By on October 16, 2015

Kreutzer Japan 3

The quest to complete the importation of my 2013 Town & Country continues and, if the important successes I reported on last week were great strides towards the ultimate goal, this week’s progress has been limited to a frustrating series of baby steps.

Still, progress is being made.

As most government offices were closed on Monday as Japan paused to celebrate “Sports Day,” this week’s story begins bright and early Tuesday morning when I took the certified results of the emissions and noise tests, along with my completed application for title, to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) in Yokohama.

Visiting the LTO is always a thrill for me because it’s there that one really begins to understand the scale of the car registration bureaucracy in Japan.

The facility is a big one, comprised of several different buildings and staffed with hundreds of workers. It does everything car related. Shaken inspections are conducted at a furious pace via an assembly line process in a long, low building in the center of the complex while other buildings handle more mundane activities like title applications and address changes.

Later, once I have finally brought together all the required scraps of paper from the various offices I have yet to visit, the LTO will play a major role in this story. It is the final stop in this process and it is there that I will finally bolt on my permanent license plates — hopefully sooner rather than later.

Tuesday’s visit to the LTO, however, was limited to less than 15 minutes.

After finding a place to park in the crowded lot, next to a lowered and stanced Panda Hachiroku of all things, I made way to a small office where I submitted my forms for an initial review. After a moment’s perusal, the forms were accepted and my reward for doing everything correctly was yet another stamped and certified piece of paper required to complete the next steps in the importation process.

On Wednesday morning, I got started on step three by mailing the form I received at the LTO, along with copies of the testing results I received the previous week, to the agency that oversees vehicle recycling.

Odd as it may seem, vehicle recycling is a cost borne by the consumer in Japan and, in order to thwart those individuals who choose to avoid extra fees by abandoning their cars in rural locations, the Japanese government insures the fees are paid by including them in the car purchasing process.

Because my car was purchased outside of Japan, the recycle agency will use the forms I submitted to determine the appropriate fee and mail me a letter with detailed instructions on how to pay the required fee via bank transfer. Once they receive the money, the agency will then send me a receipt that I must present back at the LTO. The total time for this transaction is said to be between two and three weeks.

Photo courtesy of

While step 3 is percolating, I thought I would get a jump on step 4.

On Thursday, I visited my local police station in order to apply for a parking permit. While the concept of requiring every vehicle to have its own parking space seems odd to many of us in the United States, it makes a great deal of sense here in Japan where space is tight and street parking is generally verboten. Proving my vehicle has its own space required a signed copy of our property lease, a map that detailing the location and size of the parking space and yet another certified copy of my vehicle’s title application.

Unfortunately, I had already sent the title application to the recycle office and I was caught empty handed when the police woman with whom I was working asked for it. Without the certified title application, she told me, she could not verify the size of the vehicle and assess whether or not the space in front of my house was large enough. Every centimeter had to be accounted for, she told me.

After some hand wringing and head scratching on both sides of the counter, however, the policewoman determined she could call the LTO and simply take the measurements over the phone. After spending a few minutes on the phone with the LTO and bouncing from office to office, she finally made the right connection and, as simple as that, the next step in the process was complete. Of course there is a still a week-long processing period, during which I assume someone in the office will check the records to see if there are any other cars assigned to the spots in front of my house, but come next Wednesday I should have the stickers in hand.

Today, I got started on step 5, as well, and made an October 28th appointment for the required safety inspection. Although I would have liked to schedule the inspection sooner rather than later, I must bear in mind the anticipated two to three week processing time for the recycle certificate. Both the safety inspection and paperwork for the parking permit have thirty day expiration dates and so, if I miscalculate the processing times, I may end up having to redo these steps. It’s a risk, but if I can time it just right I can cut a couple of weeks off the overall process. Will it be worth it? Time will tell.

So, as I said at the top of the article, this has been a week of frustratingly small baby steps. I was able to start a lot of things but I end the week with precious little to show for all the work I’ve done. Still, every step is bringing me closer to that final trip to the LTO. While the end may not yet be truly in sight, I know it is just around the corner.

