Japanese Car Number Plates

Friday, April 6, 2012

Japanese car number plates give information about where a car was registered and the classification of the vehicle.

The Chinese characters (kanji) of the town or city where the car was registered are displayed at the top of the plate followed by a hiragana character, and a serial number of 4 digits divided in to 2 sets of two numbers divided by a hyphen, with zero replaced by a dot.

For cars with engine capacity of 2,000cc or less the first digits start with a 5 - the so called "5 Series" for vehicles with engine capacity over 2,000cc, the first digits begin with the number 3 - the "3 Series".

The example below is for a car registered in Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan.

Japanese Car Number Plates
Car with engine capacity between 1,000-2,000cc registered in Nagoya

Vehicles with engine capacity over 1,000cc have a white plate, cars with less than 1,000cc capacity (Kei-cars; "light vehicles") have a yellow vehicle registration plate, as in the example below, which is registered in Kyoto.

Japanese Car Number Plate
Japanese car with engine capacity of less than 1,000cc registered in Kyoto

Japanese vehicle registration plates are displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle and the rear plate has a covered seal issued by the prefecture. Plates should be removed and returned to a vehicle registration center when a car is scrapped. This involves time, a fee, queuing and a personal seal if you do it yourself. If you are buying a new or second hand car from a showroom or second hand dealer, they will usually take care of it free-of-charge for you as an inducement.

Car Number Plates
Close up of the prefectural seal (Aichi) on the rear plate of a Japanese vehicle

Commercial vehicles have a green background with white lettering. From 1970 onwards, a "jiko-shiki" (字光式) illuminated green plastic plate is available. Since 1998, specific numbers for the plate can be requested when buying a new car if available and blue lettering was introduced in 2010.

Japanese Car Number Plates - hire car

Rental cars in Japan usually have the hiragana character れ or わ before the four digit number. The letter Y represents a car owned by a member of the US Armed Forces in Japan with A denoting a vehicle of less than 1,000cc engine displacement registered to a US Armed Forces member.

Japanese Car Number Plate
Japanese vehicle registration plate for a car over 2,000cc engine capacity registered in Owari-Komaki
The Toyota Automobile Museum has a good collection of Japanese car number plates as well as vehicle registration plates from all over the world.

Japanese Car Number Plates
Japanese vehicle registration plates at Toyota Automobile Museum

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