車 kuruma—car

We’ve bought a car!

It’s a 2009 new-model Prius, dark blue, in very nice condition inside and out (Japanese people do keep their cars clean!)

Before we were allowed to buy a car, we had to prove that we had a parking space. Yuko had to get a document from the landlord, and have it certified at the local police station. The size of the space is indicated, and you are only allowed to buy a car that will fit the space.

If you live in the centre of Osaka, it can cost over 30,000 yen (over €300) per month to rent a parking space! For many people, parking is the single biggest cost of motoring. So we’re lucky to have our own space in front of our house, that we can use for free.

Lots of cars over here have a particular shape that you don’t see so much back home. Cars of all sizes, from tiny “kei” cars to huge people-carriers, are high and boxy, with an almost vertical rear end and a very short nose.

It’s not a great look, but I have a theory about why that shape is so common. If the limiting factor on the size of your car is the length of your parking space, then it makes sense not to waste any of that length with front and rear overhangs and curves. Aerodynamics? With a speed limit of 60 km/h most places, who needs aerodynamics? Just a rectangular box will do nicely, thank you.

I discovered something about the economics of second-hand cars here. Let’s say you’re looking at the prices of second-hand cars on autos.yahoo.co.jp and you see a car that takes your fancy. This 2003 Mazda RX-8, for example. If you look closely you will see two prices listed:

本体価格(税込)68.0万円 — Basic price (tax included): 680,000 yen (approx €6,750 at today’s lousy exchange rate)

支払総額(税込)86.7万円 — Sum total (tax included): 867,000 yen (approx €8,600)

So what’s going on? What’s the extra €1,850 that I have to pay? Well, it’s the cost of reregistering the car and various other administrative stuff. But here’s the kicker. That €1,850 isn’t a percentage – it’s the same for every car regardless of value. So if you go to buy an old car with a sticker price of €1,000, you’ll end up paying almost €3,000! That’s a huge disincentive to buying an old car – who’s going to pay €3,000 for a car worth €1,000?

Note on the word of the day:

On its own, the kanji 車 kuruma means car. Or maybe in the old days some kind of carriage. In compounds it usually has the Chinese pronunciation sha, and it appears in the name of all sorts of wheeled vehicles. 自転車 jitensha—bicycle; 電車 densha—train; 自動車 jidousha—vehicle; 人力車 jin-rikisha—rickshaw (literally “human-power-vehicle”, and of course that’s where the English work rickshaw comes from).

My favourite 車 word is 猫車 nekoguruma which literally means “cat car” but really means wheelbarrow.

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