Kreutzer - temp plate

[Photo credit: Police station courtesy of]

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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59 Comments on “Swimming Upstream: Steps, 2, 3, 4 & 5 – Pre-Shaken...”

  • avatar

    Mayor Quimby: “Ah, there is a thousand-dollar Leaving Town tax. I’m sorry.”

  • avatar

    Suddenly, the $1500 in repairs I had to spend to get the ’98 Voyager my parent gave me registered in Maryland don’t seem quite so bad.

    • 0 avatar

      My thoughts exactly. The $1,000 I spent to get my G6 to pass PA inspection is feeling very small in comparison

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I thought some of the salvage and abandonment title pursuits in this state were rigorous, but the sheer number and timing of visits required to get TK’s T&C approved for use there make me realize just how lenient the laws in this part of the country are.

      It also underscores the devotion and dedication exhibited by Japanese fans of older American iron; their print magazines don’t spend any time detailing the import and certification process.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Rob Ford: “I’d love to see us sell the zoo and make money on it if we can. … Keep the elephants here and take it from there.”

  • avatar

    Is all this jumping through hoops really worth it? I know Mr. Kreutzer felt this was cheaper than taking a loss by selling the T&C and buying a vehicle in Japan, but with all this hassle, plus parts availability, does it make sense in the long run? What happens in a year or two when the transmission goes again, or if you get in a fender bender and need body work? Or even common things like tires and other wear parts, would they be harder to get and more expensive in a country where the vehicle isn’t sold?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m confused by it as well. Factoring in the costs to ship it and the expense and hassle of getting plates for it would be more than I’d want to deal with.

      I don’t know how many Chrysler dealerships there are in Japan but I would think parts availability and fixing it wouldn’t be the easiest/cheapest thing either.

      I also just realized that Japan is RHD but he’s importing an LHD vehicle which would be another pain to deal with over there. Whatever the reasons it’s still interesting to read.

    • 0 avatar

      people spend their money in amazing ways, its easy to spitball on the sidelines and judge. i’m gonna go ahead and join the “i would rather have bought a JDM micro car” crowd.

    • 0 avatar

      I would think that jumping through all of these bureaucratic hoops would be almost impossible for a person with a full time job. If your time has any real monetary value this process would not be worth the hassle.

      If the vehicle being imported were a classic or a uniquely American vehicle like a Jeep Wrangler it would make more sense, but for a Town and Country minivan? That is like fighting Mike Tyson for the right to shop at Sears.

      • 0 avatar

        One of the reasons I call everything I’ve done this week a series of “baby steps” is because none of these visits have taken much time.

        The police station is a 15 minute walk from my house and they are still open when I get home from work. The city hall is a ten minute walk from my office and the central post office is right across the street from that. There has been virtually no-waiting at any of these agencies so the amount of time I have spent has been minimal.

        Part of this is because I am being careful to prepare as best I can. I got a stack of paperwork when I began the process and have spent a lot of time in the evenings sweating over every sheet. I should probably feel happy that my preparation has allowed me quick in-and-out visits to all these offices, but when I consider the amount of time I’ve spent getting ready, the lack of drama and interaction leaves me a little surprised. It seems like a lot of my blood, sweat and tears are being spent for little result.

        To date, my total hours spent is two vacation days to go to the testing facility and another couple of hours off to drive up to the LTO. Beyond that I am popping out during lunch and after work to get things done. I imagine that once the inspection is done, I may have to take another day off to go up to the LTO and complete the process. I’m OK with this though, I have a lot of vacation time saved up.

    • 0 avatar

      how much easier is registering a domestically purchased vehicle there? He had to do some of the work either way.

  • avatar

    Jesus Christ.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Wait wait wait. You showed up without a necessary form and the person behind the counter actually took it upon themselves to figure out a way around simply sending you away?

    Everything they say is true, Japan is the weirdest place ever.

    I can’t wait to be back next year!

