PROJECT B: Owning a classic car in Japan, Part 02 — The Shaken

Prince Skyline GT-B - Shaken

In Part 01 of this series, I went through the process of searching for the appropriate classic car. Even though I live in Tokyo, it turns out the best way to get the car I wanted, a Prince Skyline GT-B, was to buy an export model from Australia. In this installment, I document what you need to get it past Japan’s dreaded Shaken roadworthiness inspection. 

Prince Skyline GT-B - GR21-796

At this point, I was at home in Tokyo while my car was 7,800 km away in Sydney. After comparing prices, I picked the same importer that Skorj used to import his Honda S800. He was very professional and down to earth. He quickly arranged an exporter in Australia and made arrangements to get the car to Tokyo, but I had to organize the shipping within Australia to the exporter’s shop with the owner of the car.

It took about a month for the car to get from Sydney to Kawasaki, but once it got off the boat it took another two weeks to get the car road ready.

Prince Skyline GT-B shipping - GR1-150s

To register the GT-B and have it licensed, I needed to get a parking space certificate issued by my local police station. In Tokyo real estate is in scarce supply, so I had to prove I owned or rented a parking space for the car by filling out a parking registration form and providing a detailed map and dimensions of my car park. Since my parking space was on the top park of a dual lift space, I had to give these details as well.

A few days after applying, the police then visit the parking space to confirm it is actually there, measure it directly if it hasn’t been registered previously, and confirm the space belongs to the person who is applying. They usually check with the landlord too.

Any car imported into Japan has to go through the registration and Shaken. No car is exempt unless you’re going to put it in a showroom and never drive it.

The internet is full of stories about Japan’s supposedly crazy Shaken car registration system (pronounced sha-KEN; literally, a “car inspection” with the sha meaning car or vehicle, the same as in kyuusha, or “old car”). Specifically, the myths talk about how complicated it is and the massive impact on your purse or wallet, with some claims of ¥500,000 ($4,200-5,000) or more. In fact, it is allegedly so expensive that many people would rather buy a new car than go through it.

However, there is no great mystery about the Shaken, nor are the costs expected either outrageous or unjustified. That is, if you know what to do, and what not to do. First, the Shaken system is designed to encourage three main aspects of motoring, in this order:

  • To drive the smallest car possible.
  • Newer cars are preferred over older cars.
  • To ensure all cars are safely maintained.

The first two points are key to understanding the sliding scale of costs for weight and age. Weight is an obvious common measure of overall vehicle efficiency, with lighter cars generally consuming less fuel, occupying less road space, and causing less damage to road surfaces and street furniture.

Prince Skyline GT-B shipping - GR1-147s

It is not officially stated why newer cars are preferred over older cars, but in addition to the assumption that newer cars are more efficient and safer than older cars, it is also generally understood the Japanese government enjoys sales tax and other general revenue streams from new cars being constantly purchased. This element finds particular favor among the internet conspiracy theorists as they further the Shaken myths.

Prince Skyline GT-B shipping - GR21-911

While owning an older car is more expensive, in truth a car maintains the same Shaken fee until age 13, when it increases by a typical 20 percent. As the age increases so does the fee, up to 50 percent over the lifetime of the car. However, a car suffers no more increases in Shaken fee after age 18. Thus, a car aged 18 years or older has a static Shaken fee with no more increases until the day it dies.

However, while the age of the car does contribute to an cost increase of up to 50 percent, the weight of the car can contribute to a massive 500 percent increase, up from a car weighing less than one ton (such as a Suzuki Twin) to a vehicle weighing up to three tons (such as a Hummer).

Prince Skyline GT-B in Tokyo - GR21-8244

Fortunately, most older cars weigh a lot less than new ones. Even though it was a mid-size Japanese sedan for its time, the Skyline falls in the cheapest non-kei weight category, 501-1000 kg. For a car of its age, the cost is about ¥20,000 ($165-200).

All of the above comments apply to conventional gasoline powered cars, and not electric, hybrids, fusion, or kei cars. Those are all generally cheaper still.

