “I think it’s important to be a good representative of our country, its people and its products.”

    “I think it’s important to be a good representative of our country, its people and its products, so I am also importing a Town Car Cartier next month.”

    Fixed!

  • avatar

    #1 I hate the 777. It’s all about the A380 now.

    #2 I wouldn’t personally want to import a vehicle into an ecosystem it wasn’t designed for. I’d rather just purchase one of theirs or rent…

    When I was in Tokyo, I drove a right-hand-drive VW 2002.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Since things keep happening to them, I wouldn’t want to fly it either. I’d rather fly a 747 (because I think they are cool) or failing that the A380.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Since I mostly fly domestic, I’m lucky if it is a 737 or A320.

        I am an airplane nerd. A few weeks ago I actually decided not to take a direct flight home to Detroit from Tampa/St Pete. I connected in Atlanta so that I could fly Business Class/First Class on a 777 from ATL to DTW. I regret nothing!

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          You are not alone in airplane nerdery.

          Evidently 727s cost $100,000,000? I figured I could trade a couple cars for one.

          http://www.privatefly.com/us/private-jets/longrange-jet-hire/Boeing-727-Executive

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “I make that much money in five seconds!”

            -Napoleon

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I don’t have the cash to love them that much. I’d take a 757 over a 727. The 757 is the racecar of the skies.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            IcelandAir flies the 757 exclusively and is typically the cheapest flight to Europe by a few hundred dollars, however the average plane age is 20 (also I read the 757 is not as passenger friendly as newer designs). A new Icelandic airline, WOW Air, recently launched and has service to Reykjavik and some European cities even cheaper. They fly an A321 and A320s from what I read but only service BOS and BWI.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            In theory, the 757 is not as passenger friendly as newer planes. However, as dal has mentioned before, it’s all about how the airline sets up the seats. I find the 737-900, the newest planes in Delta’s old-a$$ fleet to be the most uncomfortable. The seat pitch is the worst.

            If I am flying to the Caribbean, I will take the American Airlines Detroit-Miami-St Maarten flight over the Detroit-Atlanta-St Maarten flight if Delta wants to put me on the 737-900.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’ve read the IcelandicAir configuration isn’t very friendly but the service is good.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            It really is ALL about the seats, and that is up to the airline. For example, the F seats on all the NEW US Airways A321s absolutely suck in comparison to the older A321s, and the American 737s are even worse. I have flown on A330s on Delta (ex NWA birds) and US upfront and while the arrangement is better on US, the actual seats were more comfortably by a lot on Delta.

            My current favorite planes are the E-170-175-190 family. Comfortable even behind the blue curtain, at least on US and American. NO middle seats, and with only 70-100 pax, quick to get on and off, and very, very quiet.

            My least favorite – the 50 seat CRJs. The Hyundai Pony of commercial airliners, eh.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The E-Jets are pretty good on US/AA. With the CRJ, it really depends on which version you get. They go from TERRIBLE (ex-America West Mesa jets) to okay (brand new AA CRJs). The CRJ700, which carries 75ish people is the best of those.

            I’m not usually in F, so they are all pretty darn good to me. My employer springs for Y+ on Delta, so that makes the flight a little better.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            The plane doesn’t matter anymore. Airlines are installing those tiny seats on everything. Delta is so obsessed with making sure you are uncomfortable, that they have even retrofitted the planes that can have 18.5″ wide seats like the A330 or 747 with their tiny little 17″ commuter jet seats.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        Mullaly’s baby the 777 pass . A380 at least you will actually get there

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Meh. Nevermind that there has been 1800 orders and deliveries for the 777 and only 350 for the A380. The 777 has also been transformative for many airlines. Allowing them to profitably serve destinations they weren’t able to before.

          The 777 may end up being the most successful widebody aircraft ever.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            They both have a long range but the Airbus carries about 20% more passengers in its smallest configuration vs the Boeing’s largest. I would say they are not direct competitors as the A380 is meant as a 747 competitor.

            “It is the world’s largest twinjet and has a typical seating capacity for 314 to 451 passengers”

            “The A380-800’s original configuration carried 555 passengers in a three-class configuration[112] or 853 passengers (538 on the main deck and 315 on the upper deck) in a single-class economy configuration”

            “The 747-400 passenger version can accommodate 416 passengers in a typical three-class layout, 524 passengers in a typical two-class layout, or 660 passengers in a high density one-class configuration.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_777

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_747

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            They are not direct competitors. They are both large widebody aircraft that may have some overlap in fleet utilization.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            What does Delta fly internationally (aside from 767s to Europe)?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            777, 767, 757, 747, A330

            The 747s and A330s are all ex-Northwest birds.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            They fly all the old crap NWA used to have!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Cool, I’d like to fly a 747. Hey do you happen to have an AMEX card and if not would you like one? 10K more miles and I have enough on my AMEX Delta card for a free trip, a referral is 5K miles.

