Carnet crucial when doing Japan in a van

Diana and Peter were pleased to find the column “How to do Japan — in a VW camper van” (Lifelines, Nov. 16) on the Japan Times website.

“It answered many of our questions as we are hoping to bring our Australian-registered Land Rover camper van in to Japan later this year.”

But they are concerned about our comments on the shaken, expressing surprise that it is necessary for cars being brought into the country for a short period to go through this test.

“Can you please confirm that in fact a temporarily imported vehicle has to comply? Is there a website or contact you can suggest that we go to for more information?”

In fact, the shaken test is not a requirement, but we have learned that bringing a car into Japan is a pretty big deal, further confused by the various agencies involved not knowing what the others do and being unclear on exact requirements. So we have gone back to square one.

To bring it into the country you need a carnet de passage en douane ( ). This allows you to bring your vehicle in short-term with no import duty. The carnet de passage is generally issued by national automobile clubs, and while many countries don’t use this system anymore, Japan is among those that still do.

Copies of the front and first page of the carnet document and a list of the people who will drive the car in Japan and their addresses must be faxed to the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) in advance of your trip (see ). The JAF can be contacted on (0570) 00-2811.

When you bring your car in, it will go to a customs warehouse and you will be required to get two copies of the ninsho shinsei sho (certification application form) for the ichiji yunyu shorui (temporary import document) from your nearest JAF office. With this and your registration you should be able to get your vehicle past customs.

Driving a car in another country is regulated by the U.N. Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1977). As long as you meet the basic requirements of the convention you can drive your car in Japan. But for peace of mind, check the list of “contracting countries” to make sure your own country is party to the convention — China, for example, is not.

The basic requirements of the convention are that you need to have your basic license details placed on the front and rear of your vehicle. There should also be some sign front and back that identifies your country (some U.S. license plates, for example, show only the name of a state). In case your license plate does not have this, the convention states that the country name should be black on white and on the front and back of the vehicle.

Finally, you must carry your international driving license and a copy of your registration documents. The name on this needs to be the same as the person driving the car.

You can get an international driver’s license in most countries through the local automobile federation, or sometimes through the foreign ministry, according to the treaty. However, even if you take all these steps, you could still face hassle from the police if you are pulled over, as even the transport ministry seems vague on the law and how it’s administered.

To play it safe, carry the telephone number of the transport ministry (technically the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism), which is (03) 5253-8111, and have the police call the jidosha joho ka (automobile information division) to confirm your legality if they think there is a problem.

Remember, even though there is a convention and you are legal, it is pretty unusual to see tourists driving vehicles from outside Japan, so you need to be prepared to be challenged by a police officer who knows nothing about the treaty. Unless you are highly competent in Japanese, it would be best to have someone write in Japanese that you are driving under the Vienna Convention on Road Safety and that if they have any questions they should call the ministry. Details of the convention are at

For a copy of the convention in English and Japanese, please go to .

It might be good to print this out also and have it with you in case you are stopped. Articles 18 to 20 are the key parts that refer to registration and display.

More than likely you will have no trouble at all. But just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

Finally, a reader in Japan who wishes to remain anonymous reports that a quick search revealed two sources for the article in Being A Broad mentioned in the piece about van travel.

Service is intermittent, but the article can be found on BAB’s website, at

Also, the online magazine browser has a copy of the van article presented as it was printed in Being A Broad. It is on Page 16 of the June/July issue at

Angela Jeffs is a freelance writer and writing guide ( Ken Joseph directs the Japan Helpline at and (0570) 000-911. Send queries, problems and posers to

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