Driving in Japan: Buying a 50cc Scooter

I’ve held a regular drivers license in Japan for years, but because Mr. J and I have yet to seriously consider buying a car, a used scooter my previous company expensed for me to drive had been my main mode of transportation going on seven plus years.  Then a few months ago I’d been having trouble getting the engine to start, and finally last week I decided to bite the bullet and say goodbye to my little companion.  This left me in need of a new (used) scooter and a way to somehow give up the old one, preferably all under the budget of 80,000 yen ($800 USD).  And so my quest for a new ride began, which I decided to document for anyone else who is looking to buy their first scooter or another one secondhand.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

A picture I took years back when I first got my Honda Julio.

First things first, you need a Japanese drivers license with an endorsement to drive a 50cc scooter here.  The international license won’t cover it.  If you already have a valid drivers license in your home country, you might qualify to change your license over to a Japanese drivers license at your local license center with minimal effort, which will allow you to drive a car or 50cc scooter.  You also have the option of taking the 50cc scooter license test at the license center for a 50cc scooter-only endorsed license.  Tests are available in Japanese or English.  Riding any scooter/motorcycle over 50cc will require a small, medium, or large type endorsement depending on the size.  You will either need to already have a motorcycle endorsement when you change your foreign license over to a Japanese one, or go to a driving school and pass the written and practical tests necessary for the endorsement.

When you’ve got the license squared away, you have a few options for buying a scooter:


Japanese auction sites like Yahoo! Auctions or Mbok have categories for buying and selling cars and scooters/motorcycles.  As a seller, you might be able to get a little money for your scooter instead of giving it away to a bike shop or paying a disposal fee.  As a buyer, this can be a cheaper way to buy a used scooter, but somewhat risky.  Since most people are selling their scooters as is, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to run properly or even last a few months.  Most auctions also require you to pick up the scooter yourself in person, which means unless the seller or you are willing to arrange for you to pay for a home delivery service, you’ll need to drive the scooter from the pick-up site all the way home.

If you go this route, you’ll need to get the scooter title and the insurance deed (if it comes with any left over) transferred over into your name before picking it up.  This requires some forms to fill out that the seller will hopefully supply, and you will need an inkan / hanko (Japanese name signature stamp) to use for them.  If the scooter doesn’t have any insurance, you’ll need to purchase it in advance to legally drive home with it.  You can purchase insurance at any convenience store.  At some point you are also required to get new license plates for the city in which you reside, to be done at your town/city hall of residence.  It doesn’t matter if you do this before or after you pick up the scooter, but you’ll need the title and insurance sorted out first to get your plates.

Mr. J bought his first scooter through a seller in a neighboring prefecture on Yahoo!Auctions for under 40,000 yen about 6-7 years ago and drove the scooter about 100 km back home.  After he got his small motorcycle license this year and bought a bigger scooter, he ended up passing it on to a co-worker and it’s still going strong.  We were lucky it turned out to be such an awesome deal.

Recycle Shops (Secondhand/Thrift Stores)

As a seller, the recycle shop might take your scooter for free or give you a little bit of money back for it if it’s in fair/good condition.  As a buyer, the risks are the same as buying from an auction, along with the process of transferring your name and getting or transferring insurance.  Most local recycle shops are willing to let you try out the scooter before buying, and will deliver or arrange delivery for free or a minimal fee.

Bike Shop

No matter where you live in Japan, there’s probably at least a few bigger or mom and pop run motorbike shops around town.  In addition to repairing scooters and motorcycles, most also deal in new or used scooters/motorcycles for sale.  If you purchase a new or used bike through them, they’ll take care of the title and insurance for you for a fee.  This is the route I chose, because I wanted to purchase a scooter within the city I resided to save on fees and time.

