Swimming Upstream: VJ Day

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer
swimming upstream vj day

It’s been another exhausting day and, after wasting precious time trying to write some sort of clever introduction, I’ve realized that there just isn’t any point in beating around the bush.

The windmill I set out to topple is thoroughly defeated and the Town and Country looks smart sitting in front of the house tonight wearing its new set of permanent Japanese plates.

I wish I could say it was a cake walk, that the Town and Country sailed through its Shaken without any difficulty, but, as usual, there were last minute problems.

Want to know more? Hit the jump for another episode of your favorite reality program: “Man Meets Bureaucracy.”

The day started off well. I set off early and I was at the Land Transport Office (LTO) a few minutes before 9:00 a.m. I had expected there to be a huge rush of early applicants, but I was wrong. Thinking about it, I’m guessing it’s because vehicle inspections and registrations are usually services people pay for and the companies that do them work normal 9-to-5 business hours.

Whatever the case, I ran through the initial steps of the process, moving from station to station with little to no wait until, less than 15 minutes after I arrived, I was told to bring my car around and line up for the dreaded Shaken.

At first, I was a little surprised about this. I had taken the car to a garage for its inspection and, because they used the Shaken testing format, I had assumed this part of the process would simply be rubber stamped in the office. It turned out, however, that the garage had simply done a “pre-inspection” and that now, if I wanted the plates, I would have to stand before the man. Simple enough, I thought, as this wasn’t my first Shaken and the garage had previously been annoyingly thorough.

I should simply breeze right on through. Right?


Despite my fully endorsed pre-inspection, the inspectors were bound and determined to exercise their due diligence. They began with the basics: checking the headlights, blinkers, brake lights, etc. and followed up by running around the vehicle to examine all the angles before ultimately using a tape measure to — yet again — verify the vehicle’s size.

Next, I was waved into the building for the noise and emissions test but was allowed to pass through without stopping, presumably because of the costly JATA certificates I had acquired earlier in the process. I was also passed through the light testing station for some reason — maybe the pre-inspection paperwork was fine for this part — before being told to stop in the pit area so they could verify the engine number.

The process completed, I was kicked out the far end of the building with instructions to park and walk back into the inspection line to speak with the supervisors. Apparently, there was a problem.

The Town and Country’s issue, it turns out, was a blind spot that needed to be rectified to be legal. Of course, you say, all cars have blind spots and they can easily be fixed with a $2 convex stick-on mirror. But alas, my friends, the Town and Country’s spot was not at the rear, it was at the front– along the passenger side fender and next the front wheel. The inspectors informed me in order to get my certificate, I needed some way to see into the area.

I was incredulous to the point of becoming highly agitated but, rather than argue, the inspectors decided a demonstration was in order. They had me sit in the driver’s seat while they brought out a small yellow pole, which they moved around the front of the vehicle — stopping every few inches — to verify it could be seen until, well, it couldn’t. It did fine across the front and around the bumper but, sure enough, when it hit that one special point, it vanished beneath the fender line for all of 12 inches before it became visible through the passenger-side window below the mirror. Satisfied they were right, I set off to buy an extra mirror lest a gnome or some other creature less than three feet tall work their way into that position along the fender and be hurt.

Fortunately, there was an Autobacs right across the street and, after I got kicked out of the Shaken line, it was there I retreated to lick my wounds and find the part that I required. Let me start by saying that Autobacs is probably the crappiest auto parts store on the planet. They have 300 kinds of car perfume, a gazillion add-on lights, hundreds of stick on coin holders, ash trays and other little doodads — but precious little hard parts. To my disappointment, the mirror section consisted on twenty different make-up mirrors, of which at least three of which were shaped like Hello Kitty, a couple of stick-on blind spot mirrors and two big convex bumper mirrors that looked like the belonged on a Kenworth. After pulling my hair out for a while, I spent about 1200 yen on an adjustable blind spot mirror and set about trying to mount it in an appropriate spot.

It took some time. The mirror simply could not be made to work on any part of the fender or hood and, after agonizing about it for a while, I decided to stick it on the side pillar of the sliding door. The idea: Use the passenger side mirror to see what the add-on mirror was reflecting. After another hour in the Shaken line, the inspectors signed off on it and I went back to shambling around the complex acquiring stamps and paying fees.

At around two o’clock in the afternoon, I finally got the plates bolted on and headed off to the city hall to return my temporary tags. With that last errand completed, the job was done and the van fully legal.

What were the costs? It’s hard to calculate as I didn’t keep all my receipts, but I have a general idea of the major things so I’ll try to get somewhere in the ballpark.

Including temporary plates, which I renewed 11 times, JATA emissions and noise testing, the new right-hand-drive optic headlights, the pre-inspection and associated work to “fix” the signals, the plate adapters, the parking permit, the recycle fee, and the litany of different fees I paid today, I estimate a grand total of $4,260. Of course, there were other costs I didn’t track: the tolls for my useless trip to the closed Chrysler dealer, parking fees I paid while I ran hither, thither and yon and any number of other silly fees that probably add another two or three hundred dollars in real money. And I don’t even want to think about my lost productivity, the vacation days I had to take to push everything through, and the mental stress of it all…

In short, it was a hassle and the cost was high, but the feeling of taking your own bought and paid for car to the other side of the world and getting it street legal? Hell, that’s priceless.

Thomas. 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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  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Nov 14, 2015

    Thomas, By the sounds of it, it was an experience to have your vehicle registered to drive on the Japanese public road system.....all legal. Congratulations! Now, why is it so hard???? It's not hard to work this one out. When you are in Japan go out and buy a BT50, take it back to the US and get it registered to drive on the US public road system. It just ain't goin' happen. So, don't feel to bad. The US has anal and ridiculous technical barriers in place, far worse than the Japanese. You will understand why I'm an advocate of the US adopting the UNECE harmonised vehicle regulations in the US. If you had this, you might have had to change only the headlights. This is sort of like the Beta vs VHS stoush. Well, it's called technical trade barriers. Oh, the US should adopt what the rest of the world is converting to because it will be cheaper than the world adopting the US regulatory standards as the US represent a smaller market than the rest of the Globe.

    • See 1 previous
    • Wmba Wmba on Nov 14, 2015

      Professor BAFO: Dear sir: Repeating the same thing 50 times over for four years and getting the same negative response is not usually attempted by even the dumbest of dogs. Yet you repeat the same mantra over and over as if you'd forgotten we heard the same sorry tale from you dozens of times before. I am therefore reduced to the conclusion I came to after reading your first three or four attempts to convince the world that you know best, and that is that Ginger, my pet gecko who learns what I want him to do after only a few trial runs, is smarter than you. But, to be charitable, perhaps it can all be explained from the brain damage you have suffered beating your head against a brick wall. Now, what's Ryan's excuse or was he always that way?

  • John Scott John Scott on Jan 05, 2016

    I came here from your post about the regrettable GMC Jimmy. On that post, your bio says: "Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself." Being from Eastern Wa myself (Wenatchee) and currently living in Japan, I was vicariously happy for you, having made it out of Japan. Now I read that you are back in Japan? Surely there is some reason. What brought you back?

  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that