Buying a Japanese Car

It took about five minutes at the Japanese car dealer for my dreams of buying a Japanese car to go screeching off the road and crash flaming into a tree.

But let’s back up a second, because in America, Ken Seeroi was a born legend when it came to fast cars and slow women. With a longneck beer in one hand and a blonde in the other, I crossed the mountain passes and desert plains of that wide nation countless times, driving everything from motorhomes and massive diesel trucks to hotrod Chevy Vega’s and riceburner Nissan 350Z’s. Gotta steer with your knees, is the key. During those years I spent money like water, customizing the cars of my red-blooded American boyhood dreams: Super Sport Nova, classic Ford Bronco, drop-top Benz.

Features you Want in a Japanese Car

So when it came to buying a Japanese car, my plan was to get something cool and fun, like a convertible Z3 or a Jeep or something.

“Ah, you don’t want those,” said my coworker. “You’ll look like a tourist. The sun in Japan’s too hot and it rains too much.” Japanese people are always positive and supportive like that.

I don’t know why I took her car shopping with me anyway, since she knows jack about vehicles. Well, she did have a magnificent ass, so maybe that was a factor. I’m shallow; I know this about myself.

“Well, how ’bout something sporty, maybe like that Acura?” I asked.

“As long as you don’t mind everyone thinking you’re in the U.S. Army,” she replied. “Only military guys drive those.”

“Okay…well, how’s this Honda then?” I asked. “You can’t argue with the price.”

“That’s because it’s red. Everywhere you go, people will know it’s you.”

“Jeez, Ken Seeroi ain’t tryin’ to have that. Fine, then, what do you suggest?”

“What about this one?” She asked.

“A Kei car? It’s like a riding lawnmower wrapped in sheet metal. I’ve been on motorcycles with bigger engines. You gotta be fucking kidding,” I said.

Turns out, she fucking wasn’t. That’s when I came to understand that buying a car in Japan draws upon the cardinal values sacred to all Japanese people: Frugality, Anonymity, and Fear.

The Three Sacred Japanese Values

1. Frugality

After riding Japan’s excellent public transportation systems—which you can do while reading a book, drinking a pile of beer, or sleeping—it seems clearly insane to spend thousands of dollars buying a Japanese car to sit locked in traffic. Not to mention the cost of insurance, a parking place, bi-annual inspections, road tax, oil changes, wiper blades, car washes, and toll roads.

America’s all about buying stuff—homes, cars, bikes, boats, planes, and toys of every description. No money? No worries—Payday loan! Credit cards, layaways, financing. The thinking in Japan is the polar opposite—what’ll I do when I get old? How will I pay the hospital bill if I get sick? If America’s the Land of Opportunity, Japan’s the Land of Worry.

A few years of living here changes you. You pay cash for everything, and if you had a little extra yen at the end of the year, well, maybe you could actually run the heater a few hours to keep from freezing to death over the holidays. At the fearsome salary of an English teacher, a car just looks like having to work years to pay for something less useful than the train, which we already have.

2. Anonymity

This is the country where wearing a surgical mask or locking yourself in your room and never leaving is actually normal. Japanese folks want to be anonymous for good reason—-because it’s a small country full of small, incessant gossipers. Stop your red car at the bakery just once and you’ll never hear the end of “Foreigners love pastries.” Pick up a latte on the way to work and your office mates will casually hold a conversation within earshot about how much better it is to brew coffee at home than to waste money at Starbucks (see “Frugality,” above).

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say your every move is monitored and scrutinized, on video cameras and by hordes of curtain-parting grannies. Try to sneak out a measly tunafish can in your burnable garbage Monday night and you’ll find the same trash bag deposited on your doorstep Tuesday morning. Want to know why there’s no litter or crime in Japan? Well, there you go. Of course, online crime or dumping trash in the countryside—sure, there’s heaps of that. So long as nobody’s watching, anything goes. If your old fridge falls in the forest, does anybody actually hear it? Hopefully not.

So watching Japanese traffic is enough to make you wonder if you’ve gone colorblind. it’s a long monochrome procession of white, silver, light grey, dark grey, brown, and black vehicles, punctuated by the occasional blue rental car full of red-faced Korean tourists. The car that sticks up gets hammered down.