    • 0 avatar

      It’s quite the place. As long as you are polite and respectful and can make it clear what you’re attempting to accomplish, I found civil servants and other customer service employees would try exceptionally hard to help you. I always assumed it’s not just pride in their work, but also a certain shame if you fail at your task. I found it very refreshing.

      • 0 avatar

        I think you nailed it!

      • 0 avatar

        In my experience, Japan is bi-polar when it comes to foreigners. Some people shut you down before you can even get started but others will go the extra mile as long as you stay polite, keep smiling and stay sincere.

        It also helps that I speak pretty good Japanese and can actually explain what I want. It lets people see that I have done my best and am actually working to understand. I think they appreciate that I am trying to do the right thing rather than just showing up with blank forms and dumping the everything on them.

        Beyond that, these people are pros and they take a professional pride in their work. The police woman was especially funny when I told her I looked the vans measurements up on the internet so they had to be close. She got real serious when she told me that they couldn’t even be a centimeter off – that’s why I remarked upon it in the article. But the best part of my experience at the police station was the way she blew me off when I tried to tell her how much I appreciated all her extra help. She gave me a quick “you’re welcome” and went back to stamping the papers on her desk. She never would have said it, but her body language made it clear that I needed to go away.

  • avatar

    Awesome followup! I hope the jump on things pays off for you.

    Forcing the end-of-life recycling/disposal fee to be visible to the primary consumer? Inconceivable!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m just surprised that a vehicle wouldn’t have enough scrap value to pay for the cost of scrapping it. You may not get much for it here, but at the very least someone will haul it away for free.

      Why bother recycling something that has no value?

  • avatar

    God bless you, Thomas Kreutzer. Instead of being Don Quixote tilting windmills with your lance in rusty armor, you go forth in your trusty steed T&C to face an army of courteous Japanese bureaucrats. TK knew he would be faced with a frustrating wall of “sumimasen” from the start but he obviously relished the challenge. Extra credit to TK when (not if) he gets this fully certified and registered AND gets a selfie with Bertel in a selfie.

  • avatar

    God bless you, Thomas Kreutzer. Instead of being Don Quixote tilting windmills with your lance in rusty armor, you go forth in your trusty steed T&C to face an army of courteous Japanese bureaucrats. TK knew he would be faced with a frustrating wall of “sumimasen” from the start but he obviously relished the challenge. Extra credit to TK when (not if) he gets this fully certified and registered AND gets a selfie with Bertel in front of a Toyota dealership.

    • 0 avatar

      I was having lunch with an Australian colleague earlier in the week and was recounting the entire process thus far. He held up his hand to cut me off and told me straight: “You knew you would have to go through all this if you sent the vehicle. It wasn’t a secret, so you have no right to complain.”

      He’s right, of course, but not being able to complain about it sucks some of the fun out of it. Fortunately, I have him to complain about now…

      • 0 avatar

        “moushiwake gozaimasen ga…” pretty much means “eff you, go away.”

        But yes, the customer service is incredible, as long as you don’t expect them to want to hear about your emotional life story. That the first place I arive when I come back to the US is the airport—a bastion of fine customer service—makes the difference all the more stark.

  • avatar

    Baby steps will get you where you want to go .


  • avatar

    I realize this was done primarily as an exercise. Buying a car in Japan from a dealer would have had the dealership people doing most of this for you. Is it really so important to have a LHD vehicle in Japan. For my part, I’m scared shitless to drive there. I haven’t yet mastered stepping off the curb and looking the right way for oncoming traffic and have experienced a number of near death experiences as a consequence. And I’ve made about 35 trips there.

    I admire your pluck!

    • 0 avatar

      What’s the best thing a person can do there if they were to visit?

      • 0 avatar

        There is really no “best thing.” It depends if you have the time to travel outside of Tokyo. In Tokyo, one really needs to visit the Tsukiji Fish market. Go early in the morning to see the tuna auction. Mind your ass as there are fork trucks buzzing around at dangerous speeds.

