Swimming Upstream: Steps, 2, 3, 4 & 5 - Pre-Shaken

swimming upstream steps 2 3 4 5 pre shaken

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.

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.

[Photo credit: Police station courtesy of panoramio.com]

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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  • Marmot Marmot on Oct 18, 2015

    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.

  • Jamesbrownontheroad Jamesbrownontheroad on Oct 18, 2015

    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 ;)

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    • Jamesbrownontheroad Jamesbrownontheroad on Oct 18, 2015

      @Thomas Kreutzer 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 (http://www.halfords.com/motoring/travel-accessories/car-headlamp-converters/halfords-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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