3. Fear

“Be careful.” お気をつけて。Easily one of the top ten Japanese phrases.

“I’m going to the store.” “Okay, be careful.”

“I’m going to lunch.” “Be careful.”

“I’m gonna go take a whiz.” “Be careful.”

Japan’s a nation that sweats the small stuff. It’s also a nation of incredibly narrow streets and elderly citizens. Compared to America, people drive insanely slow. Go five years without an accident and you get the coveted gold stripe on your driver’s license and a nice reduction in insurance rates. Ken’s got two more years of slow, careful driving left to go.

It’s also a nation with tons of hit and run, for the same reason. Leaving the scene of an accident is practically in the driver’s handbook. The newspaper story’s always the same—-some dude clipped a Japanese ojisan or flattened some kid on his bicycle, took off, and the cops tracked him down later with the surveillance footage.

That being said, I’ve probably seen an average of three traffic accidents a year, and the majority of those involved some “person of color,” i.e., white, black, or brown. Hell, in the U.S. I’ve been personally involved in more car crashes than I’ve even seen in Japan. None of which were my fault for driving with my knees, of course.

Tokyo Drift

But what about all the Japanese street racing? Didn’t Japan invent “drifting”? Is it all just a massive internet lie?

Uh, yeah, pretty much. I mean, look, it’s a big nation. Out of 127 million people, you’re gonna find a few guys into fast cars. That doesn’t make it a Japanese thing, any more than rockabilly, cross-dressing, or owl cafes. I’m pretty sure there are more dudes dressing up as schoolgirls tonight than going street racing.

What Ken Seeroi Drives

So I wound up buying a Japanese car the way Japanese folks order food at restaurants. By ignoring the menu and just going with the same thing everybody else at the table’s getting. Yo, I’m already a hairy six-foot tall white guy; I don’t need to stand out any more. I took my coworker’s advice and picked up a small, used Daihatsu in stunning medium gray. Because honestly, nobody in Japan gives a damn what I drive. It’s reliable, costs peanuts to run, and every yen I save puts me one day closer to my dream of never teaching English again and moving to Bali. So when Osaka girlfriend needed a new set of tires for her Toyota SUV, she griped about having to shell out $750 for a set of four. But when Mr. Daihatsu needed his own lawnmower-sized rubber, he got four brand-new tires, mounted and balanced, for under 200 bucks. That’s one hell of a deal. Bali, here we come.

It’s strange, you know? Because all those years in the U.S., I dropped thousands of dollars on custom paint jobs, carnauba wax, and Armor All. But now, in some weird way, the worse my car looks, the better I feel. Because when some jarhead dings me with the door of his red Acura in the bakery parking lot, or I come back from a day on the farm covered in mud and tree sap, or an afternoon at the beach and the floor mats fill up with sand, I could care less. I wouldn’t drive anything else. And maybe that’s the secret to happiness after all: not caring more, but caring less.

63 Replies to “Buying a Japanese Car”

  1. Here’s to picturing Ken, motoring down the road, 10kph……windows down, singing…. You’re motoring… What’s your price for flight
    There’s gotta be an empty or two in the back seats.

    1. Man, that’s going on the karaoke playlist.

      And there’s plenty of empties in the back and front seats, only now I’m no longer driving while they’re going down. In Japan, you can legally drink in a car so long as you’re not driving.

      The key, as always, lies in finding the right girlfriends.

  2. Ken seeroi joining the masses of eco kei cars on the road. Surprised that a petrolhead like you would actually get one, in spite of all those aforementioned costs.

    1. A few years ago, I heard a statistic that Americans spend north of a quarter million dollars over their lifetimes on cars. And that’s not including the lost opportunity cost associated with not earning compound interest on that same money.

      That’s crazy. You’ve gotta make the connection between having to work for a living and the car you drive. Frankly, I don’t like working all that much–I’d rather sit around and write a blog.

      The difference between being rich and poor is quite literally the car you drive.