Since most of the shops in my area didn’t have a home page, I Googled nearby shops in the area and stopped in to browse and ask about any scooters for sale within my budget.  The first place had a red, used Vino I really liked, but were trying to charge me over 30,000 yen ($300 USD) on top of the scooter price for the title/insurance transfer, sales tax, and a fee to deregister and dispose of my old scooter.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

© J // Washing Rice Blog

I was expecting to pay at most 20,000 yen ($200 USD) for having to fill out the transfer and deregistration paperwork, but this was insane. :O  Eventually replacing the cracked tire cover would have likely set me back another 15,000+ ($150 USD) based on past frame repairs I’d had done on the old Julio.  With that kind of money I could just save up a few more man and buy a mint scooter!  Despite how bad of a deal this was, I’ve included the run-down the shop wrote up for me below, just to show you what other kind of costs you’ll need to budget for or what to watch out for so you don’t get ripped off.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

Names crossed out to protect the innocent, or not-so-innocent. 😉
© J // Washing Rice Blog

New license plate registration fee
:  5,000 yen
This generally runs about 2,500 – 3,500 yen
Pick-up/Delivery fee: 8,000 yen.
This is bogus because it’s unnecessary.  My old scooter was still running okay enough to drive it there.  I could also just go there directly to pick up the new scooter.  Even if the place wasn’t within walking distance, a round trip taxi fare still would have been way cheaper than 8,000 yen.
Insurance transfer fee: 3,000 yen.
This is OK.  Sometimes it might cost 500 yen or so more than this.
Number plate deregistration fee: 3,000 yen.
The real cost for this is about 1,000 yen.

So basically they were asking me to pay around 10,000 yen ($100 USD) for about an hour of their time filling out the paperwork, getting the new plates, and unnecessary deliveries.  Why should I have to pay them extra to do their jobs in order to make the sell?  Ridiculous.  :/

The next few shops I visited didn’t have anything that interested me within my budget, but the fifth shop I visited had a Scoopy in good condition they were willing to knock down to 80,000 ($800 USD) with transfer/tax/deregistration included and a new frame to replace the cracked one.  It was a wickedly good deal; the shop staff person that helped me was terribly friendly and helpful, not to mention I’ve always wanted a Scoopy.  Still, I had one more shop left to visit.  I’ve never been the type of person to make a decision before I’ve seen all there is to choose from, so I took their business card and set off for the last shop.

The final shop had a black and white Vino, a little older in mileage than the Scoopy, but in overall better cosmetic condition that the shop owner was willing to let go for 70,000 yen ($700 USD) everything included and paperwork completed/scooter delivery by the end of the week.  I weighed it over for a bit, but in my gut felt like this was the better decision so I went with it.  I asked the shop owner if I could put a down payment on the scooter and get started on the paperwork, and later that afternoon the shop owner drove to our apartment to take my old scooter away.  Then this past Friday the shop owner came back to deliver the new (used) scooter and I paid up the rest. 🙂

© J // Washing Rice Blog

My new ride! 😀
© J // Washing Rice Blog

Goo Bike

Goo Bike is a famous online and classified ad publisher, and you can usually pick up a free magazine full of scooters and motorcycles for sell around town or in nearby prefectures at convenience stores or certain family restaurants.  It’s really helpful if you’re looking for a certain brand of scooter/motorcycle because it has listings by brand, type, and location.

My husband picked this copy up to search for a specific type of scooter he was interested in, which gave him the name of a shop in Tokyo that had just what he was looking for.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

© J // Washing Rice Blog

After contacting the shop and arranging a deal, he wire transferred the money over to them and signed the necessary paperwork.  Then after the title, insurance transfer, etc. were processed, he and a co-worker went together with a truck to go pick it up and bring it back home.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

© J // Washing Rice Blog

If you can’t find a copy of Goo Bike in your area, just visit their homepage here and run a quick search.


Although my company paid for my first scooter, shopping around for something within their budget felt like such a monumental task because I had no idea where to look or what to expect in terms of market value or extra fees/paperwork.  My Japanese wasn’t as up to par and there weren’t any resources in English to guide me through it.

In comparison, this second time around was a lot easier and practically stress free, so I hope for anyone reading this and looking to purchase a scooter for the first time, you find something helpful that will make the process a much less daunting one.  I have another post in the works on how to maintain a 50cc scooter, so be sure to check back for it later. 😉

– J

12 thoughts on “Driving in Japan: Buying a 50cc Scooter

  1. Hi
    Do you have to pay yearly fees when you own a scooter? Insurance, shaken, etc..Also are you required to wear a helmet…
    .Im moving to japan and I’ll be working out in the country side, Im wondering if I should buy a used car or used scooter.

