Buying scooters second-hand:
Shop-bought used scooters can be found for approximately 50,000 yen anywhere in the city,
and are likely to be in better condition than most of the privately sold scooters
available. On top of the purchase cost you'll need to pay approximately 10,000 yen for
basic third party insurance (see below) and registration to your new address. If buying
a scooter privately, you will need to arrange re-registration to your name. Having
organised that, you should receive a bike tax request form every April, directing you
to pay at the bank or post office (occasionally convenience stores offer facilities).
Fortunately, for a 50cc scooter, the cost is a pitiful 1050 yen! Don't forget that you
also need to budget for a helmet, although in Japan the laws regarding types of helmets seem
to be very lax, and it's common to see flimsy skull-cap types or horse riding helmets!
Full-face helmets can be found for as little as 4000 yen at stores like Nafco or GooDay (but
they are crap!).
There is only really one place you should ever visit for used scooters, because it's a
small friendly shop run by a man who speaks some English, and who is not going to
attempt to rip you off. Oddly enough, it's very close to the internet cafe and
Big Bear's Pizza near Kanada Kodan, right opposite a very yellow coloured giant car
shop called Family Youza. Even though he really is a nice guy, and regularly fixes minor
stuff for peanuts for us, we'd recommend that you don't buy the scooters already in
the shop (upwards of 50,000 yen). Instead ask him nicely to see if he can hunt down a
scooter for you, and give him a low budget limit, for example 30,000 yen. More often than
not, he will find something for very close.
Firstly, let's clear up the confusion over driving licences and 50cc scooters -
unless you hold a dedicated bike licence in your home country, and have that marked
on the bike category of an international licence, then you legally can't ride a
scooter in Japan. You have several options available to you, if you don't have a bike
category international licence:
a) Stupid gaijin excuse - this is to be used at your own peril! It has been heard
of for foreigners to claim ignorance when stopped for speeding or other offences, and for
the police to drop the matter as being too much hassle (i.e. translation problems). You
really shouldn't expect to ever be that lucky!
b) Upgrade an international licence to a Japanese one - you're probably aware that
the standard car driving licence of your country normally includes a concession to ride a
50cc motorised bike. The Japanese standard driving licence also includes such a concession.
The international licence (probably due to a dumb error) doesn't include any such
concession. You can swap an existing licence from your home country to a standard Japanese
licence simply by paying money to the national licence agency. However you may
be required to take a standard driving test too! UK licence holders are exempt from this,
but Americans must take the test (presumably because they drive on the right-hand side). To
swap your licence to a Japanese one you should seek help from our supervisors, but basically
what you should need are evidence of foreign residency (not your gaijin card, but a special
print out version available from City Hall for about 300 yen), a translation of your home
country licence provided by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF - located in between Mihagino
and Jono) for a few thousand yen, and some more money when you visit the driving test centre
(behind Kitakyushu University). Beware - the desk dealing with issuing new licences is only
open for a couple of hours a day, around lunch time! They will direct you to a desk selling
special stamps. In total, it should cost somewhere around 5000 to 7000 yen (more if
you have more categories on your licence).
c) Take a scooter driving test - this is apparently a quick and painless event,
involving a very brief test to check that you can start, stop, turn, etc., and the
compulsory eye test, after which you will be issued with a shiny new Japanese driving
licence limiting you to ride 50cc scooters. Note that unlike the standard car test, this
scooter test is only available in Japanese, so you'll need some basic Japanese to get you
Note that should you ever be involved in a major accident (i.e. an insurance claims
accident) in which it becomes evident you don't hold a valid licence, you may get into real
trouble. Certainly any insurance you own will become invalid too.
Their are two main levels of motor insurance in Japan. The first is basic 3rd party cover,
which will pay for costs to anybody you injure or crunch. Damages to either you or your
vehicle will not be covered. The basic level of insurance is compulsory by law, and
should be organized when you buy a scooter. One year's basic insurance for a scooter costs
around 6000 yen. The second level of insurance is optional, and will cover damages to
yourself and your vehicle (and passengers in the case of cars). It is rather more
expensive at somewhere over 10,000 yen. The BOE will advise you to buy the optional
insurance too, and although the choice is up to you, it might buy you some peace of mind.
Note that neither basic nor extra insurance normally covers theft of scooters, and buying
extra, extra insurance to cover theft (or vandalism) is exorbitantly expensive, supposedly
due to the large amount of bikes stolen.