NIHON LIFE: How to park your car in Japan, Part 02

filler Toyota Corolla Levin AE86

Sure, owning your own kyuusha in Japan sounds like a lot of fun, but where do you put it? In Part 01 of our damning exposé on the topic of parking an automobile in Japan, we illustrated what was legal and illegal, and did a deep dive into the most popular type of parking in Tokyo, the coin park. Today, we continue our series with two more…

Parking in Japan 02 Boom Lot

2. The Boom-Gate Coin Park

The rising-steel-bar coin parks, as described in Part 01, are generally no larger than 20 or so spaces. It’s common though, to see Tokyo lots with only two spaces. Somewhere in Japan, I’m certain there’s a steel-bar coin park for just one spot. For larger lots, there’s the boom gate coin park.

Parking in Japan 02 boom lot payment machine

Boom-gate coin parks are perhaps familiar to those outside Japan too, and operate just as they do anywhere else. You take your ticket on entry, park your car, and go about your business. When it’s time to leave, you get back in your car, drive up to the gate, which is blocked by a boom, put your ticket in the machine, wait with excitement as it calculates your fee, and after depositing coins and cash, the boom-gate raises and you are free.

While simple in theory, this is what the machine actually looks like. See how it is clearly labeled and easy to understand, especially for foreigners?

Parking in Japan 02 Boom Lot payment instructions

Actually, this machine near Tokyo station provides an additional option called Paku-&-Raido (Park & Ride). Sold in conjunction with a Shinkansen ticket, the parking portion of the fee is less than a car-only fee. This really simple exit machine is perhaps more typical. Note both machines allow Suica, Pasmo, and other O-Saifu (digital wallet) payments via either card or keitai (mobile telephone) billing.

This, however, is where the simple difference between bar- and boom-style parks becomes apparent. Forward thinkers would have already recognized the bar-style coin park does not issue a ticket, eliminating the question, “What do I do if I lose my ticket?”

Parking in Japan 02 Boom Lot - lost ticket button

So, what do you do, with no attendant, when you lose your ticket? Simple! We have a button for that! Highlighted in red above, loosely translated it says, “Push this button if you want to see just how much money we think you will pay to get your car out.”

If you thought the excitement of calculating the normal day or night rate was fun, just wait until you arrive at the exit machine, find a queue of cars behind you, and cannot find your ticket. The accepted fee for losing your ticket is perhaps a few days’ worth of the maximum day rate. So, you can be expected to pay between 5000 to perhaps 30,000円 ($40 – $250) depending on how careless you’ve been.

Parking in Japan 02 Boom Lot - Mitsubishi Delica

Some of the newer machines now take credit cards, but otherwise you’ll need the cash. If you’re an Aston Martin-driving investment banker, coughing up the value of a round of drinks at Legato in Shibuya is nothing. But, if you’re an English instructor from Kanagawa-ken, this can be one year’s salary. There is of course nothing you can do about it, except perhaps write a snarky article for internet readers.

As an aside, I once parked in a boom park in Roppongi — in the notoriously tsukebe and dangerous “High Touch Town” in Tokyo — and the fee for a few hours was over 5000円. Not having the right cash (the machines generally only take 1000円 notes), I paid with my credit card. The next day, my bank telephoned me as the payment had been red-flagged with an automatic stop and the operator wanted to know if I’d accept a charge billed from a “known organized crime syndicate.” Not wanting to make new friends knocking on my door at midnight looking for their money, I of course authorized.

Parking in Japan 03 Stacking Lot - Honda S800

3. Stacking

Depending on your outlook on life in general, the parking elevator, parking turn-table, parking stacker, and multi-level external access ramps combine for either maximum stress, or maximum fun.

Parking in Japan 03 Stacking Lot - Ken Lee

In some multi-level car garages you drive up and down yourself. To gain access to each floor, many of these have been constructed with an over-sized spiral Hot Wheels track tacked onto the outside of the building, and if you think that sounds exciting, you would be correct.

