When you ask Japanese drivers about what is the most thing they are afraid of on roads. The answer must be “Drunken old guys driving into you”, “road surfaces being made partly from coral and offering no grip” and, “the accident insurance system where you are almost always held to partial blame for an accident for existing (friend hit side-on by a Japanese guy in a carpark has been told that they expect him to pay 50% of the costs to repair his own car; if he hadn’t have been in the carpark the accident would never have happened” are just three of them. But maybe the most common complaint people will have is something called the shaken (pronounced “sha-ken”, or JCI (Japanese Compulsory Insurance) for those US servicemembers and families with SOFA status.
Almost every developed country has some system of ensuring cars are roadworthy. In the UK they have the annual MOT – a comprehensive check of the vehicle to make sure it is safe to be on the road. Well here in Japan we have the shaken, which is conducted on all vehicles every 2 years. The testing process appears similar to that of the UK, although probably not quite 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 which position the gearstick must be in for each particular gear in a manual transmission car. Stock gearknobs have this but if you have an aftermarket gearknob then you have to get a sticker somewhere visible in the interior, seemingly in case you forget where all your gears are and need a diagram to help you out (hint: if this applies to you then please stay at home or use public transport!).
But it’s not the testing criteria that most people take issue with. In fact, even a lot of tuner’s cars pass the shaken relatively easily, and I think mine will pass without any problems providing I re-install the cat and get that all-important gear sticker. But the biggest problem is the cost. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am expecting my shaken fee in a couple of months to come to at least Y50,000 (about 300 quid) and probably closer to Y70,000 (500 quid), and that’s providing nothing needs repairing or changing. A friend recently commented that his shaken is likely to cost around Y120,000 (just over 850 quid). One online source has the cost broken down as follows: Y25,500 for the testing fee, Y29,780 for 2 years of validity (yup, I’m not sure what that means either), Y8,090 to be given to 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 like that. Let us just compare that firstly to the US, where the same car would cost about Y11,000 to test (around 80 quid) and in the UK an MOT test costs Y7,400 (just over 50 quid). Yes… as you can see the difference is not insignificant. But everyone just accepts the cost because they know that here if they speak up they will have a lonely voice as acceptance is the most popular policy.
When you tell people outside of Japan the test cost they automatically assume that is going through a car dealership, and that an independent garage fee would be much cheaper. The reality is that the costs I am quoting come from independent garages in Okinawa (which probably has the cheapest prices for things like this in all of Japan). A dealership fee for something like this is likely to be even higher. Maybe you are starting to see why public transport is so favourable in mainland Japan (where it actually functions adequately). It is possible for you to go to the car inspection centre and test the car yourself but the cost you will save is nominal and it’s a lot of hassle so people don’t really do it and leave it to their mechanic.
So while Japan does have some good points for motoring (stock parts at decent prices, good quality aftermarket parts, reasonably priced petrol), there are one or two things that crop up that really put a proverbial spanner in the works. I’ve got my shaken coming up in March which I’m not looking forward to financially, although it should be a simple pass through for the test itself. Should probably make some witty pun about being “shaken but not stirred”, but I would never stoop to that kind of level!