QotW: What do you want to know about living in Japan?

We’re doing our first AMA (Ask Me Anything). As one of the JNC staff living in Japan, I can say that one of the best things about it is the daily exposure to all things JNC. Want to know more about a car? Head over to a bookstore and grab a copy of the numerous magazines or mooks available. Want to start a crazy JNC garage? Go for it, as long as you have a parking space approved by the local police force. Living in Japan is not just about geeking out on JNCs, though. This is a whole different world and culture. We’ll do our best to answer, so:

What do you want to know about living in Japan?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “Do you rock JNC gear on the regular?

Last week we asked how you rock your love for JNC on your human billboard. Unsurprisingly, wearing a cool JNC shirt is known to attract a crowd of interest and props or the approval of strangers when rocking a 30-plus-year vintage polo in race trim, as Michael Jue and Mark Newton-John discovered.

Speedie curates his wardrobe depending on what’s in his stable (something I subscribed to for years); Styles found his shirt selection is perfect for striking up new conversations — even at a, ahem, gentleman’s club, which earned him a seat in a sweet R34. Whatever the venue, JNC gear seems to be the right wardrobe choice.

I wear my Kaido and Showa Motor club shirt often, but more casual around home use now, as they’re getting a little old, and the black one is fading, so I really should get around to placing a new order…..

I was at a strip club before a concert once (an old tradition a buddy and I have when going to gigs at Auckland’s Spark arena), and one of the dancers asked if that was the name of the band I was going to see…. lol! I had to tell her what it was all about, it turns out she has an R34 Skyline!

Omedetou! Your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop.

JNC Decal smash

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44 Responses to QotW: What do you want to know about living in Japan?

  1. I have always wondered, how is American food there? Like can you get a good hamburger there?

    Not that I want to go to Japan to have American food or anything, I’m just curious. Maybe there is part of me that wants to move there and open up an American restaurant.

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      American food is pretty good, actually. There are some great burger shops (at least in Tokyo) where the owners go all out. Some even take a pilgrimage to the US to learn the craft of a good burger. BBQ, not really that great here yet though they the Japanese grilled meats nicely.

      Food in general is a treat. The quantity is less, and a bit more expensive, but quality is above and beyond. One thing we need more of: Mexican restaurants. There are Spanish restaurants and a few taco joints, but its hard to find a 2 enchilada combo plate if you know what I mean.

      • Bart says:

        I love First Kitchen and Freshness Burger. And I don’t remember seeing a single Mexican restaurant in the three times I have been to Japan.

        • Brandon Kelley says:

          Those are both great spots for some decent food. For chain burgers, Freshness Burger or Loteria are high up there. For a great burger around the city, try out Vanguard Burger. It is run by the same company as Village Vanguard and is top notch. Pricing is more along the lines of a gourmet joint.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      I’ve been to some super authentic burger joints in Japan. I don’t know the name, but inside it looked like a 50s diner. The owner must have gone through great expense to collect all the knick-knacks for the decor. If you saw a Japanese restaurant in the US with that level of kitsch you’d run the other way, but the food was actually good!

    • Steeko says:

      Maybe at the specialist places, I spent 3 weeks in Nagoya and Tokyo and never had any good non Japanese food. Sorry but all the burgers and chips I had were really bad. Often it looks great but tastes lacking/odd. Many burgers I had did not have sauce. The whole family agreed that it was easy to find great Japanese food, but hard to find any other.

  2. speedie says:

    In addition to loving JNCs I am also a big anime fan. I wanted to know how popular itasha really is. Is it common to to see decorated cars?

    As a side question, at any given car show here in the states you will see a handful of cars with the Calvin peeing on (insert car brand or make you do not like here) sticker in the window. Is there a similar thing in Japan?

    I will leave my questions about the cultural origins of the anime themes for harems, school girl outfits, nose bleeds, and panties for another time.

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      Itasha is more common now than before but that’s due to less stigma connected to it. Fans of anime have gone more mainstream in the past 5 years, especially female fans of some series.

      Similar to above, I can only reference Tokyo but you can see Itasha frequently during a given week. maybe once a day. More so if you are near Akihabara (obviously) with night time being the “hottest” time. People get off work, go home, and get their car out and park along a popular street to chill and display their itasha wrap.

      Stickers on cars are kinda all over the board. I see mostly company stickers like Cusco and Tein. Sometimes you can see some ascii cats on the side windows but nothing like the Calvin craze in the US.