      1. This is so true, and it’s one of the things I love about Japan. I can stay alive without having to deal with the hassle and expense of owning a car. While having and driving a nice car is certainly fun, especially if it has a good sound system, the expenses on top of the ever-present threat of something happening to it (which, in turn, entails even greater expenses) outweighs those benefits in the end. I’ve always thought it was so stupid of Americans to let their society become wholly structured around car ownership. You can’t get a car without a job, but without a car you can’t get a job, or really do anything else, either, because everything is so spread out, and public transportation is almost non-existent. How idiotic.

        1. Ummm…this is like comparing moon rocks to raisins. Or pick your analogy. Japan is smaller than California, and has 10 times the density of people than the US does. Perhaps thats why there is only mass transit (for the most part) in urban areas with higher population density.

          1. I think it’s three G’s: Guns, God, Gridiron. Cars are necessary but falling behind phones as desired item.
            Also I was thinking the issue is more residential zoning. People in the US dont often allow lots of tall buildings together that would enable mass transit to be commercially viable.
            Japan has plenty of non-dense low-efficiency agricultural land. But they allow big cities anywhere at same time.

        2. I was actually able to get around with just one car in the family here in the Hey Area, but now I’m p!ssed that I have to get a second one because I don’t want to be THAT Little League coach Ubering to practices with all my gear…

  3. Oh NO Ken, you’ve turned into one of “them”! My gosh, what has become of the thrill seeking, pedal-to-the-metal, damn-the-speed-limit-sign American that you once were? What’s next? Giving up Rock ‘N Roll for J-Pop? Forsaking the NFL for sumo wrestling? It’s frighting even to think of…

    I can understand owning a Kei car in Japan, but I had hoped you had one of these:

    A Honda S660 Turbo:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZSGk2lEkV0

    Okay, that one is a little pricey, how’s this: 1992 Mazda Autozam AZ-1 Turbo?:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phROL-KMvq0

    Oh well, not a lot of room for empty beer bottles in one of these anyway. I do suppose you could just throw the empties out the window into a pristine forest to join the broken televisions and abandoned kittens laid to waste there but that would just make you more Japanese.

    I do have a few questions on driving in Japan:

    How long did it take you to get used to driving on the other side of the road? Or how about shifting gears with your left hand? Please don’t tell me you wussed out and have an automatic! I’ve read that toll road fees are super expensive and just driving anywhere in Japan is a costly journey, perhaps you can give some insight on that. Do people go on ‘road trips’ for a couple of days? Lastly, are Japanese drivers as lame as here in the US?

    Thanks for talking about this subject by the way. It gives another great insight on Japan. Now excuse while I break some laws here in the good ‘ole USA…

    1. One of them? Who’d that be? Eh well, probably true, no matter who them is.

      Heh, I rented a car just like one of those last year, on vacation. My girlfriend was like, “I think this is a mistake” and I was all, “Nah, baby, it’s gonna be a blast.”

      Hottest day of my life, not to mention the smog. Like wearing a plastic bag over your head while smoking a cigar. Pretty sure my girlfriend got heat stroke. After we got back she went to bed and didn’t get up for about 24 hours. You seriously do not want a convertible in the summer here.

      So yeah, it took about three days to really get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. At first, your brain’s still trying to map everything opposite, and you end up leaning too far to the left. You can always spot tourists from countries that drive on the right because they’re always weaving toward the left curb. I clipped the mirror of some parked car, but if anybody asks, it never happened.

      Dude, I totally wussed and got an automatic. For one thing, there are two classes of Japanese driver’s licenses: one for manual and one for auto. It’s freaking pretty hard for an American to pass anyway (took me five trips to the DMV and a day being humiliated at driving school). Since I work in Japan, I don’t even have that kind of time, so no way I’m trying to make life here even harder. Plus, it’s not like sitting in traffic shifting from first to second is that much fun anyway.

      I have driven a manual truck on a farm though, so I’ll say that shifting with your left hand’s no problem at all. I just thank God the Japanese kept the foot pedals in the same place. They did screw up with the turn signals and windshield wipers though, so even now I’m always signaling to turn every time it rains.

      And sure, I’ve taken some road trips here. If you go on the highway, there’s butt all to see and it costs a fortune. If you go surface roads, it’s slow and traffic-y, sometimes with lots of stoplights. Honestly, the train’s a hell of a lot faster, plus it’s awesome.