            @Corey

            NWA? Can I fly in Eazy-E class?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            As I fly Delta almost weekly, I already have my SkyPesos Amex.

            Delta flies their 747s to Asia quite frequently. Most are out of Detroit too. They are down to 13 747s.

            These are the Delta Summer 2015 routes for the 747 out of the continental US:

            Detroit – Tokyo
            Detroit – Incheon
            Detroit – Shanghai
            Detroit – Amsterdam
            Detroit – Paris
            Atlanta – Amsterdam
            Atlanta – Honolulu

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Hmmmm Honolulu…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Lol, easy-e. He’s on some songs in GTAV.

            I was on a CRJ once or twice that was really nice. Nice wide leather seats, 2+2 configuration in the cabin. I don’t recall it had any sort of first class.

            I sat next to a man with a 10-gallon hat, who put it under the seat and took up all of his foot space and half of mine.

            I’m like – you’re going on a G-D plane, why do you need cowboy accouterments?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            He was headed to Texas and son, everything is bigger in Texas. Heehaw!

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            CVG to DET! Daggone wrong directional.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          The 777 has had two accidents caused by a mechanical problem, while the A380 has had one. In all three cases the engines were at fault. The 777 on BA Flight 38 had engines become unresponsive on approach due to ice clogging fuel lines and crash-landed short of the runway. The A380 on Qantas Flight 32 had an uncontained engine failure that peppered the fuselage and wing with holes. Similarly, the 777 on BA Flight 2276 had a major uncontained engine failure that started a large fire. None of the three killed any passengers.

          Both airplanes have a truly excellent safety record. The 777’s may be a bit more impressive, just because there are so many more 777s and they’ve been flying a decade and a half longer, but I’d rather be on either one than an older-generation aircraft.

        • 0 avatar
          ExPatBrit

          I know Quantas has the 380 but honestly it’s a sales dud they will be probably discontinued by next year.

          I sell instrumentation to aircraft manufacturers trust me 380 is dead there is no follow on. They are already being dumped by several airlines. Once the leases expire they will be parked.Emirates might be the only customer.

          777 is a fine aircraft, just flown on a 777 and then a deamliner 787 to SE Asia last week.

          MAS is trying to off load their 380.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      1. I didn’t realize Airbus installed HELLCAT engines on the A380.

      2. Reading comprehension is difficult.

      3. HELLCAT!!

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      Hate’s a strong word. Boeing makes great planes, though if being big = better then the Airbus has it. After all, big’s your name.
      I drove an Alpine V6 Le Mans throughout the Hakone region in Japan, so I vote French.

    • 0 avatar
      TOTitan

      So far in 2015
      54 777’s sold
      0 A380’s sold

      The A380 is a money losing white elephant for both Airbus and their customers with over half of the orders going to just one airline and many airlines cancelling orders. Sure if every seat is filled it makes money and has a low fuel burn per passenger, but that hardly happens. There is a reason Richard Branson has not taken any of his orders and will most likely convert them to A350’s.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        I flew in an Air France 777 to Paris and it was heavenly. Roomy, comfortable, terrific. And I was sitting in the last row, all the way in the back of the plane. Six months later I flew in an American Airlines 777 from Miami to Buenos Aires and it was hell. Cramped and uncomfortable must be a mission statement at that airline.

        Amazing how airline policies can totally change the aircraft experience.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          It had to be where you sat because AF and AA have very similar 777 configurations. Both go 10 abreast in economy on the 777-300. They have the same seat width and pitch too.

          American Airlines is better on the 777-200 than Air France. They only go 9 abreast….for now. The economy seats on the AA 777-200 is actually 2 inches wider than anything Air France has in longhaul economy.

          Unfortunately, this is why the 777 has become so profitable. Airlines can pack an additional 20-30 people on a 777 because it can go 10 abreast,

          • 0 avatar
            Roberto Esponja

            Weird. Not disputing your comment, you seem to be very versed in this matter, but my experience with both airlines was worlds apart.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I’ve had good and bad experiences with both. The service on AA, even on International routes, is typically below the major European carriers.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Be a good foreigner, and buy a 90’s Mazda Cosmo while you’re there. For funsies. I promise those articles would get lots of clicks.