  3. Alan says:

    Where are all the AW11 C-pillar trims and can you send me some Royal Milk Tea and a Shapple sticker?

  4. Legacy-san says:

    What are the typical cost of owning and driving in Japan. Does the Japanese Government have a tax for just about everything car related? Inspection costs, toll roads and so on.

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      Ownership really depends on your situation. You pay for insurance and a mandatory maintenance service every 2-3 years called “Shaken”. Shaken can get spendy depending on if your car has damage or not. If your car has damage that makes it iffy to drive, you need to get it repaired to keep your car legal. Imagine replacement parts on older cars and you can imagine the costs going up. Conversely, some know guys that will rubber stamp their shaken certificate so cars with illegal mods and engine swaps can keep running on the streets.

      Other things like the cost of a parking space can add a few to several hundreds of dollars a month in Tokyo and Yokohama. When I lived in the countryside, parking was free for most residences (plenty of land).

      Tolls really grind my gears. The highway tolls were meant to be a way to pay for the highway expansion project and connect all major cities with fast travel. Once the project was finished, the roads were meant to be free. The problem is, the government depended on the tolls because they never put budget money into road upkeep for minor/local roads. Also, the highways were too narrow, with 2-4 lanes built along major routes. The trucking industries lobbied to keep the tolls to discourage people from using the roads, creating massive traffic jams and slowing the trucking business. In the end, the old Prime Minister, Hatoyama said he was gonna make the roads free, then backed down after the rival political party “dug up” some dirt on him, causing a resignation and the idea of free roads was buried.

      • Legacy-san says:

        Is it true that the Japanese Government taxes engine displacement size, exterior dimensions and the emissions the car produces?

        • Brandon Kelley says:

          Yes, it is true. I think other places like China also do this (one reason there are many 2.0L turbos in China, btw).

          The engine size and vehicle dimension regulations is the direct reason you see all the funky k-cars that are hella boxy. They literally build them to within millimeters of the regulation. Also the reason you see Toyota HiAces also have a super boxy form. Some of the tax breaks for the smaller cars are going away so I’m betting we will start to see less and less of those smaller cars being produced since they are basically made for the Japan domestic market.

  5. Lupus says:

    First and foremost – the language barrier – how it is in reality? Do Japanese folks really don’t speak english? If not – how to comunicate, understand sings and such?

    And second question – how does it look when a gaijin looks for work in Japan? What are the limitations for forreign workers (if any)?

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      Well, I speak decent Japanese (finally!) so the language barrier is not too troubling but for those that don’t speak the language, you will probably get by as a tourist in major cities. There, signs for transportation and public facilities have English, Chinese and sometimes Korean written on them. People in general have some memory of English, even if just from a high school English class, but likely don’t use in conversation.

      Having a smartphone with a translator and available internet image searches helps a ton when trying to be specific. Now is a terrific time to travel anywhere in my opinion because of technology breaking the language barrier.

      Work – difficult to answer in a tight paragraph so allow me to start with this. If you want to be an English teacher, it’s pretty easy to find work. Don’t expect to make a career out of it unless you like working with kids, though. Depending on your VISA status, your work options will be limited. If you have a specialized skill, you can get an advanced VISA that can get you permanent residency in 3-5 years.

      The best way to get a job that’s not in the English industry is to get hired from your home country and transfer over. Having a company cover moving costs and help to setup your living situation is wonderful. There is a mountain of paperwork and getting an apartment with all the fees is going to set you back (unless in the countryside). For example, when I was in Shikoku, my apartment was about $300 a month that included cable, power and water (a furnished apartment). In Tokyo, my apartment is $1300 a month and cost $6000 in fees at contract signing. Big difference!!

      In some respects, you have to look at Japan and 2 categories for work and living: variety of job opportunities and city vs. countryside.

      • John Moran says:

        Where in Shikoku? I was in Takamatsu ’99 – 01. Definitely agree on the tolls, especially if you throw a bridge or two into the mix.

      • Lupus says:

        Nice pack of info.
        And what about opening your own bussiness? Let’s be stereothypical – a body-/workshop scecialized in old cars.

        • Brandon Kelley says:

          Actually, starting a new business is not as hard as some of the paperwork for living here. There is encouragement for small businesses with low business loans and ample opportunities. The hardest thing is to get someone to vouch for you (a guarantor). Locals put down their parents or relatives but as a foreigner, there are a few more hurdles. That said, I know several people that have made their own businesses here with little effort. The key is in the type of business and to claim everything as a biz expense!