      Sorry, man. Japan’s good for some things, but maybe driving isn’t the best of them.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply and answers, it reminds me of a quote from a coworker some time ago. We worked at the same company in Los Angeles, she was a recent transplant from Colorado. The subject of driving in LA came up and her response was “Driving in LA sucks the joy out of driving.” Sounds quite similar to your current experience in Japan. Somewhat related I had a Porsche in LA for a few years, I always wanted a ‘real’ sports car. In actuality it was just plain frustrating owning a fast car where the congested conditions prevented from me from ever getting anywhere near the capabilities of the car. I ended up selling it for, of all things, an SUV, a vehicle I loathed ever to own. Turned out it worked perfectly for the conditions I encountered in the city.

        Well, with the ‘joy of driving’ taken out of one of lifes pleasures in Japan I can understand why you primarily focus on good food, alcohol and promiscuous women. In no particular order of course, although I’m guessing all three can be achieved in one evening with no obstacles getting up to full speed…

        1. Yeah, the first two can be achieved fairly readily. The third…well, that’s a mystery that knows no national boundaries.

          As for cars, I agree completely. You gotta buy the ride that makes sense for your surroundings. If you live on Route 1, next to open, sweeping roads overlooking the Pacific, then yeah, having a manual gearbox and a drop-top Porsche makes sense. That’s what they sell in car commercials.

          A whole lot of folks, though, are just trying to get to and from work, including me. I could have a Ferrari and it wouldn’t get me there any faster. And it pays to remember the main reason I’m going to work: to make money. Which I’m damn sure not going to spend on a car just to get there.

  4. So i am preparing to go to Japan for my Master’s Degree and maybe even try further for a Ph.D and after that and a decade has passed and i go back to my country i really hope to just buy a Chevy Camaro (A very unsual car in Europe but i am just in love with it), i honestly could never drive a slow car, it would drive me nuts.

    1. You sure you want to move to Japan and not Nevada? Montana? Some place with lots of space and few people? I’m not even sure a Camaro could fit down some of the roads here.

  5. “It’s like a riding lawnmower wrapped in sheet metal.” Man, you gotta write that book, just hilarious stuff!!! So, it’s automatic or manual transmission? Would like to see your considerations about it.

    1. Automatic all the way, baby. Ken Seeroi ain’t trying to do any extra work. I also use a laptop instead of a typewriter and a smartphone rather than two tin cans and a string.

  6. Yo Ken,

    Funny thing is, I’m actually in Surabaya right now and about to head to Bali in 6 days and I’ll be there for 2 weeks haha. But here I am wishing I was in Japan rather than Surabaya, Bali will be a ton of fun though. If you really want to come here, it’s so cheap, I’m sure you know that you can find inexpensive food everywhere. A hotel or hostel will cost you maybe 200k Rupiah ($15) and a meal of spicy goodness made right before your eyes will be 8k Rupiah ($0.06).
    11/10 would read again.

    ~Noah

    1. A meal for six cents? What kind of magical heaven are you visiting?

      Yeah, I really gotta get out of Japan more often.

  7. Ken, I got the impression that the safety inspections on cars in Japan are really rigorous. Given the “riding lawnmower wrapped in sheet metal” doesn’t sound all that safe is that really true?

    1. The inspections don’t strike me as much different from the U.S.

      They make sure all the little blinking lights work, that your brake pads and tires are still operational, and that the frame’s not going to snap in half from rust.

      So that’s just making sure the car is mechanically sound. Safety’s a whole other issue.

      The inherent risk of a kei car is universally acknowledged. Hit a bigger vehicle, you’re gonna die. Have a blowout, you’re gonna die. Veer off a mountain road…well, you get the idea.

      But that’s just what comes with driving a small, light car, and a good half of Japan seems okay with that. Hey, life’s full of risk. Including the risk that you’ll blow all your money on nice cars and spend your last 20 years eating cat food.

