Buying a Japanese Car: Our Story

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Corinne and I are officially the proud owners of this 1998 Nissan Cube! Purchasing our first car – and in Japan, of all places – was quite the learning experience, but we came out better consumers because of it.

The Why

The need for a car was created because Corinne was having troubles getting to work. With no car, she had been taking the train into the city and walking forty-five minutes to work four or five times a week. We’re located in a more rural area, but we have a local train line that goes into the major city that is a nine minute walk from our house.The problem is the train only comes once an hour and the last train is usually around 11 p.m. With the train only coming once an hour, she was commuting almost two hours everyday, when a drive to work would only take fifteen minutes.

We also realized that owning a car would provide us a lot of convenience in our social lives. There aren’t other foreigners located nearby so we immediately became more accessible with the new car. It also saves us time shopping because we don’t have to walk and lug groceries around town.

A couple of weeks ago we needed to go buy a couch at the big shopping center in the city. We took the train in, found a bus, but got off a couple stops too early. We eventually found the store, but when we were done shopping we couldn’t find the bus that was supposed to bring us back to the train station. We ended up taking a cab back, which wasn’t too bad financially, but the whole day took us almost six hours. With a car, it would’ve been a fifteen minute drive both ways.

It’s pretty obvious we were in desperate need of a car. Sometimes you have to reach into your pockets and pay for convenience and that is what this car is going to provide us.

The Negotiation Process

I surprised myself with how we found this car. When I mentioned getting a car to my supervisor at school. she suggested looking at the local used car dealer. I got out of school a little early one day and decided to walk over and check the place out. I expected all of the cars to be way out of our price range – and they initially were.

I had made the mistake of  judging the cars entirely by their sticker price. I had a random price in my head which I thought was a respectable price to pay and I wasn’t going to pay attention to anything above that price. This thinking was incredibly flawed, especially with a big ticket item like a car that has many variables to the purchasing process. Once I realized how a car would help Corinne’s work situation, make us more social, and provide some convenience for shopping in the winter months, I started looking for a good value.

The salesman spoke a little broken English, but he was respectful, courteous, and hard-working throughout the week-long negotiation process. His willingness to try English was the only reason I stuck with him, and I ended up buying a car from him because of his admirable attempts at English.

When I initially visited the dealer, I looked around but all of the cars seemed a little pricier than my number. I had stubbornly set a price of 150,000 yen or around $1,500 in my head. I knew we could afford more, but that was the number I randomly created in my head for no other reason than being cheap. After searching, I asked the dealer for his cheapest car. He led me to the car that I would eventually own three weeks later. The good ‘ol cube.

The cube was listed at 363,430 yen or $4,041. There are a couple of variables to the price that make the sticker price seem misleading.photo 2

Cars in Japan go through an intense vehicle inspection every year or so called shaken. Shaken is expensive because it can be. Japan’s an island so the less drivers they have the better, and it’s a way to make sure the cars are up to the emissions standards of the country. The price of the car was listed at only 210,000 yen, but two years of shaken was 143,240 yen and the yearly vehicle tax was priced at 31,500 yen. For you car geeks, the car has 82,000 km or 51,000 miles.

I told the salesman that the price was out of my range and he would need to lower it. I was starting to warm up to the fact that I would pay more for the car. It seemed like it was in great condition and I knew that my overly frugal ways were going to have Corinne walking to work until March.

After they brought me inside, supplied ice coffee and snacks, and negotiated for forty minutes he lowered the price to 300,000. We also needed to buy winter tires that he was quoting me at 30,000 yen – or around $300. I needed to think it over and talk to Corinne so we shook hands and parted ways.

I talked to Corinne about the car that night and we were really interested. It seemed like a great value, and it fit us perfect. It was a little more expensive than the cars other people had bought in the area, but no one we knew had bought from a dealer. I liked the trust that came with that, knowing that if this car didn’t work I could go to the salesman and demand results.

Corinne and I headed back a couple of days later deciding that 300,000 was our number, but we wanted the winter tires thrown in the deal. We went in and the salesman kindly greeted us again. I didn’t mess around and I said that if he sold everything for 300,000 I would buy the car today. He seemed a little suprised, probably because I was being a lot more forward than any Japanese consumer would be, but he hemmed and hawed. We requested the tires to be thrown in and if he did, we would head to the ATM at that moment and get the cash.

What followed was the awkwardness of negotiation. He had a look of pain on his face that he didn’t want to give up the car. I felt the need to fill the silence with ums and uhs, but after a minute of  just staring at each other, I realized I could do this for a while and that I was indeed going home with a free pair of winter tires. After a couple of minutes he agreed, we shook hands, and Corinne and I were the owners of a Nissan Cube.

Our New Car Life

The paperwork took two weeks to process and we picked up the car last Sunday. Our first drive was wonderful. We made sure she knew the route to work and then we went to our favorite grocery store. We normally buy four bags of groceries and it takes us twenty-five minutes and a back ache to walk home, but this ride took just five minutes. The perks of car ownership.

Corinne also told me that it took her twelve minutes to drive to work – saving her more than forty-five minutes of commuting time.

We’re incredibly excited to get this part of our Japan journey underway.

Like I said, the car is more than we originally wanted to pay, but the perks of buying from an authorized dealer are worth the extra price. He will change our winter tires for us, our first oil change is free, and any other problems we have we can go to the dealer with.

Could I have negotiated for another week and saved a hundred bucks? Probably. But that would mean Corinne would’ve wasted another eight hours of walking at night in the cold and we needed to make a change quick. The car is also in great shape so if we keep it well maintained it should have a great resale value whenever we decide to leave Japan.

Overall, it felt like a great deal and we’re excited to get driving!

I’m interested to hear from the readers. What was your first car experience owning a car? Any tips for us as new car owners?

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Photos by Corinne

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