What is car-sharing and how does it work in Japan?

ByJason Gatewood
May 14, 2013

What is car-sharing and how does it work in Japan?

Car-Share YokohamaYesterday, your author embarked upon one of the biggest experiments of his life in Japan: I joined a “Car-Share club”.

Actually, it’s not that big a deal for me; I was a member of one of the biggest car-share companies in the world for most of the 3 years I lived back in Atlanta from 2005-2008. But then I used it solely as a “second car”; those times I needed a bigger vehicle or a pick-up truck.  This time will be very different — I’ll be ditching my car totally and relying on the car-share program… But here in Japan, especially in the Greater Tokyo area, this makes more sense than having my own car… which I do, but I don’t think I need anymore.

You live in Tokyo. Why do you have a car anyway?
I used to live in another part of Japan where I kinda needed one. When I moved to the Tokyo area in 2011, my original plan was to sell my car after the summer, but I got a little lazy. I’m seeing that I really only need my car just on the weekends. On average, I only drive 2 or 3 times a month now.

“What’s a car-sharing club?”
It’s a service whereby one rents a car by the hour. The cars are usually parked in a very convenient location, usually in a parking lot around one’s neighborhood or workplace. One membership fee gives access to cars offered throughout the network, and in my case in Japan–nationwide. There’s no need to worry about gasoline, insurance, maintenance or even washing the car– it’s all included in the monthly and rental fees.

“Why didn’t they have this sooner than the rest of the world?”
That’s a question that’s echoed around my head for a few years now in regards to a lot of things here in Japan, but especially something as dead-simple as car-share programs. This place is MADE for the scheme. Japan has the best public transportation network of any country around. All services are punctual and efficient. And it’s no secret that in most urban places here, most don’t own a car at all. But sometimes you need to make a run to Costco or IKEA to pick things up, right? Of course, you could take a taxi I guess, but it’s way more expensive than just using the car-share.

“OK, so who’s offering the best program in Japan?”
While there are several car-share companies, the one offered by Times24 seems to be the best. Since they are a very prominent parking lot management company, it effectively solves the “where’s the cars” problem. Their car-share brand, “Times Car Plus”, seems to boast the most locations and vehicles available — 3,749 locations and 5,457 cars available for rent as of March 2013. To date, around 180,000 people have joint the network. …make that 180,001!

“How much yen will you need to part with?”
There are a few different plans one can sign up under, but I chose to keep it simple since I don’t know how much I’ll use the service yet… And if I need to change or cancel, there are no fees for that as well. But bear in mind– you NEED a Japan issued credit card and Japan issued driver’s license. You’ll also need to be able to read Japanese to fill out the forms… But in the case of Times24, you can pop into a “Times Station” office or check their sign up campaigns that happen sometimes in the parking lots themselves to have a representative walk you though it.

  • Sign-up Fees: ¥1500. (However they sometimes have campaigns where this fee is waived. Mine was!)
  • Monthly Fees: ¥1000. This is only charged if you go one month without using a car. (If you’re a college student or an employee of a member corporation, then it’s free; they’ll need to see ID!)
  • Usage Fees: The basic fee is ¥200 every 15 minutes use. Premium cars (BMW, Mini Coopers) are double rate. They also have discount rates for 6, 12, and 24 hour along with nighttime use.
  • Penalty Fees: It’s very easy to extend the use of the car by using the in-dash computer, so those who don’t get slapped with a fee of ¥ 400 for ever 15 minutes over– and double that if using the premium cars. Of course there are bigger penalties for breaking the rules, getting tickets, and causing accidents.

For my use case, I calculated I’d only spend somewhere around ¥9000 in a month with heavy use; this is still less than the parking fee my apartment charges for my current car. Let’s not even get into the savings on gas, insurance, etc. It’s a total no-brainer.

“Well that’s fine and all, but what about when you want to go on a really long trip?”
I thought of that already– I’ll just take the Shinkansen with all the money I’ve saved. Or go to a traditional rental car shop and use that.

“I’m sold. But how’s it work?”
The basic concepts are outlined here:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMA4L9n0_jY]

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About the author

Jason Gatewood editor

Our Tokyo based collaborator is a tech nerd, Japanophile, train nut, and a veritable fountain of information on Japan. His current goal is to watch Evangelion and actually "get it", sing every permutation of "Hotel California" at any karaoke gathering, ride every bullet train line, and sample all varieties of ramen throughout Japan. Catch more of his musings at · http://jlgatewood.com