    Kreutzer’s Cosmo: Starship Rotary Part I

  • avatar
    nels0300

    So when the transmission goes again, will the warranty work in Japan?

    • 0 avatar

      Probably not. The good news is that I have put several thousand miles on it since the transmission rebuild and it is exhibiting none of the signs (juddering while trying to back up a hill, for example) that it did in the months before its original failure.

      I won’t lie to you and say it doesn’t concern me, but I’m hoping that it is something that is behind us now.

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        If your driving routine will be a typical Japanese “lots of idling in traffic with short bursts within the 30 mph speed limit and you are in a hilly area – just do a “soft” flush every 20-30K miles (just drain what’s in the pan and refill), depending on the hilliness and idling. This should help the tranny live longer.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I’ll wish you luck, but I don’t think that this was a great idea…

  • avatar
    wristtwist

    http://i.imgur.com/sTr546k.gif

    http://i.imgur.com/DHGbD.gif

    Also, if you DO happen to run across a Cosmo for sale,,,,,,

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Missed this one by a month:
      http://www.japaneseclassicsllc.com/1990-mazda-cosmo-20b-082115.html

      I wonder what it would be like to import a Previa or some old Hilux back to the motherland.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        That Cosmo has been rurint, and taken away from PLC luxury mission. Those wheels need replaced with some gold or alloy color BBS mesh wheels. This looks like a more base one as well – no screens or leather.

  • avatar
    sproc

    As someone who spent several years stationed in Japan and living on the economy, I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the appeal of this. As challenging as driving a RHD car on US roads can be, driving a very large LHD vehicle on tiny Japanese roads sounds absolutely awful. Not to dis the T&C–it’s an excellent vehicle for the environment it’s designed for–but I would argue there are so many more sensible JDM vehicles.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    “When I roll up in an Canadian-made vehicle, people notice and I think it’s important that I send that message.”

    FIFY

    (The plant the Grand Caravan is built in is actually south of the US. Windsor may have more American ties than any other Canadian city though. Also, I think Journey sang about it in “Don’t Stop Believing”.)

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Just so long as the glove box isn’t stuffed with oxycodone…

  • avatar
    davewg

    Yeah, I don’t see where this is a good idea either, but you can bet I’m interested to see where this goes.

    My first thought too, was LHD in a RHD world is bad enough. That the T&C is probably bigger than most of Japan’s mini-trucks just adds to what I don’t think will be a fun time.

    • 0 avatar

      The challenges of driving on Japanese roads are vastly overstated. I’ve driven here for years without incident in cars of all sizes and on motorcycles. The biggest problem with a US spec car is, with the wheel on the left, making a right turn across traffic but the van puts me up high enough that I can see fairly far down the road.

      Beyond that, the T&C isn’t that much bigger than a Japanese minivan. Some JDM vans are actually longer (like the driver-over-the wheels Town-Ace) and a lot of them are taller so no real issues there. The Chrysler’s size is in its width and, while it is a concern, I am able to judge where I am by keeping the mirrors aimed low and monitoring my lane position with the lines on the road. It isn’t hard, it’s just a different driving style I have developed over the years.

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        Width should not be a concern as long as you stay away from the smallest village roads (I had problem fitting in those with my ’87 Civic back then). More of a possible concern to me with a US transplant would be the
        taxation (either on width or engine size). The domestics are mostly within 3 liter range, as far as I can tell without much digging.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Jeeze ;

    Thom’s lived in Japan before , relax and wait to see .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Driving that T&C on Japanese roads has to be like driving a F-650 Excursion conversion on American roads.

    I have to confess I would not have done it. I would have sold the T&C and bought something more approprate for Japan (RHD and smaller).

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Good luck since they were sold in japan until 2010 you should have some “help” if it breaks down, cool plate BTW.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I flew to Iceland on this plane this summer it was fine , no issues flew back on a DHL huge airbus and I would have taken the 757 in a heart beat.

    IcelandAir flies the 757 exclusively and is typically the cheapest flight to Europe by a few hundred dollars, however the average plane age is 20 (also I read the 757 is not as passenger friendly as newer designs). A new Icelandic airline, WOW Air, recently launched and has service to Reykjavik and some European cities even cheaper. They fly an A321 and A320s from what I read but only service BOS and BWI.

  • avatar
    djsyndrome

    “When I roll up in an American-made vehicle”

    Your van was made in Canada.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I was just wondering about your whereabouts and the status of your van. Now I know.