    • Hiya! There is no shaken for a 50 cc scooter. However there is a tax, 1,000 yen a year, and compulsory insurance, called jibaiseki hoken. You can get the latter in 1, 3, or a 5 year stickers (they go on your license plate) and the 5 year one gives you the biggest discount. I believe the 3 year is around 12,000 yen. This does not cover you if an accident is deemed your fault, nor very much in damages, etc. even if it isn’t. I suggest if you were to commute by scooter every day you also purchase optional liability insurance, called nini hoken which will run you and additional 20,000 – 40,000 yen a year and will actually keep you covered should something happen. You are required to wear a helmet scooter or motorcycle.

      Which one is best in your case definitely depends on the area. 🙂 I live in a country area, but it doesn’t snow or sleet and the rain/typhoons are usually limited and moderate. It’s also a fairly flat area and my workplace is within the city so a scooter is the better option for me. If you live in a hilly/mountain, an area with bad roads/dirt roads, an extreme climate area, an area far away from where you’ll be working, or plan on doing a lot of road trips, I recommend the car. Sometimes companies will provide one or some sort of allowance. If you get the car the taxes, shaken, etc. are lower for a kei (yellow plate car) than a regular (white plate) one.

  2. I just found your site, and I’m really loving it! Thanks for writing this post; I recently moved to Shiga-ken from the USA and I’m really torn between getting a car or scooter. Your info has helped me a lot in this decision! Thank you!

    • I think it would depend on how you plan on getting the loan. Most mom and pop bike shops don’t offer any kind of loan or multiple payment option. If they do, usually all of the payments must be made before they will give you the bike. If you buy from a larger dealership, you might have a chance to work something out.

      In general, banks don’t like to loan money to foreigners, and it can be difficult to get a loan even if you’re married to a Japanese spouse, have a decent salary, and/or own your own home. If you have a Japanese credit card, many of them offer cash loan advance options with varying interest rates. There are also loan shops like Aiful and Acom, but I’ve never used them so I would say if you don’t speak Japanese fluently to go with a friend that does and make sure you understand all the terms and conditions when applying.

  3. hi

    i have an international drivers permit, full engllish license(after january 2011) i got a 125 motorbike cbt in 2004 but i dont have that paperwork, do i need to get a separate scooter license in japan?

    also, if i bought a scooter off craigslist 30000 does that mean the minimum taxes i would pay are 1000 yen per year, the 1 year hoken, insurance, registration?

    how would i register my bike if i had no address just hostel?

    its quite hard to find the answers to these q’s.

    thank you!

    • Hello!

      The international drivers permit is only valid for one year after you enter the country, after that you will have to change it to a regular Japanese license. You cannot drive a scooter or any motorcycle on the international drivers permit. If you change your English license to a Japanese one, you will only be able to drive a 50cc scooter, unless your English license has a motorcycle endorsement. If it has the motorcycle endorsement, unless it falls into a certain motorcycle size you will be limited to 400cc. Anything over 400cc you will have to get the “ōgata nirin” license which will mean passing a test/pratical within Japan. So to answer your question, you won’t be able to drive a 125cc scooter when you exchange your English license unless it has the motorcycle endorsement.

      If you bought a 50cc scooter off of Craiglist, you would need to pay for the license plate number change, the title change, and the insurance name change. Neither of these are very expensive if you do it yourself. Then yearly you would need to pay the insurance (hoken) and 1,050 yen tax. From there, the tax and insurance rate changes. Here is a good site with all that information: http://www.thejapanfaq.com/bikerfaq-classes.html

      Are you going to be living at the hostel? The registration address must match whatever address is on your residence card (zairyū kādo), so if you are living at the hostel and it’s the address printed on the card, it should be fine.

  4. Hi! So i have a regular japanese license and I’m driving for a year now never drove a moped but Can i get ride one with my license or i need to get a license for moped?

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