If you ask someone in Japan what’s the worst thing about owning a car in Japan, you’ll probably get a mixed bag of answers. “Old drunks crashing into you”, “road surfaces are partly made of coral and offer no grip”, and “the accident insurance system where you are almost always partially at fault for an accident by existing (dude hit from the side by a Japanese man in a parking lot he has been told that they expect him to pay 50% of the repair costs of his own car, if he had not been in the parking lot the accident would never have happened” are just three of them. But perhaps the most common complaint people will have is something called hectic (pronounced “sha-ken”, or JCI (Japanese Compulsory Insurance) for US service members and their families with SOFA status.
Almost all developed countries have some system to ensure that cars are roadworthy. In the UK they have the annual ITV, a thorough inspection of the vehicle to make sure it’s safe to be on the road. Well here in Japan we have the shake, which is done in all vehicles every 2 years. The testing process seems similar to the UK one, although probably not as detailed. Some of the things it checks are sensible (working headlights, exhaust emissions, etc.), and some are not. The car, for example, must have some way of telling the driver what position the gear lever should be in for each particular gear in a manual transmission car. Stock gear knobs have this, but if you have an aftermarket gear knob you should get a decal somewhere conspicuous on the inside, apparently in case you forget where all your gears are and need a diagram to help you ( tip: if this applies to you then please stay home or use public transport!).
But it’s not the testing criteria that most people disagree with. In fact, even many tuner cars pass the shake relatively easily, and I think mine will pass with no problem as long as I re-install the jack and get that all-important team decal. But the biggest problem is the cost. As I mentioned in a previous post, I expect my shake-up fee in a couple of months to come to at least 50,000 yen (about £300) and probably closer to 70,000 yen (£500), and that means nothing needs repair or Changing. A friend recently commented that his milkshake is likely to cost around Y120,000 (just over £850). An online source has the cost broken down as follows: Y25,500 for the trial fee, Y29,780 for 2 years validity (yeah, not sure what that means either), Y8,090 for the recycling department , and then an additional fee depending on who your mechanic is, what your car is, and probably the phase of the moon or something. Let’s compare that firstly with the US where the same car test would cost around Y11,000 (around £80) and in the UK an ITV test costs Y7,400 (just over £50) . Yes… as you can see the difference is not insignificant. But everyone accepts the cost because they know that if they speak up here they will have a lone voice since acceptance is the most popular policy.
When you tell people outside of Japan the cost of the test, they automatically assume it’s going through a car dealer and that an independent workshop fee would be much cheaper. The reality is that the costs I quote come from independent shops in Okinawa (which probably has the cheapest prices for things like this in all of Japan). A dealer fee for something like this is likely to be even higher. Perhaps you are beginning to see why public transportation is so favorable in mainland Japan (where it actually works adequately). You might go to the car inspection center and test drive the car yourself, but the cost you’ll save is nominal and a huge hassle, so people really don’t do it and leave it to their mechanic.
So while Japan does have some good points for motorsports (stock parts at decent prices, good quality aftermarket parts, gasoline at a reasonable price), there are one or two things that come up that really put a proverbial wrench in the works. . I have my shake coming up in March, which I don’t look forward to financially, though it should be a simple step up to the test itself. I should probably make a clever pun on being “shaken but not shaken”, but I would never stoop to that kind of level!