        By all means, ride the shinkansen bullet train. There’s a new one running all the way out through Nagano to Kanazawa. There is a garden in Kanazawa that is worth the trip. Nagano is home to the Zen Koji temple and is located in the Japaneses Alps. If you watched any of the 1998 Winter Olympics, it was always in the background.

        In Nagano prefecture is Matsumoto, the site of an amazing castle.

        Around Nagano there are many onsen (hot springs). You can book a stay at a Japanese ryokan (country inn) in Yudanaka and walk to the snow monkey park. Just don’t look the males in the eye. They aren’t in cages. You can visit the pubic baths for a true Japanese experience and/or soak in hot mineral waters in your room.

        Also near Nagano is Karuizawa, an amazing resort town where John and Yoko spent a lot of their time. There is a coffee shop there where John measured young Sean on a tree near the entrance. There’s some Lennon artwork there.

        I haven’t even mentioned the other cities including Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, home base for Toyota, Yokohama, etc. or even islands Hokaido and Okinawa. Japan is about the size of CA but with 120 million people instead of 20 million. And inland it is quite mountainous.

        Forgive my focus on Nagano. Its my wife’s home town.

  • avatar

    Why has Japan, lover of computer interface and graphic equalizers, not moved this to an online system?

    • 0 avatar

      Because for all their technological advancements, the Japanese can be very reluctant to adopt them in daily use.

      I make no claims to the veracity of this article, but from what I gleaned in my short time in Yokohama, it all seems very true.

      • 0 avatar

        I hate it when authors write like this guy, it’s so tiring to read. It’s also a trend I notice more and more as millennials throw their fingers across keyboards on established sites.

        And it’s cool to add in “f*ck” here and there, and a couple “sh!ts” for good measure, because bad words!

        The RAV4 tire cover pic made it worth it though.

        “To choose sports for fashion or your personality,the basic idea is to enjoy yourself which is important. TOYOTA”


        Sounds a lot like my experience in Korea, the other ethnically homogeneous country. You stand out because of your skin color and hair, and your huge eyes (probably why I got a job easily, as well). Most Koreans are sorta scared and sorta curious, but you have the subset of “liberals” (would still qualify as very conservative in the US) who want to hang out with foreigners because they are cool and different and speak English. And though you’re an outsider, Koreans will try their best to help you out and understand what you need.

        There’s tons of Engrish examples in Korea as well, as they write English on everything. I have a spiral notebook which is black, and has printed on the front:

        A Notebook for Sensual people.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s Cracked. Their writing style is quite juvenile. I stopped reading several months ago after I exhausted the backlog of “The 20 Wackiest Hairstyles of Ancient Egypt”-type articles, but the basic points in this article are still valid.

        • 0 avatar

          Having lived in Japan, but also traveling in and working with Koreans extensively, I always found it striking how different the two cultures are. Besides always trying to observe the golden rule wherever I am, I find Koreans are actually a lot more like Americans. More outgoing and much more comfortable with direct negotiation. I loved my time in both countries, but you definitely had to re-calibrate yourself moving between them. Also, I love Japanese food, but can eat myself comatose on good Korean food any time, any place!

      • 0 avatar

        Despite the Japanese reputation for efficiency in manufacturing, the rest of the country is woefully inefficient. They tend to have way more people hired to work than would be required to perform the same tasks in other developed countries. They are interested in keeping people employed as well as being interested in high quality of service. Last numbers I saw show Japan is only about 2/3rds as efficient as the U.S. in terms of production per capita. I’ll see if I can run down some current numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      Although in frivolous things like entertainment tech it seems like Japan is on the bleeding edge, Japan is very conservative functionally. The society is slow to adopt new technologies in things that actually matter.

  • avatar

    That streetscape is just astonishingly clean. Anywhere in the US or Europe, even places like Switzerland or Denmark, there would be graffiti, litter, and haphazardly placed posters.

    I’ve never been to Japan outside of connecting at Narita airport, and I really want to visit.

    • 0 avatar

      Just go, while you can. In a year or two anything can happen in your life or in the world itself which limits your ability to travel.

