I’m in Japan, preparing for the Carjojo product introduction this spring. While here, I keep stumbling on surprises about Japanese cars and car buying. Okay, I’m not stumbling–I’m actively seeking out differences between Japan and the US. As the saying goes, “seek and you shall find,” and find them I do everyday diflucan generic online. Everything that follows is based on non-scientific observation.

Which cars?

The most popular car brand appears to be Toyota. By a long shot. Mazda and Nissan are somewhat less ubiquitous. But I see more office buildings with the Honda logo on them than Honda vehicles. (The stats say 45% of the Japanese market is Toyota, but it feels like more.)

Not an American car seen. Not one. Only a handful of familiar non-Japanese brands, including BMW, Mercedes, Land Rover, Volkswagen, Audi (1), and Volvo (1).

On edit, that last line was written before I got to Tokyo. There I saw two American cars: a Cadillac and a Jeep. (Did some research: There are 5,000 Toyota sales outlets in Japan and 35 Cadillac and Chevrolet dealers. Tepid demand draws tepid supply. . . .)

Jeep in Japan One country, two American vehicles. This Jeep and a Cadillac.

Though most auto brands bear the same nameplates as in the US, the model names and the models themselves were very different. (Have you ever heard of a Toyota Noah?) Except for Prius, which has the same name and the same love-it-or-hate-it shape we have in the States. But, according to the signs at Toyota dealerships I visited, the Japanese Prius gets over 70 MPG. Don’t know how it gets such better mpg than ones in the US, but I wish I could afford to ship one home.  (Hmmm, maybe they use the Imperial gallon in Japan, slightly larger than the US gallon.  Can someone educate me, please?)

All right-handed

The steering wheel is on the right-hand side and the driving on the left in Japan, a distinction which we visitors disregard on penalty of death. First-timers, be careful which direction you look when you cross the street. Many a newcomer must have taken his/her last step on earth looking the wrong way on a Japanese boulevard.

Taxi Osaka Japan
The typical Osaka taxi–an older black Toyota

New Cars, Old Cabs

Almost every car I saw was no more than a very few years old. The taxis, though, are a head-scratcher. I’m sure there is a logical explanation, but 90% of the taxis in Osaka are old, black Toyotas, usually Crowns, and big and boxy, like the old Checker cabs in New York City. In terms of quantity, Tokyo has thousands of cabs, like we do in every major US city. All the cars, taxis, trucks–every one–looked clean and well-maintained.

Bullets, Bikes, and Beverages

I was told this before I got here, but now I can confirm that everything is smaller in Japan–cars, trucks, roads, people, stores, meals–everything except buses, which are “American-sized.” Trucks are a lot smaller, and narrower. Not an 18-wheeler that I saw anywhere. I have no idea how they get everything where it’s supposed to go.

Some major highways are elevated for long, long distances. Must have been expensive to build, but the elevation saves space and, of course, Japan doesn’t have space to waste.

Shinkansen Japanese Bullet Train
The Shinkansen, or bullet train. Fast, quiet, comfortable, convenient, modern.

By the way, I’m writing this post from a Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train. Fast, quiet, comfortable, clean, futuristic. It feels more like you’re on a plane than on a train, and gets you where you’re going just as fast–without airport lines and baggage checks. Think of the Shinkansen as a cross between an airplane and an autonomous car: Way easier and more relaxing than driving, even if you are used to staying on the right.

Bicyclists in Japan
If the right-side driving doesn’t scare you, the bicyclists will. Pedestrians, beware.

Two other non-automobile observations: First, there are bicycles everywhere. The demographics of bike-riders include everybody who’s old enough, even adults dressed for cocktails, while holding open umbrellas in the rain. And, in a country where everything is orderly and rules are strictly followed, there seem to be no such requirements for bike riders. They’re on the streets, on the sidewalks, on the left, on the right. Pedestrians must always be on the alert for bikes, and make no sudden moves left or right, or risk personally merging with a bicycle.

Second non-car observation: Vending machines are everywhere, serving hot drinks as well as cold! There seems to be a machine every half block. Whoever has the job of installing vending machines takes their work very, very seriously, and must very, very thirsty.

Dealer stop

You can’t have car observations without a few car-buying observations (especially for Carjojo), so . . .

At the Toyota dealership in Nara, Japan Me, at the Toyota dealership in Nara, Japan.

Car dealers here are a lot like ones in the US: Prospective buyers are eyed before they get to the door, and they’re greeted and shadowed by a salesperson immediately (with more salespeople waiting hungrily in the wings). The showrooms appear similar to American ones at first glance.
A "Price Placard" right next to a car in a dealer showroom A “Price Placard” right next to a car in a showroom

Until you notice there are no window stickers on the vehicles. Instead there’s a “price placard” on a platform between each vehicle. This makes me a bit uncomfortable–how easy it would be to have mix-ups. Apparently, this setup works for Japanese buyers.

Remember the old days when dealerships had stocks of all the printed brochures you could ever want, and you could take as many as you please? Those days are virtually gone in the US; dealers expect you to consult their website and/or the manufacturer’s if you want to read up on their products. But if you want brochures you can hold in your hands, go to a Japanese car dealer. Walls full of brochures.

Also, since space is a premium, the dealerships have fewer models on display. Instead of having ginormous lots crammed with automobiles, they have just a few real specimens indoors. To make up for that, they have a large selection of scale models, slightly bigger than Matchbox-size, of each vehicle in each available color. As a customer you are to imagine your new car by gazing at a 1/20 scale model!

Since my Japanese is limited to “hello,” “goodbye,” “excuse me,” “I appreciate this food,” and “thank you,” I was not able to converse with a dealer and get a first-hand insight into the purchase experience.  But we’ll talk with our industry contacts and report more about that in the future.


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