  8. Some items on driving in Japan
    My experience: 3 years worth of occasional (once every few weeks, maybe) trips from Shibuya-ku to my kids’ school, to Costco in Kawasaki, to Nagano for skiing, or to pottery fair in Mashiko, that sort of thing.
    My car: Toyota Wish – three row wagon type. Pros- spacious, great navigation system. Cons – low power CVT.
    Toll cost: roughly $40 for 2 hours worth of highway driving
    Inspections: Called ‘shaken’ – I think they are like $2000 after 3 years and then every two years after that. But I left at three years.
    Driver’s license: I passed on first test but I heard this is not common (pats self on back lol). By common consensus the test is less about driving skill and more about ‘are you willing to jump through the hoops we have laid out for you, ie. resistance is futile, please demonstrate’.
    Driving on the left: Mostly no problem. During the license test, when you come out of the s-turn, its possible to forget your lane as you exult in having not run into the curb.
    Speeding: 1) in my opinion, police in Japan do not see enforcement as a revenue generating activity. 2) I cant say that I ever saw someone pulled over for speeding in three years. 3) I saw plenty of people exceeding the speed limit by 10-25%, on highway, similar to US. 4)In city traffic, people much more cautious than US. 5) I saw a few fast and furious cars for sure.
    Collisions: I drove past roughly equal number of accidents, fender benders, etc.
    Car mix: plenty of luxury cars and sports cars on the roads around Tokyo.

    1. “Plenty of luxury cars and sports cars on the roads around Tokyo.”

      That is true. The entire Tokyo corridor is expensive, and anyone who has the luxury of owning a car there can afford a nice one. Out in the rice paddies, it’s a different story. But I guess that’s true of any country.

      Still, congrats on passing on the first try. (Although I have a theory as to why you did.)

      1. oh, I forgot (I swear!) to mention that I went to a practice course the week prior to test. They are the only reason I passed first time. I made the lane error coming out of S-turn two times in practice. Well worth the money in saved time.

        1. I saw students driving the practice course with driving school instructors, but how can ordinary people do that? Do you just drive your car to the testing center, roll up on the course, and they’re like “Yeah, try not to hit anything”?

            1. Okay, that sounds a lot more realistic.

              I just rolled up to the testing center on my Japanese moped and was like, Where’s the car? Lemme at it. Not to mention I went by myself, so I had to stumble through all the Japanese forms and explanations. No way they were letting me pass. It took me three times on the actual road test.

              But yeah, I’ve heard that if you go through a school, then when you finally get to the course, it’s basically just a formality. Which makes sense, in some weird Japanese way.

              Still, good on you. It’s not easy to do anything in Japan on the first try.

  9. Funny is how you mentioned about to move to Bali while I’m originally from there and move to Japan. Ah, the irony…

    Anyway, I heard it’s difficult to get Japanese Driver License, even for Japanese, how you solved that Seeroi-sensei?

    1. Leaving Bali for Japan…and thus the life of challenge and disillusionment begins. Well, no doubt it’ll be an adventure.

      Getting a driver’s license in Japan isn’t exactly hard, it’s just a major pain in the ass.

      First of all, it depends on what country you’re from. If you’re from somewhere like the UK or Germany (don’t know about Bali), you basically just stroll in and they hand you a license. But if you’re from some backwater country where nobody drives a car, say, like the U.S.–which doesn’t have a national driver’s license–then you have to pass the Japanese road test.

      The crazy thing is, not only had I driven since birth, I’d already driven in Japan for a year. My first year, I had the so-called “International Driving Permit.” Plus I’d ridden a Japanese scooter (which is way harder than driving a car) with a Japanese scooter license for an additional two years. So there was zero doubt I knew how to drive here or anywhere else.

      I guess I could say something about how Japanese people love to assert power and dick others over with inane rules, but I’ll just hold my tongue and say that if you make one tiny mistake, you’re out. Whether you can drive or not.

      So how I passed…

      First I tried just driving. Yeah, that didn’t work. Then I tried again. Barely made it away from the curb before they instructor was like, Nah, you failed.

      Finally, I went to a driving school for a couple hours. That was humiliating, having the lady there yell at me and grab the wheel out of my hands. In Japan, that’s known as “education.” But I got a piece of paper saying I’d been there.

      That piece of paper proved I’d “been to driving school.” So now the Japanese DMV had proof of something. Now it’s not their fault. Piece of paper says so.

