Given that my wife and I have no real intention of buying a house or having a kid, last weekend’s trip to the Honda dealership to buy a car is easily the most “adult” thing we’ve done in quite some time.
Perhaps I should start a little earlier in the story. Our previous1 car, a 2003 Fit Aria, was absolutely starting to get a bit long in the tooth — leaving aside its generally unfortunate-looking condition after a number of harsh Hokuriku winters, the radiator was cracked and in need of outright replacement, and between the price of that and the fact that we’d be looking at a substantial outlay this June for the shaken car inspection (easily ¥200,000 or more, because there is a minimum fee of something like ¥60,000 or ¥70,000 simply for the two years of compulsory insurance, plus a huge amount to get that car up to code), we figured, hey, it sounds like time to consider simply replacing our car.
The car-buying experience in Japan is, as has no doubt been written about countless times on the internet, rather alien to Americans.2 While there is certainly a degree of upselling of optional luxuries,3 there is a refreshing straightforwardness about a lot of the process: there are certain packages that include certain features, and you simply pick one of them as a baseline to work from.4
The interesting thing, from an American perspective, is how much paperwork there is involved: the dealership will generally require official proof of a parking space (to be obtained from one’s landlord), an officially registered seal and a certification of its validity from the local government office, etc. The payment, if going with a single lump-sum payment rather than credit, is also quintessentially Japanese: the buyer simply transfers the money from their own bank account to the bank account of the dealership, and the dealership looks at the name on the transfer to confirm who it came from.5
And then, if absolutely everything goes right, you may have your new car in as little as a week.
That’s right: unlike in the US, where it is largely safe to assume that you will drive your new car home that very same day, in Japan, your new car won’t be delivered to the dealer for you to drive home for a week or longer, depending on the configuration you’ve requested, because of the fact that they more or less build the car to order. If nothing else, hey, that’s actually pretty neat that the car companies still operate that way. It was certainly a novel surprise to us, at least.
Incidentally, for the curious, the car we went with is another Honda: the N-Box.6
It falls into a legal category known as kei cars, a special type of small, light vehicles with restrictions on engine displacement and wheel size. The upsides include significant tax breaks, absurdly good gas mileage (the official mileage estimates are something like 28 km/l, or well over 68 MPG, which is good but by no means breathtaking among kei cars), and ready availability of some parts (given that the wheel size is standardized, everyone has the right tires available), but with minor downsides like being too narrow to seat five. To be perfectly honest, I’d love to see kei cars make it big overseas, but odds are that there’d be some pretty significant hurdles to that actually happening.7 Still, though, it’s not hard to imagine that there’d likely be a market for a small, efficient car that gets 60+ MPG, with a price tag in the mid $10,000s.
In the meanwhile, we’ll have to simply enjoy our new car here, in the market it was designed for. With any luck, this one will hopefully last another fifteen years, like the one it replaced.
Hello! I’m Greg, an American who has lived in Japan since 2008. I have a tremendous fondness for both reading and writing, which helps out quite a bit in my work as a translator: after all, at its core, the job is built on writing. I’ve always been fascinated with languages, and how they can differ in how they treat even seemingly basic, fundamental things. In particular, there are many common Japanese words that have no good English equivalent, so finding a good way to translate them can be a really interesting challenge.
My other hobbies include cooking (Serious Eats is one of my favorite websites, and I cook dinner from scratch nearly every evening), playing games with friends (both tabletop and video games), calligraphy (both English and Japanese, filling an A6 page with some sort of calligraphy practice every day for the past few years), photography, and a long-held interest in computers (as a teenager, I installed operating systems recreationally).
I also drink too much oolong tea.