JCI is a complicated process which basically boils down to the inspection and licensing of your car. Japan is definitely much more thorough than the states from everything I have experienced. It can be a HUGE stressor for some families, and can cost a pretty penny to get your JCI renewed. (I have seen people pay as little as $200-$300 if they do it themselves, or upwards of $800-$1000 if they go to somebody for the JCI inspection.) Most vehicles here cost anywhere from $500-$4000, so often people simply junk their vehicles if the repairs are too costly. When you purchase a vehicle from a buy and sell page, considering how much longer the JCI has left is a good idea.
This is why most do not recommend bringing your vehicle from the states to Japan. I won’t get into this here because it is a matter of opinion and preference, but definitely use the search bar in Misawa Asks to learn more about JCI inspections and the pros/cons to bringing your vehicle with you if you are considering.
My biggest tip for car maintenance that some don’t think about? Wash your car once a week if you can. Cars will fail a JCI inspection because of a rusted bottom, and if you have never lived in constant snow, you don’t realize what damage the road salt can do. Cars may look beautiful on the outside, but the salt will rust out the bottoms very quickly.
Car Safety & Winter Tips
There are summer tires and winter tires, and most cars that you purchase here will come with a set of each. Of course a set that is already mounted to rims is way more convenient, and makes the process of switching between the two much easier. The base will publicize what date your winter tires HAVE to be on by. Please realize that having good winter tires really is super important. In addition, you can actually get in trouble if your winter tires have crappy thread and you get into an accident. It’s best to just spend the money and make sure your vehicle has excellent winter tires that will provide decent traction on the snow and ice.
Keep an additional set of coats, gloves, hats, and blankets in your car at all times. One for each family member if at all possible. While it may seem redundant or silly, it is cold here, and it is snowy. It can be sunny one second, and then drop 7 inches of snow in an hour. If you didn’t know, Misawa is the snowiest base in the Air Force, and Aomori is the snowiest city in the WORLD.
Always be more prepared than you think that you need to be. I put our set of coats in the car at the end of September, because it can randomly snow/get cold very early in the season. I can’t tell you how many times I have thanked myself for doing so.
Police ALWAYS have their lights on. I thought I was being pulled over the first time one came up behind me. Sirens mean pull over/get out of the way. Lights are just regular patrolling.
Cars WILL stop in the middle of the road with their hazards on. Like… anywhere. Always be super cautious of this, because sometimes they are somewhat hidden. Pedestrians are also extremely common in Misawa- very very many people walk or ride bikes in the town.
Most Japanese back into parking spots. If a car in front of you suddenly stops and turns on their hazards, give them space. They are likely backing into a parking spot off of the road. When you park, it is common to fold your mirrors in. If you forget, the Japanese often will do it for you. Parking spots and streets are NARROW, so this makes it easier to avoid clipping another’s vehicle.
Do not drink if you are driving. I know this sounds self-explanatory, but Japan is NOT like the states where some can still have a beer and legally drive. One drink is likely already over the legal limit of .03. If you drink at all, have somebody else drive. The Japanese take drinking and driving VERY seriously. The legal drinking age here is 20, and the base chooses to follow the country’s law here as well.
Also, public drinking is totally normal! People will be drinking beers on the trains, walking down the street, and even in cars (as long as they aren’t driving.) Most festivals that you attend will sell beer at the stands that they have, and chu-hi’s are actually pretty delicious here. (Like a Mike’s Hard. My favorites are pineapple and peach.)
Some roads will not have a speed limit sign whatsoever. I usually follow the flow of traffic in these situations, but here is a general guideline for driving off base if no speed limit is posted. The Japanese have very little tolerance for speeding from everything that I have heard, and if you get pulled over, warnings are usually not a thing if you were speeding. If it is posted, follow the signed limit. The Japanese will pass you often, but we have never had an issue with driving the posted limits.
During the winter, expressways (toll roads) will have signs updated digitally. They aren’t always the best at updating these from what I have seen. Don’t drive fast if it’s icy- duh.
ALSO: Please be aware that no matter what GPS you use, to my understanding, the maps do NOT update to let you know a road is closed due to snow/accident/etc. If you are traveling during the winter, it really is best to take the toll roads and just dish out the money, or take the trains and avoid driving all together. Trains can be relatively expensive, but the toll roads usually aren’t too bad. We tried avoiding tolls one time on our way to go snowboarding in Aomori, and ended up being stopped by a 9ft wall of snow that had been plowed into the road. We drove 45 minutes down that road, and had to drive all the way back when we realized it wasn’t passable. The toll roads will cost some yen, but you can almost always guarantee they are passable. You can typically search Misawa Asks to find out how much each toll road will cost, and you will also learn what back roads DO stay clear.