      The next time I took the test, I got 100%. So I went from zero to being a perfect driver in less than a week. Freaking miracle. The instructor was like, “Wow, have you driven for a long time?” And I was like, “Say wha? Dude, I was born in America. What do you think we do there?”

  10. ” I wouldn’t drive anything else. And maybe that’s the secret to happiness after all: not caring more, but caring less.”

    I think Buddhism makes sense to me now. If only I could figure out the deal with those Japanese temple priests coveting exotic sports cars parked in their open garages. Something doesn’t add up.

    1. Buddhist priests in Japan are known for being wealthy and living in fabulous homes, so I could see them having some sweet cars. Apparently I should’ve been studying Buddhism all along, and not Japanese.

      1. Exactly! I guess the “rid oneself of extravagant material possessions to end one’s suffering” part of Buddhism got lost on its way here from the mainland.

  11. Legend has it seeroi san has been able to survive the last decade in japan through shochu, beer, kei cars, rundown izakayas and various kareoke places all while keeping his signature suit neat and tidy. The man is a legend.

    1. Thanks, that sounds like something chiseled in marble: Here lies Seeroi-san–known to all as simply ‘Ken’–who survived a decade in Japan until finally succumbing to shochu, beer, kei cars, rundown izakayas, karaoke, and various women…”

  12. “This is the country where wearing a surgical mask or locking yourself in your room and never leaving is actually normal.” – Haha, exactly!

    I also always wanted to be anonymous in Japan, just blending in.
    And I think that paired with just having lived in Japan for too long led to this:
    http://zoomingjapan.com/photos/life-in-japan/life-in-germany-vs-japan_19.jpg

    Yes, this is actually my car (here in Germany) ….. and now everybody and their dog knows where I went for lunch and whatnot. But I don’t care!!!! XD ……..

    Erm … yeah. Nuff said.

  13. Ken Seeroi,

    The food of Japan brought you to Japan, no? Your writing imparts an impression of a rather insightful person. Which incidences do you feel have been most influential in your transformation from relative naïveté to cynicism in regards to many things Japan?

    Cheers

    1. Perhaps it’s not incidences so much as influences. And mostly those influences come from Japanese language and culture.

      As for incidences, I’ve written about a number of “transformative” ones here. Having my neighbor commit suicide, being yelled at by homeless guys, hugged by drunk salarymen, propositioned in the men’s room, being involved in or hearing about countless instances of theft, fights, poverty, betrayal, and cruelty. It’s hard to pick even a handful.

      None of which makes Japan a bad place. It’s a real place populated by real people. That’s unfortunate. Sigh. What’s mind-blowing, though, is the disconnect between the image outsiders hold of Japan—lose your wallet and you’ll get it back, people are so friendly and “honorable”—and the reality.

      To understand Japan, you first have to live in Japan, which few people do. Not as a student. Not as an employee of an international company. Not on a military base, in a gaijin sharehouse, or in a foreigner-friendly apartment complex. Not in Korea Town, China Town, America Town, or Roppongi Hills. But actually living with and among Japanese people. Hint: if your apartment isn’t heat stroke-inducingly hot in the summer and frostbite cold in the winter, you’re probably not living in Japan.

      You also have to speak the language, and experience all of the challenges that come with that. Having doctors, dentists, government officials, and service personnel ghost you, ignore your questions and instead reply to your companion because he or she looks “Asian.” You have to witness how delighted people are when you speak English—they’ll do anything; buy you dinner, invite you to parties—and how that instantly evaporates when you switch to Japanese. Suddenly nobody finds you interesting.

      Being able to read Japanese changes things as well. All the signs: Stop dumping trash in the river. Stop throwing cigarette butts in the park. Stop drunk driving. Stop shoplifting. Stop abandoning dogs and cats in cardboard boxes. Be careful of pickpockets. Watch for purse-snatchers. Be on the lookout for perverts. Don’t walk here at night. Report suspicious persons to the police. Report offensive neighbors to the landlord.

      Finally, being in a relationship with a Japanese person is transformative. Going to family dinners, weddings, and funerals. Bargaining, arguing, and resolving things in Japanese, the way Japanese people do. Seeing how different “foreigners” really are from you.