More importantly, how you obtain your Shaken is key to enjoying the most cost effective method. Included in the Shaken fees are four things:

  • Road tax – calculated based on the weight and age factors mentioned above.
  • Compulsory insurance – ¥25,000 ($210-250).
  • Testing fee – around ¥2,000 yen ($17-20).
  • Repairs to ensure vehicle safety.

That last part about safety repairs is crucial, and this is where costs can mount up pretty quickly, especially if you take your car to an authorized dealer for its Shaken.

Prince Skyline GT-B in Tokyo - GR21-8243

All dealers are licensed of course, and this being Japan their obligation to the customer is number one, so if something needs replacing, anything at all, it is of course replaced. For example, the radiator overflow bottle on our old Honda CR-V was a little yellowed and crazed around its neck. Estimate for new replacement? ¥75,000 ($625-700). There was nothing wrong functionally with the old one — which incidentally went on to service the CR-V’s overflow needs for many more years, and was sold with the car — but the dealer recommended it be replaced to satisfy possible Shaken inspection needs.

Most, if not all dealers apply this simple rule — and the full manufacturer’s recommendations — for parts replacement accordingly; if anything in your car does, may, or might possibly need replacing between now and the next Shaken inspection, then it is replaced. The cynical may think this is done to secure revenue for the dealer, but it’s also part of the Japanese custom of removing obligation if something were to fail after the Shaken and after you’ve left the dealer.

Prince Skyline GT-B in Tokyo - GR21-877

Of course, as the majority of Japanese car buyers would never dream of taking their cars to anything but an authorized dealer, this ensures customers are never exposed to driving an unsafe vehicle that has deviated from manufacturer standards. This is also why you rarely see clunkers chugging down the road in Japan.

So, can you obtain a Shaken without going through an authorized dealer? Yes! It’s called User Shaken, and is available with a few simple steps at the very moderate fee of ¥2,000 ($17-20) for a testing appointment. For those who maintain your own car then, a User Shaken is a fast, cost effective, and easy way to ensure your car is allowed back on the road following its two-year Shaken interval. This is particularly true if you drive a low-use kyuusha.

Prince Skyline GT-B in Tokyo - GR1-344s

Of course you must make sure your vehicle is safe and drivable, which you should be doing anyway. Then comes the inspection routine, which is well documented, regimented, and perfectly controlled. After making an appointment online, you simply arrive at the User Shaken pit lane and inspection course, drive through a series of automotive checks (lights, brakes, alignment, speedometer check, emissions test, chassis check, suspension check, and numbers inspection, etc.).

Provided all is okay, you obtain your appropriate certificate and sticker. Since my GT-B was only recently imported from Australia, it was listed as a “new” car. As such, it received a three year Shaken rather than the typical two year interval that is required thereafter. In total, I spent ¥75,000 ($620-750) on Shaken plus parts to help it pass. For example, they replaced the headlights cause they were too dim. Next up, a license plate and the driving experience. To be continued…

In case you missed it, have a look at Part 01 — The Search.

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24 Responses to PROJECT B: Owning a classic car in Japan, Part 02 — The Shaken

  1. Eric said:

    Very informative Ken, it’s great to hear about the experience first-hand as opposed to over exaggerated internet mythology.

  2. M1abrams said:

    Excellent article. Looking forward to part III.

  3. In switzerland we have an almost similar system, the only difference is most people don’t care too much about their cars and will return from the mfk (what we call the shaken) test with a list of things they have to fix before they have to return and prove stuff is fixed.

    An then the cars “road-taxes” (taxes for having a car) is billed directly from the Kanton (aka state) and not through the shaken system.

    And then you have to do an additional exhaust emission test every few years for cars without an OBD Diagnosis system.

    It sounds complicated and many people hate the system because they fail to get through the test without doing a lot of expensive repairs. but in general if you keep your car in good shape you can leave the inspection-station for another two years for only 60.- Swiss franks (roughly 60 USD)

  4. Bart said:

    Very interesting. This definitely explains in detail why almost all the cars in Japan you see on the road look to be in stellar shape, including the vintage cars. When I was over there I saw several old Land Cruiser’s that just looked amazing.

    Curious, are similar rules applied to motorbikes in Japan? Do they need to pass the shaken as well?