    What if the transmission (or any other item) fails again while you’re in Japan? Won’t it be difficult to get parts and collect on the warranty?

  • avatar
    wmba

    According to Mr Schmitt’s tirade on Daily Kanban today, importing anything less than 5,000 vehicles of the same type into Japan is a cakewalk. Here’s the direct quote:

    “Zero percent tariff. 5,000 cars per year and model can be brought in with next to no paperwork.”

    No mention of two days testing just for noise and emissions. Plus other tests such as checking whether it has seats and a steering wheel and came equipped with windshield wipers. I’ll bet all this fuss will be excused on Japan Inc’s behalf because Mr Kreutzer is a private owner and not an automaker providing next to no paperwork.

    Good luck Mr Kreutzer. It’ll be interesting to read the results. If you have even a hint of trouble with the Japanese authorities, send BS an email for assistance. Five minutes from him on the blower should clear things up nicely.

  • avatar
    redliner

    This article is especially pertinent to me, as i am in the planning stages of a move to japan.

    From all the research I have done, I can only say that your decision will likely end in tears.

  • avatar
    STS_Endeavour

    Awesome story. I would love to drive my Canadian-built Yankee car in Japan – just for the challenge of it. I would love to hear more on this story. Best of luck.

    Anyone else miss the L-1011?

  • avatar
    AJ

    Another awesome story! I’m glad that something like a wife didn’t stop you from having some fun by doing this. Good for you and waiting for the next update. :)

  • avatar

    When I visited used car lot in Yokohama there very few American cars. But Chrysler T&C was present and not once but twice. If you visit Yokohama check out Nissan head quarters – they have nice show room with lot of ugly cars but presenters are cuties. I also recommend English pub near Mores (train station) – very trendy.

  • avatar
    ccode81

    Welcome to Japan again!

    Quick tips from grey import Zagato built Alfa owner,
    I’m quite sure the grey import car would not get torture on gas emission test unless it is a Trabant.

    As long as you avoid to visit those authorized Chrysler dealers who only takes care for “properly” imported models, you’ll never been embarrassed.

    many independent shops around the region can help you to get spare parts.

    quick search samples:
    http://www.scrunch.jp/
    http://www.ecruizauto.com/

    Good luck and hope you enjoy.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Subscribed.

    Put it up for sale immediately. Perhaps you can come out ahead on this. There is a Japanese car magazine dedicated to American grey market imports. I like to browse it every now and then to see what’s trending.

  • avatar
    Frylock350

    You want to be a representative of America? Import an F350 or a Yukon XL Denali.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Looking forward to following this tale!

    For your sake, I hope it’s a short, painless one.

    For our sake, I hope there is at least one or two twists (but not TOO painful).

    If push comes to shove with the customs/emissions guys, consider these two approaches:

    1. “Come on man, it’s not like it’s a VW!”

    2. “Have you SEEN Unbroken?!”

    • 0 avatar

      That last time I brought a car to Japan my situation was somewhat different and I didn’t have to go through this process, I just had to promise to take it with me when I left. Oddly enough, it WAS a Volkswagen and when it left, it did not leave “Unbroken.”

  • avatar
    JDM_CU4

    Mustang with RB26 engine?
    Nice way represent USA and don’t have to worry about spare parts lol

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    777?
    People here have an issue with the triple 7?
    Wow. Really, now. This is one of the all time great planes.

    I have traveled a ton…but one of my really fun take offs was out of Denver on a triple 7.
    For some reason…there were only 3 people on the flight plus the crew.
    The pilot spoke about this as we were taxiing. He explained that with such a light load he was going to gun it at take off.
    He did. Never have I ever felt such a rush shooting upwards as that one.
    I often wonder what kind of approval he had to get from the tower for that rocket-man move.

  • avatar
    BobinPgh

    Thom, why did you call this series “swimming upstream”? I get this image of you on a beach in Japan swimming or worse yet, strutting on the beach in a Speedo and your wife and kids pretend they don’t know you.

  • avatar
    luridshadow

    I actually shipped my FR-S to Japan which is a Gt86 here.The boat is here but I am waiting for it to get unloaded in Yokohama.My friend who registers cars told me since I have a similar car if I can get the emissions and brake check from the Toyota dealer in the states he can compare it with the gt86 here.If they match up I can skip the emission noise check.Also like me since you already owned the car do you mind divulging how much you paid to customs?Also if someone says why didn’t I sale my car I am in the same boat as the OP.

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