On Wednesday, your sponsor will be required to go to the newcomer’s briefing. You’re welcome to attend with him… or you can just show up for driver’s license time. Have him take your driver’s license and military id with him to the briefing if you don’t want to sit through the whole thing. You’ll take a short, written test. You should pass, it’s really not that hard and then you’ll get your SOFA license. After lunch they’ll issue a letter of attorney (or maybe authority, I think it’s attorney, they call them LOA’s) for each licensed driver in the house. After you get that, you’re free to go buy and register a car.
We walked to BC motors out of gate 2, it took us about 25 minutes to walk there from Hershey TLF with a stroller. There are a few others within walking distance, you can always check the lemon lot, or have your sponsor help. The dealerships all speak English… and well. Some of them are Americans so never fear, buying a car might be the easiest part of your week.
We went through the lot and looked around. They don’t really sell you a car in Japan… you kinda just pick one out and ask for the keys to turn it on. You won’t get to test drive the car. They’re packed into these lots like sardines. They’re all used and from mainland Japan usually. You also don’t get to take it home right away, so you’ll be hiking for a few more days regardless. Everyone from your driver’s training class will be there too. Oh and take a down payment, not in 100’s US with you. I’m sure some of them accept yen, but BC takes US dollars. Yeah, it’s weird to be walking down the street with $500 cash on you, but it is what it is. I never felt threatened walking there.
So when you get the key, turn the car on. Make sure it starts properly. Check the power windows and locks. Make sure the A/C works and is cold air and that your car speakers work. Check your fabric, rev the engine, do whatever else you feel like doing… just make sure your A/C works, lol. Ask the salesman how much they can take off the car. The sticker price is a total lie but expect to spend about $5k/car on a lot unless you find one super cheap. I was trying to get a hold of a guy about a honda fit, but he sold it. Oh, and if you have a car seat, make sure it fits in the back seat. These cars are tiny. Our carrier and base is a tight squeeze.
After you agree to buy the car, you’ll do paperwork. Well, the sponsor does paperwork. You’ll give them your cash and sign your next 18 months away. They’ll tell you what your monthly payment is and most of them do 18 months 0% financing. You can pay off the car whenever you’d like to… I’d suggest waiting until your TMO money clears and everything is normal just in case you owe some money from overpayment. You’ll give them your LOA’s (we bought 2 cars at the same time so hasta la vista LOA’s). After they do all the paperwork in less than 30 minutes (I seriously may never buy another car in the states again after this fantastic little experience), you leave sans wheels. All of the dealerships have websites but they don’t always update them often. Cars move quick on the island.
Two days later, you’ll get a phone call to go pick up your car (hopefully). They’ll have JCI’d it (Japanese insurance and mechanic check) and you’ll have to go pick up your road tax sticker from Camp Foster during normal business hours. Since we got our cars on Friday afternoon, we got the road stickers on Monday. For road tax stickers, you take your folder (ours was red) and drive to Camp Foster. You literally take a left out of Gate 1 and drive a few miles under a walkway and turn left. Take the first right and follow the signs. Drive around the building (don’t go in) and enter lane 2. Give them your paperwork and they’ll bring out your road tax sticker and have you stick it on your car behind the mirror next to the JCI tag.
Literally, that’s it. The car came with plates and insurance since we bought it at a dealer.
Now stay on the left. No seriously, stay to the left.