Barely wide enough for one car, full steering lock is generally required, and constant braking is required when going down to stop from nerfing the outer barrier with a multi-level nose dive to the pavement below. A few times a year, someone takes the Hot Wheels scenario a little too far. Also, a few of these did not survive the Tohoku Earthquake. Many people avoid them accordingly.

That is why most places employ the automated stacking method.  One popular option is an elevator-style parking tower. A platform rises through the middle column and retrieves cars using the slabs of steel they are parked on from either the left or right. On more advanced ones, there is enough space to turn the car 90 degrees so it’s facing the right way when you want to drive out.

Often looking like conventional office buildings, the stacking parking garages are either controlled by a regular boom-gate at the bottom, a ticket machine, or in some cases an attendant. Private constructions of a similar nature generally use a single key to gain access to your car, delivering it to ground level for driving away.

Parking in Japan 03 Stacking Lot turntable

Turntables are provided to allow drive-in and drive-out access with no need to engage in risky reserving behavior. Sometimes multiple stackers — like a Ferris wheel for your car — are provided in parallel in the one facility.

Parking in Japan 03 Stacking Lot turntables

A series of mirrors, lights, and buzzers helps you align your car as you drive into the stacker, similar perhaps to a drive-through car wash. Once in position, the car then disappears behind closed doors, out of sight like some sort of time and space transporter. Magically appearing the right way around to drive out again on command.

Here’s what happens when your car goes off on its little adventure.

Parking in Japan 03 Stacking Lot - Honda Civic Type R & Toyota Crown

In cramped cities, even residential spots are often stacked. You don’t even need to know the neighbor parking below you. The upper level is often hinged to set the car down in front of the car below, allowing you to drive off without moving the car on the ground level. As you can see, this is why oil leaks are a necessary part of the Shaken inspection. As a bonus result, though, Japanese roads are spot-free.

To be continued… In the next installment we’ll cover more parking lot types. Stay tuned.

Skorj is a photographer living in Japan, co-founder of Filmwasters, and shoots in actual film.

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35 Responses to NIHON LIFE: How to park your car in Japan, Part 02

  1. Wayne Thomas says:

    Is it possible to do an article about the absolute fraud and racketeering that is the Japanese drivers license “examination”? This matters more for Americans than any other Western country though.

    I am so tired of Japanese saying that the test is hard and you just have to keep trying. No, the examination is not at all hard – it is completely arbitrary given by capricious, and often quite racist, “cops” who retire to the driving “schools” to keep the extortion system going. Ask an examiner for a rubric and there is none. Ask an examiner for specifics about where you did something wrong and you will get nothing. The Yakuza never bother Americans who don’t go looking for trouble, but the examination system here in Japan is a complete farce but more importantly, it is a completely criminal enterprise protected by legality.

    Meh, f’the law. Ride or drive a manual transmission car without a license. Chances of getting caught are minimal. Of course, different prefectures are indeed different and Tokyo/Kanagawa have a better reputation among gaijin about not-sooooooo-racist examiners.

  2. Skorj says:

    Hey. Firstly, everyone (including local Japanese) have to go through the same process with the same testers and the same tests, so not sure it is in anyway racist. As I did when I sat my motorcycle chu-gata.

    Secondly, the US is singled out in converting driver licenses due to what was (I was told anyway), the ease they used to be issued in locations like Guam. It -used to be- cheaper to fly to Guam for a one week holiday, sit a driver license test, then return to Japan. The result was left-hand drive drivers, not properly trained with only a 30-minute test, and no driving experience being let loose on Japanese roads. So to stop this apparently, they instituted the left-hand drive licenses need to be retested as right-hand drive drivers.

    Again, as any country with right-hand drive drivers can convert with an eye-test (African countries, all those Britishers, Chinese dependencies, Singapore, Australia and dependencies like New Zealand), a written exam, and a small fee, you can hardly call the process racist. You can however call it ‘anti Guam & Saipan paper-driverist’, or ‘we need to make sure left-hand drive drivers are properly trainedist’.