    • 0 avatar

      Judging by the light, I think this photo was taken in the very early morning. Usually that street is jammed with cars. As for cleanliness, it’s about as clean as you would get in most big cities in the USA these days. There is some litter, but nothing big.

  • avatar

    My cousin who lived in Osaka for 3 years went through the same experience. Against my advice, he took his first love back home; a nice paid for, Infinity G35 made in Japan. It took him about 1,5 months to have everything done, but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap. He had to modify his lights and add different mirrors but that’s about it. He told me that japan is incredibly bureaucratic but they are very nice about it. So nice, they are disarming and it is hard to get mad with them. They keep apologizing while making all kinds of crazy (for us) requests. He had the help of an assistant and translator, all provided gratis by his employer.

  • avatar

    This was a great article Thomas, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

  • avatar
    April S

    Interesting article.

    Question. If you ship your van stateside will you receive your recycling fee back?

  • avatar

    The Oregon DMV just sent me a notice of renewal for my 2012 Elantra, the first time they’ve demanded anything of it besides the gas tax since I bought it in December, 2011. Oregon plates on cars purchased new in the state are good for four years at a cost of $221 (last I checked). The emissions test costs $89 and involves a simple OBDII scan of the operating parameters and a check to make sure smoke isn’t pouring from the exhaust pipe like a Victorian Era ocean liner. Tack on new tags for the plates for $21 and you’re out the door, good for another two years.

    Having read this, I will never complain about that ever again. EVER.

  • avatar

    I live in Japan off and on, why would you bring that there? Go get a bad ass Delica or something else awesome.

  • avatar

    That was very interesting. Good story. Please excuse me for pointing this out, but judges are, or should be, disinterested. The word you wanted is uninterested.

  • avatar

    Thanks for sharing details of your odyssey. Quick question for Thomas…

    At what stage in this process were your headlights checked / fixed for the switch from right-side driving to left-side driving?

    Here in the UK it’s a modest beef of mine that LHD visitors rarely tape up their headlights so as not to blind oncoming drivers (with the asymmetrically wider beam that would normally be cast onto the verge).

    (As a pointless aside, if you ever regret not having a RHD car in Japan, remember you could just have sold your US model T&C and gone through the same long winded process of importing a RHD model from the UK ;)

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a great question and a subject that has occupied a great deal of my time and attention this weekend. I suspect this is something that would have been sprung on my during the safety inspection but for the fact I was already aware of it because I had heard Mike Brewer and Edd Chyna discuss it a few times when Wheeler Dealers converted some American Cars for use in Great Britain.

      I got on and ordered some of the eurolight stickers that are made for this purpose but am uncertain when they might arrive. I also tried to look for the parts via Chrysler UK or Australia to see if I could just order RHD entire units but struck out.

      In the mean time, I went out and lowered the beams down (the can’t be adjusted side to side unfortunately) fairly low. Given that when I do drive at night its at low speeds on brightly lighted streets I probably don’t need to worry about over running them anytime soon.

      If you have more information about how I can tape the lights or a place I could buy the correct replacement units, I’d appreciate it if you could share it. I’d like to be ready for the inspection, time might become an issue if I have to spend a bunch of time making modifications.

      • 0 avatar

        As a kid, I remember my dad buying a kit that included an A5 sized piece of black self adhesive vinyl with dozens of overlapping cutting templates on the back for different makes and models of car. A few years ago we drove our 2012 Fiat Panda to France, and the widely available (in UK) Eurolites branded headlamp converters ( that you have ordered were much simpler to fit. The tightly folded instruction insert includes cutting and fitting instructions for almost every type of car imaginable on British roads today. These would certainly include the last generation Chrysler Voyager, which was on sale in the UK until a few years ago. You’re lucky to have imported one of the very few American cars to be sold in the UK in recent years!

        When you get the Eurolites pack, fitting should be dead easy. A UK breaker’s yard might well have a set of headlights from a last gen Chrysler Voyager; that model year might be in the wilderness between being a common sight on the roads and being a common sight in scrap yards.

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