  5. MikeRL411 said:

    This proceedure is exactly what I went through in 1960 with my 1955 Chevy BelAire sedan! The inspection was thorough and fair to the extent that the inspector pointed out that the Chevy info plate and satateside registration denoted one of the engine ID numbers as “1” when it was really “I”. Now that’s a thorough inspection!

  6. Yoda said:

    Given the mileage the average Japanese non-enthusiast car owner racks up, the home market would be considerably smaller if people were left to their own devices to run their cars as long as they’re actually built to last.

    As it is, Japan does a roaring export trade in (barely) used cars.

  7. Wayne Thomas said:

    My mother-in-law always pays for her shakken, but even with my limited Japanese, its an easy 2 hour process. There is no way I’d ever pay (nor is there any justification) for a shop to take 2 hours and pay more than $1000USD for that. Anyone who maintains their car can be guaranteed of passing shakken so there is no problem doing it oneself.

  8. Ben Hsu said:

    Great explainer, Ken. Thanks for clearing up many of the Shaken myths we hear so much about here!

  9. antonio said:

    great article, as i am in the middle of importing my classic Toyota from long beach to
    the port here in Nagoya its interesting to read your personal experience and to see some great photos. i am looking to do the same but all of the cars paperwork and mechanical work is all being done by one car shop that does allot of american classic imports. very much looking forward to part three.

  10. Kuroneko said:

    Great stuff! I love the B in the tire yard and Eneos photographs, especially the way the uniformed sutando guy wipes as the ceiling-mounted gas filler tanks her up…

  11. Kane said:

    These articles are extremely interesting, Im looking forwaed to reading more. Keep it up guys.

  12. Nigel said:

    Great article guys, now I understand the process a bit more.
    (JNC’ers also know that most older cars are lighter). Here in Canada we have an emissions test every two years. (Easy compared to Japan).

  13. Otso said:

    In Finland we have “Shaken” every year. It is quite similar. Smoke test, brake test, shock test, chassic inspection, All rods, steering etc. are tested to show any slack.. 😀 Normally yearly inspection is 30-100 euros. And as JDMJunkies mentioned also in Finland many go back with a list of faults to correct within next month. If you do not fix them you cant drive. And you have to take the car to new check within month to get permission to drive for another year.

    If you import car you have to make registration inspection which is another story and costs about 200 €.

    Very interesting story! Thanks for sharing 😀

  14. emuman said:

    In Germany we have the same renewal periods as in Japan, so its 3 years for the first inspection and every 2 after this. Its called Hauptuntersuchung (main inspection). The checks are focused on road safety, checking matching numbers (VIN) and aftermarket parts. Aftermarket parts need a special sign (spare parts like brake pads) or a certificate. The emmissions test are part of the HU, but for cars registered in or after 2006 they use only ODB instead of actually measuring the emmissions.
    We had the discussion in Germany to switch to a yearly inspection for cars older than 8 years, but fortuntely a strong classic car lobby could prevent this.
    My prius is from 2005 and I had to go to the HU in February and is from 2005, so they had to measure. The guys had their problems to get the engine running while being in neutral, they never inspected a Toyota hybrid before. I had to explain them, that the engine won’t run until they reach a specific water temperatur, even in test mode. You need to know that this inspectors are often very stubborn and like to play god and hate to get advices!

  15. Artsyken said:

    It’s really great to hear the different “shaken” systems around the world.
    Thanks all for sharing!

  16. Mazdax605 said:

    Why do we not have these ceiling mounted fuel delivery pumps? Seems like such a better idea.

    • Kuroneko said:

      They do stop stupid drivers hitting the pumps and save a lot of space. However, they need an attendant to tell you where to park, and to lower the hose. I would also guess they cost more to install & maintain, including the need for all the hardware to be ceiling mounted.

      Where there is a lot of space, they probably do not make much sense…

  17. Steve Shailer said:

    How very interesting Ken, you have exploded a lot of myths, I was under the impression that us “foreigners” could not bid at auction, but had to have an agent, does this still apply? thanks for the very well written & informative article.

  18. Kenneth Leung said:

    Dear Ken,

    Excellent article.

    Just wonder if you could share the contact if the importer you used to ship your GTR.

    Many thanks.
    Kenneth

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