    I would not recommend driving without a domestic license after 90 days residency, or with a gaijin card at any time, as that would be a 100% sure way to end up in the big house eating rice and nato before you were exported forever…

    I hope you enjoyed the piece on parking regardless.

    • Wayne Thomas says:


      That is why I pointed out Tokyo/Kanagawa having a much better reputation than other parts of Japan. That you live in Tokyo, and apparently have only experienced Tokyo, it would make sense that you would not understand the rampant racism experienced by foreigners in a way that no….not native Japanese do not have to go through. It only appears to be the same on the surface to those completely unfamiliar with what happens in more rural prefectures with testers who have no qualms hiding their racism because there is nothing that gaijin can do about it.

      Canada is LHD and has automatic conversion. So, the RHD/LHD issue might have had some merit in the past, but Canada negates this. Also, the training schools here are a joke and so when a person pays the “bribe” to the driving school, they’ll get passed automatically. I’ve seen this enough times with my wife, my own Japanese friends/colleagues/acquaintances and people my wife knows as well.

      As for driving without a license. I too would not recommend it, but suggesting that one would automatically get arrested for doing so is a bit much. With the right employer and right attitude, you might be surprised with what can get away with….except for those damn racist testers who yell at you with their not-so-subtle comments about being gaijin in Japan. Be glad that this has never happened to you.

      • Randy says:

        Maybe it’s like being a tourist in New York? “Yeah, I know a shortcut to there.”

        It would be really strange to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, but I think the hardest part for me would be trying to shift a stickshift in what appears to be the same pattern as we have here, but with my left hand.

        • Skorj says:

          Usually, the issue most seem to have is just remembering the indicator, wiper, and gear hands have changed. Shift pattern is not a problem.

        • Wayne Thomas says:

          Always cup the shifter in the palm of your hand – from the bottom. If you grip it like your right hand as you would back in the US, you’re likely to think about pushing into third rather than guiding into third. Otherwise, you’ll push into 1st gear and you’ll realize that quickly. This is the biggest difference in shifting.

          Lights/blinker on the right and wipers on the left takes a while to get used to.

        • Censport says:

          It seems everyone’s experience is different. I have never had any issue with RHD or being on the left side of the road. The only thing that ever trips me up is the turn signals/wipers, because my friend’s Renault (and the European RHD cars at work) have the signal wand on the left side of the column, while the Japanese RHD cars have it on the right. Well, sometimes I walk up to the wrong side of the car, but that happens at work too, and sometimes even when I return to driving one of my own cars.

          One of my friends at the local consulate sometimes forgets she is in the U.S. and starts out driving on the left side of the street. So if you’re driving in Nashville and see an attractive young Japanese woman driving a scratched-up car with government plates…

  3. Bobby Bonner says:

    I did, I liked the car adventure part:)

  4. Scotty G says:

    This is such a great website; I seriously can’t get enough of this cool, insider info on life in Japan. Those turntables and accompanying garage floors are spotless! They must not allow leaky cars there, or they have a great staff who makes sure they remain spotless. Maybe there was a button on the machine for cars that leak oil, hmm.. another good source of revenue.. Thanks, and please keep these great articles coming!

    • Skorj says:

      The second turntable pic is in downtown Shibuya near Tokyu Hands, and was built in the 1970s or so I think. If you look closely, you can see a few dirty marks built up over the years.

      I think there was also one mosaic tile missing there somewhere too.

  5. John M says:

    Quite a racket when you have to rack it. Somehow I think Sasuke got started from people trying to avoid car park fees. I was in Tokyo one time with a friend who decided to draft the car in front of him out the gate. The attendant was shaking his fist like a NASCAR fan.

    Following up on my comment from the last part, my father-in-law has probably seen more racks than Wilt Chamberlain (on the court). I think the system drove him into a life of flashing. Where he lives, the parking is underground and there is about as much room to maneuver as Austin Powers had in that cart. The whole series of gates, security doors, and elevators feels somewhat labyrinthian. Basically every time you need to go out to pick up a quart (or metric equivalent) of milk, it feels like Maxwell Smart entering CONTROL HQ.