  6. Hakofan says:

    There is a stigma here that Japanese auto shops tend to cut corners when restoring cars, such as using a lot of bondo and the like. Is this true, or just a case of the bad apples representing the entire basket?

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      I’ve never really seen that except maybe Rocky Auto doing hack jobs on cars. If the shop is a run of the mill auto repair shop for K-cars, I could see that. Most daily cars are gonna get traded in after 3-5 years for the next latest and greatest box car.

      More specialized/tuner shops tend to take pride in their work. The problem I see coming soon is that old timers that knew how to do body filling with lead are a dying breed. There are not many younger workers with the patience or skill to do things the slow and proven way. So I don’t really see the shotty workmanship now with JNCs, but we might soon.

  7. エーイダン says:

    How would I, if I went to Japan take a car with me to drive around Tokyo? Would I have to board a cruise ship with my car in the hold, or have the car shipped and manage to try and make it onto a flight that arrives just as the vehicle does?

    Also, what sort of laws does Japan have regarding grey-market imports? As a writer with parts here and there in one of my stories involving certain areas of Japan, it would be useful to know.

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      Oh boy, never had that question before. The short answer: be in the military. Seriously, you’d be better off and have a blast renting something locally and enjoy the new driving experience. I know some people that have bought cars from overseas and driving them here, but that was long term.

      Getting the car to Japan is not hard. Get a shipping company and have it shipped over. You would need a broker or yourself to get it from the port. Grey market is not really a big deal except if you are bringing in a LHD vehicle. All vehicles need to be inspected and need to comply with local laws. Things that will get you are things like the headlights need to be angled to illuminate the center of the road. In the US, our headlights have a slight angle to the left to illuminate the road ahead. Driving the same car in Japan on the opposite side of the road will illuminate the shoulder of the road more than the center. That’s an instant fail. Check out the series below to learn more from a guy who brought in a Chrysler T&C. (the link is for part 1 of his series).

  8. Styles says:

    I’m honoured to have taken the win for last weeks question..

    On to this weeks question, short and sweet: As someone who has visited Japan (way back in the early 90’s) what would you say are the biggest difference between visiting and living in Japan?

  9. Brandon Kelley says:

    Interesting question. More so because the first time I came (as a tourist) was in 1999 during the Tokyo Motor Show. then everything was so vivid with flashing lights and a huge culture shock from a guy who never left the states previously.

    My first few years here felt very similar but way different, with just a decade of time passing. Still present, even to this day is the amount of things going on. As a global hub, every week seems to offer something new, if you’re game. If anything, it has become more standardized if that makes sense. There are streamlined ways of getting around and conversing with people that makes it even easier to visit. (Living can still be a challenge, but it”s slowly changing.) I live in Tokyo now, and see it become a beacon for tourism. This is good and bad. The good is that more and more are coming to see what japan has to offer. The bad is that some of the charm is lost (in major cities) because there is Japan, and the idea of Japan that people have before coming. That culture shock is lessened because businesses have caught on and are catering to those ideals of Japan. I would say to anyone coming to visit the big cities, but also give yourself some time to venture out to the smaller places that are still untouched and authentic.

    I guess the biggest change for me personally is that I got used to some of the standardized things, its become normal and part of my daily life. When I go back home to visit is where I notice what I thought was “normal” is anything but. Take for example going out to eat. Here, there is likely a call button on each table so you call staff when you need something. I forgot what it was like to have staff come by mid-conversation to ask how the food was; or having to flag staff down for something, haha.

    One thing I miss is all the little holes in wall that have now gone. Akihabara used to be “Electric Town”. A place to go to get the best deals on washing machines and mini disc players. Now, its more like a Disneyland of attractions. Things are bigger and sometimes better but that feeling of discovery is kinda faded. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all gloomy (if it comes off that way), there are great things to do and find, you just gotta look deeper. Having someone here is what helped me find some cool places and how I show those that come here now.

    One thing I miss from living back in the US is debit cards. Its still a very cash-based society here. I usually carry around $100 in my wallet just in case i need it, otherwise i gotta get cash from an atm which can be inconvenient.