      All of which changes you. Hey, it didn’t make me more cynical, because I was always pretty much that, but it opened my eyes to things I’d been blissfully unaware of. Most people, I think, prefer to remain unaware, to not look behind the curtain, and to retain the image of a wondrous, mythical Japan populated by simple, smiling people. Fiction’s generally a lot better than reality. That’s why we make movies.

      1. Jesus, I just had a decade or so of my life flash before my eyes. Luckily I didn’t have a friend commit suicide which is remarkable considering the suicide rates in Japan.

        You could also mention how everybody has an expiry date in Japan. Men, woman and expats. Japanese woman get into their late 20’s and they become less desirable. Japanese men mid 30’s and how the Japanese love their fresh gaijin. As I got older I was relieved to not have to be ‘on’ for the Japanese people I didn’t know. I couldn’t go to a bar alone without being a curiosity. ‘•••••san entertain us with you’re wily gaijin ways’. As I got older I was just ‘old gaijin’ and left alone. I was 40.

        Oh don’t get a car, you’re flushing money down the toilet. The trains are awesome in Japan. Best in the world. Hands down.

        1. I agree about the car. It only makes any kind of sense if you live outside of town, or commute there, and there’s no decent public transportation. Otherwise the train’s clearly the better option.

          Funny what you said about the expiration date, and true. I’m not sure it’s really age related though. When I meet foreign people who’ve just arrived—regardless of age—they just seem so full of life, so enthusiastic. Fresh gaijin. They smile when they meet people. Part of their culture, I guess. Then it fades. And when it does, people can see it in your face, and they leave you alone. For better or worse.

          1. Sure, smaller communities require a car in Japan. I saw your post below mentioning motorcycles. Living in Asia really turned me off cars. I can’t go back to a car after riding trains in Japan or Europe and transit is shit in my country so I got a motorcycle. Great inexpensive way to get around and fun on twisty back roads. They’re win win. I can’t help but think about the money I spent on a car and wonder what I could have done with that money. In retrospect I wish I had the good sense to have bought one in Japan. I used see guys with a girl on the back of a maxiscooters in Tokyo. That would of been fun. I’ve got no problems with scooters. Park it on the sidewalk outside of the love motel. Got to love parking on the sidewalk. How convenient. Which reminds me. I had a friend buy one of those white utilitarian kei vans. You know the toaster on wheels. I ask why on earth would you buy one of those vs any other kei car and get this, he could park it anywhere and the police would just assume it was a work crew. I guess work crews get a break when parked illegally. Turn on the hazards and walk away. Pretty clever.

            I don’t know, I swear the Japanese can smell fresh gaijin. It’s like gaydar for gay men. They have a sixth sense.

            1. “I can’t help but think about the money I spent on a car and wonder what I could have done with that money.”

              That’s the part of your comment that really resonated. For all the tens of thousands of dollars I spent on cars, I could travel the world for years without working. I don’t know what ever possessed me to blow all that cash. Except for, oh yeah, America.

              1. Yeah, American dreams. Mostly owning shit. Credit card debt and lines of credit. God bless that mess.

      2. Yeah, but based on your earliest columns, I get the sense (maybe you were overselling it for comedic value) that you are refugee of the 2008 financial crisis. Your young(ish?), so you probably oversold it. You began learning the language on arrival (WASP that screams at me), and now you seem to have become locked-in (been locked-in by a condom-avoiding cutie?) to a relationship with a girl that, it turns out, is adorable, smart, playful, and awesome, all the requirements aside.

        Yeah, I hear you. Life is too fucking short.

        1. Thanks for reading, and I appreciate the conjecture, but “locked-in”? Naap, that ain’t it. I’m here only because I want to be, hard as it may be to live with.

        2. “Locked in” Have you spent anytime in the region? It really is the most fascinating region in the world. Europe is like a museum. It’s nice the and night life is good but Asia has it all. In Asia, most of the economies still have growth so people are always out. Of course it’s so populous you can go out six days a week to bars or clubs anyway but when a countries economy is growing it’s even better. Even Tokyo is still pumping away even though the country has fallen on hard times. Buildings are going up and being knocked down all the time. Tokyo is still a wealthy city. The region is exotic, culturally fascinating. The scents/smells, food, adventure. I could go on. It really gets in your blood and you won’t want to leave. I call it chasing the dragon because it is like a drug. You won’t want to mall zombie in America once you’ve been to Asia. That what makes Japan a really great base. Earn your Yen and go on an adventure.