  6. DanMcD says:

    That Delica….

  7. No Salsa says:

    No offence but a three part series on parking lol

    I’m sitting in my surgeons office waiting and still can’t read it.

    Every congested city around the world has the same problems.

    I await for the mini series on Tele…. Lol

    • Skorj says:

      Just look at the pretty pictures then? Seriously, you’re quite right though, but once I started to answer a few of the questions I regularly get asked, there was no stopping. I am sure there are many Japanese-specific things I have missed, and if you’ve ever tried to drive here, AND to find out when and where and how to park, you’d be asking the same questions. The flasher trick for example is key.

      Next; how to sort your gomi, a ten part bilingual series. Because NO ONE knows what that system really is…

      • John M says:

        I don’t think I could even scratch the surface in 10 parts. As the V.P. joke goes, paper or plastic? My typical day started with spending about an hour at the bakery trying to find one roll that didn’t have bean paste in it. I would then spend the rest of the day trying to figure out how to throw away the plastic, tape, paper bag, tape, box, tape, and shopping bag that they put the one roll in. To make the challenge more interesting, in a city of 400,000, we had approximately zero trash cans. The one refuse refuge was at convenience stores, so it was common to see the Japanese versions of Jay and Silent Bob hanging out front until they finished their plastic grass laden bentos. Another issue was the watchful eyes of the locals. If I so much as thought about leaving the plastic tripod in the cardboard pizza box, a masked enforcer wearing an apron and rubber boots would mount a mamachari and hunt me down like the mechanical hound in Fahrenheit 451.

      • Censport says:

        No one? I don’t feel so bad then. 😀

      • No Salsa says:

        Good to see you have a sense of humour 🙂

      • Hashiriya86 says:

        Outline on the series

        Parts 1-5: How to separate all your stuff into plastics/cans/glass/nonburnables/burnables.

        Parts 6-7 – Best ways to shred/burn all documents with your name/address on it.

        Part 8 – How to drop off your garbage and avoid the ire of the obasan staffed garbage police.

        Part 9 – How to sneakily drop off your garbage in the dead of night.

        Part 10 – How to write an apology letter in Japanese because you’ve still invariably screwed something up.

  8. momon says:

    Thanks for the article, Sir. Remind me about one scene in Fast Furious Tokyo Drift when Bow Wow park his fist-embossed green MPV on some sort of turn table.
    Shout out from Indonesia!!!

  9. Parrot says:

    And I assure you, you really do bring us the cool and interesting stuff!

  10. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Great article. Car life in Japan is so different, especially for a kid under 18. I moved from Japan as a 15 year old with a concept of cars only through models and shows. Then I arrived in the US straight into “Driver’s Ed”. No driving or mechanical skills other than building a Tamiya model or hot rodding by Stingray bike. I visit Japan for work regularly now, but it’s not worth it to get a driver’s license so I have kept a bike there for years (Tokyo’s fantastic on two wheels by the way…). There’s a shift in Japan’s view of bicycles and these parking systems are now being used for bicycles. Since I can’t read Japanese, I had to go to the Koban for fear my bike would be impounded (not likely) like an idiot. Again, thanks for the great article!

  11. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Where in the hell do these people in Tokyo work on their cars?

    • Censport says:

      That will be covered in another series. 😉

    • Skorj says:

      If I had to guess why 99% of drivers pay to get someone else to shaken their car, it would perhaps be because there is nowhere to work on them in the major cities. I’ve even seen the occasional air-filter, plug lead, or even brake pad change undertaken at a few of the PAs we frequent for the same reason.

      Though too, I have been lucky enough to have a house and two full-sized car parks to undertake stuff as you would outside in Japan, there is still a problem. Make too much noise tweaking your spark advance, or too many fumes balancing your Webers, and either the police or some irate oji-san will be knocking on your door…

  12. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and also the rest of the website is extremely good.

  13. Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to make a great articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I hesitate a lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.

  14. Bus Slides says:

    Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes which will make the greatest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

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