    The last difference I can think of is my use of the trains. Mastering the lines has been a godsend for rerouting myself due to train delays or avoiding crowds. When I came in 99, I was limited to using the route maps in local stations, staring at kanji I never knew what it was saying. Now i can breeze around. Getting to and from work in 30 minutes is something I could never do in the US with traffic. That might be one of the biggest changes is the freedom to travel about effortlessly.

    • Styles says:

      Thanks for your response, very detailed. Wow, to and from work in 30 minutes sounds like a dream for me, even down here in Auckland, New Zealand!

      • Brandon Kelley says:

        indeed. Living the dream!

        • Matchthebox says:

          I just happened to be reading this just today and I live in a mid size town in CA and after reading here that 30 mins travel is a dream then mine would be heaven as I travel to work in around less than 10 mins. 🙂

  10. Teoh says:

    I read from an English Teacher’s blog that what some teachers do is get hired and get a visa, then eventually look for other jobs once they’re in the country. Is this actually a valid way of legally staying in the country?

    More towards JNC’s, which particular regions of Japan are more car friendly (A friend of mine in Japan has mentioned that Osaka would be easier for car owners than Tokyo etc.) and which regions have a more prominent car culture?

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      Yes and no regarding the first part. Once you get a working VISA, you get to keep it for the term it is approved for. VISAs can range from 1 year to 5 year, though don’t count on getting a 5 year VISA on your first application as an English teacher. Technically, you are supposed to report when you leave a company with the government but I don’t think it is enforced. If you don’t get a new job that with sponsor your renewal VISA (a few grand in fees to the employer), you get the boot. Remember, you can only get a new job if it is classified under your VISA category.

      Typically, around Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto is where a ton of the various car cultures were born. More space, roads, and parking allowed for that. Tokyo is pretty tight in terms of space. If you look at tuner shops that say they are in Tokyo, you will realized it is more like the neighboring prefectures of Chiba and Saitama because that’s about the only place to have space big enough for a decent shop unless you do high end work.

      People are spending more on their cars as they are less inclined to move out of their parents home so you can see some fun stuff just about anywhere, but the best is in the central-southern areas of Japan, in my opinion.

  11. DanielP says:

    How do I successfully resolve a dispute with a Japanese national? I was sold an item that was not as described and so far I’ve remained polite but they are majorly stalling and coming up with nonsensical excuses. From what limited research I’ve done I’m getting purposely stonewalled so as to preserve harmony.

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      What are the details of the dispute? How was payment made? Realistically, there is not much you can do beyond asking for a credit card dispute/refund or paypal claim.

      There is a lot of local fraud crime in Japan. More so than what people think. Many are scams against the elderly with wiring money to a “grandchild”s account” but even yahoo auction had rampant fraud until the last 5 years or so. (still some now, though).

      I’ve found that people here are real anal about describing all flaws of an item for sale. It’s crazy the amount of details an auction for example can have. That said, in my experience, used car parts and wheel sellers are the worst. They are more salty and have a chip on their shoulder like you should be happy they are even allowing you to buy something from them.

      Try to play nice until you get some info. If you sense the seller is not going to take action, claim with your payment provider to see if that moves them. If you are communicating over email with an internet translation system, that could be causing confusion (language barriers). In that case, write short sentences using basic English to paint a clearer picture. Good luck!

      • DanielP says:

        Thanks Brandon,

        Yeah it’s with a junk yard. A big one. They’re parting out a certain very rare German tuner car. I asked them specifically about the muffler and pipes and my response via FB was a link to a new yahoo listing. Paid a lot for it as it all mega rare original parts from said tuner with corresponding badges and stamps. During the process they informed me of damage to one of the pipes but neglected to inform me of rust holes in the low point of the muffler. Not until all parts were delivered was this evident. Photos on listing looked to purposely not show the corrosion.
        So I contacted both seller and the auction service I used. The direct messaging with junk yard ended quickly saying it was not possible to work with me and they preferred to work with said auction service. The auction service conducted their own “investigation” and based on incorrect conclusions denied my claim as quoted herein:
        “Regarding your package [ W1808005065], we are sorry that after investigating, we confirmed that we are not able to arrange the refund for you because of the following reasons:

        *The auction page mentions that the operation of an internal part of the silencer cannot be checked, and also its picture not provided.

        We apologize for taking up your very valuable time to reach such a result.
        To check plan details, please kindly refer to the following pages:”

        Now it’s in Paypal’s hands.

  12. DanielP says:

    The muffler will be restored and other components of the exhaust are in good shape. I asked for $500 back of the $1450 paid (not including shipping).

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