  14. If my car costs more to get through the annual MOT (roadworthness test) than it costs me to buy it, I scrap it and get a replacement, *that’s* frugral. 🙂

    1. Seems like that’s on the right track. Although there’s probably some calculation where you could fix a car for, say, a thousand dollars to make it run for another three years that would make fixing it more economical.

      Still, I think the bottom line is that it pays to drive used cars.

  15. Just wanted to say thanks for putting this article together and also to Yukita for putting some actual numbers (i.e. cost) together. I had heard the toll fees add up but I was unaware of the inspections. With all the mountains in Japan I had thought it would be a fun place to motor around. Perhaps motorcyclists fare better, not mopeds of course but the knee draggin’ wanna be racers. I’d like to think somewhere in Japan speed limit laws are being broken…

    On a Kei car related note, I found this YT video about them. I believe it’s a few years old. Fast forward to 17:50 where the host meets the designer of a Kei House Camper. His inspiration for the design was a pack of cigarettes. The entire 28 minute video might bore most people but at least check out the House Camper.

    BEGIN Japanology – K cars

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsmUKpRs_WQ

    I look forward to your next article and I need to catch up on all your previous writings. Any advice on where to start? Should I start at the oldest or just randomly pick and choose?

    1. Randomly pick and choose. Seems to work wonders for every other aspect of my life, so hey, let’s go with that.

      Honestly, a motorcycle sounds like about a million times better idea than a car for having fun on the roads of Japan. (Ignoring, obviously, the dangerous af factor.) There are plenty of dudes out on the weekends in small—and occasionally large—groups. Buy a Harley and everybody’ll love you.

      Japan’s a good place to motor around, just not super fast most of the time. Watch out for wildlife. Nothing ruins your ride more than squishing the random monkey, wild boar, or stray cat. Avoid the toll roads and take the small mountain passes and you’ll have a great time.

  16. Everything changes when you have a child here. Not owning a car is a gigantic pain in the ass. Japanese people hate little children on buses and trains and if you are using a pram (baby-car:), you are the number one public enemy. Having to deal with Japanese
    kindergardens and nurseries is a whole different horror story.

  17. You know Ken, I don’t know how old you are, but I find it incredible that you seem to have had literally every quintessential American experience and every quintessential Japanese experience. You’ve lived more in your 30 something(?) years than two Japanese guys and two American guys might live in their entire life times, and you’ve put those two worlds together. Either that, or you’re like Gilderoy Lockhart, writing down other peoples’ stories and wiping their memories. Not trying to hate, Gilderoy Lockhart is one of my favorite characters of all time. For the record though, I believe you! (mostly!)

    1. I feel sometimes like I’ve lived a thousand lives, and only told a tiny fraction of the stories I’ve got to tell. It’s all true, or at least as close as I can get it.

      I guess the thing is, a lot of folks, you know, graduate from the University of Missouri, take a job as an insurance adjuster, finance some Chevy Blazer, marry Betty from Accounting, get a promoted to Assistant Manager, rack up a pile of Mastercard debt, have a couple bratty kids, and take out a mortgage on a ranch house in the suburbs. That’s normal life; American dream, baby. But for whatever reason, some defect of character kept me bouncing around, chatting up floozies in dive bars, going home alone or worse with someone else, moving cities, traveling, changing jobs, then nations. I tried a bunch of different stuff, had some fun, some not-so-fun, and managed to avoid getting tied down too tightly. Honestly, I can’t say it’s the best life; it’s just that nothing else ever stuck.

      But on the spectrum, there’s lots of people more adventurous than me. There’re the ones who’ve lived all over the world, gone wingsuit flying, climbed mountains, rafted rivers, ridden bulls. Real adventurers. Well okay, I rode bulls too, but not very well. Eight seconds is way harder than it looks. But then most things are.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment.

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