Monday, February 12, 2007

Launch of "Tsukuba Number"

If you have an identity as a resident of Tsukuba and want to express it, you can change letters on your car license plate from Tsuchiura to Tsukuba from today !

For detailed information, please refer to Shaney's post on January 3, 2007.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tsukuba License Plate Numbers

From February 13, 2007, the Tsukuba license number will come into being. When you buy a new car, or when you change the ownership or address on a car, your license plate will change from a Tsuchiura number to a Tsukuba number. You can also just request to have your license plate changed to a Tsukuba number. People who live in the following areas are eligible for Tsukuba plates: Tsukuba, Koga, Yuki, Shimotsuma, Joso, Moriya, Chikusei, Bando, Sakuragawa, Tsukuba Mirai, Yachiyo, Goka, and Sakai. Apply at the Tsuchiura Branch Office of the National Agency of Vehicle Inspection (土浦自動車検査登録事務所, on Higashi Odori) after February 13. It is also possible to ask a dealer to do this for you, but you will probably have to pay an extra fee.

If you want to request specific numbers for the last four digits of your license plate, it is possible to do so. (In Canada, we call these "vanity plates".) If you want one of the most popular combinations (1、7、8、88、333、555、777、888、1111、3333、5555、7777、8888), you will have to enter a lottery, otherwise you can just try to reserve a number (on or after January 22). You can apply online for a vanity plate number or you can go to the Tsuchiura Number Center (関東陸運振興財団土浦支部).

These new licenses cost 1520 yen (backlit numbers: 3020 yen) for a regular car if you don't ask for a specific number, and 4300 yen (backlit: 5500 yen) if you do want a specific number. The prices are the same for light vehicles (軽自動車) except that the backlit plates are slightly more expensive: 4960 yen and 6620 yen, respectively.

Keep in mind that if your car is not already set up to use a backlit plate, you will have to pay to have it installed (estimated at 30,000 yen). Also, if you change your plate to a Tsukuba number, it will affect the registered data for your compusory insurance (自賠責保険, jibaiseki hoken), your optional insurance (任意保険, nin i hoken), your ETC pass for the toll expressways, etc., so be sure to make the appropriate updates.

The offices mentioned above are expected to be EXTREMELY busy for at least a week after February 13, so please plan your trip accordingly. They are also busy on Fridays and at the end of the month. Expect long lines. If you reserve a specific plate number, you will be given a "proof of reservation certificate" that is valid for up to one month, so you will not have to go to the office exactly on February 13.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tis the Season to Use Daiko

I mentioned "daiko" in an earlier post, so I thought it might be nice to give TsukuBlog readers some more information about this system.

Daiko (代行) is a special kind of taxi service with two taxi drivers and one car. If you call for a daiko, the two drivers will show up and one of them will drive your car (with you in it) back to your house. The other driver will follow in the taxi. Once you pay the driver of your car (usually not much more than a regular taxi fare), he or she hops into the waiting taxi and the daiko team go on to their next call. It is a perfect arrangement because you can go out drinking and never have to worry about getting your car home.

There are at least 15 daiko companies in Tsukuba, so there is no excuse not to use them! Print out this list and keep it in your wallet so you never have to worry. Also, if you are drinking at a restaurant or bar, they will often be happy to call a daiko company for you, so if you aren't sure of the address, or if you are not confident with your Japanese skills, this is also a good option.

Daiko Companies in Tsukuba

Chuo Daiko: 029-856-1820
Gakuen Unten Daiko Relief: 029-851-2709
Hoyu: 029-839-4554
Ichiban Unten Daiko: 0120-830-866
Jun Daiko: 029-858-2300
Kamon Unten Daiko: 029-857-1004
King Unten Daiko: 0120-973-375(029-859-1222)
Kokusai Unten Daiko: 029-859-0288
Masakazu Daiko: 029-859-5255
Mouse Unten Daiko: 029-839-1236
Nissan Unten Daiko Center: 029-847-6669
Tachibana Unten Daiko: 0120-76-0763
Trend Daiko: 029-838-2288
Tsukuba Unten Daiko Center: 029-857-2655
Yamato Unten Daiko: 0120-45-5646

Daiko companies often give out point cards so you can collect stamps every time you use a certain company. If you collect a certain number of stamps, you can get a discount (of 500 yen or thereabouts). An added advantage of having these stamp cards is that the phone number for the daiko company is on them, so you can keep the card tucked into your wallet and pull it out the next time you and your car need a lift.

Keep in mind that in Japan the legal limit for breath alcohol concentration is 0.15 mg/l breath (reduced from 0.25 mg/l breath in 2002). This is basically equivalent to "zero tolerance". If you drink, don't drive. Walk, take a taxi, stay over at a friend's house, or use the convenient daiko service.

More information on Japan's zero tolerance laws: The new traffic law and reduction of alcohol related fatal crashes in Japan


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Finding the cheapest gas in your neighborhood

Hi, all. I'd like to share my secret since Shaney brought up the gasoline prices on highways. You all know that the gas prices have gone down significantly in the past few months, but some places still charge a lot.

 I've been using General Express on R354 in Inarimae, next to a camera shop since it opened. It's a self-service gas station and the cheapest one in the area. The last time I checked, the gas price there was 118yen per liter. I'm sure that some of the TsukuBlog readers are familiar with this, but you can pay by using the "Speedpass" when you buy gas at this gas station. It's very convenient when you are in a hurry!

The only problem with this gas station is that since this is the cheapest place to fill up the tank, it gets crowded very often. I think its location being so close to Inarimae Intersection is making the situation worse. I've had quite unpleasant experiences with hot-tempered drivers at this gas station, so I always try to go there very late at night or early in the morning. It's open until midnight though it used to be open 24-hours.

Another cheap gas station is also on R354. If you head to Tsuchiura from Tsukuba on R354, you'll see a small gas station on your right soon after you drive past Joban Expressway Sakura Tsuchiura Exit. This gas station also has the lowest gas price in the area.

If you can read Japanese, I recommend checking out gogo.gs, a comparison-shop site. A list of gas stations in Ibaraki is here. Some of the prices listed are the member rates, but as far as I know, you don't need to be a member to get the lowest price at the gas station in Inarimae.

As the Christmas/New Year's break approaching, I really hope the gas prices won't go up like they did in summer!

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Cheaper Gasoline on the Expressways?

Q: Is gasoline really cheaper on the expressways?

A: Sometimes.

There is a maximum gas price that is set once a month and the gas stations on the expressways (like Joban Expressway) do not increase their prices at all during a particular month. The maximum price is set by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) at the end of the previous month. You can see the price on this site. The reason for this is that the number of gas stations on the expressways is extremely limited, so drivers do not have a choice of which station to use when they need to fill up their tanks. If the gas stations could set their own prices, it would be possible for them to set unreasonable prices and the consumers wouldn't be able to do anything about it, since the next station might be 100km ahead. (Also, cars that run out of gas often cause accidents, so it is better not to encourage drivers to shop around for the best price.)

So, this means that if gas prices went up this month as compared to last month, you might be able to get cheaper gas on the expressway than on the regular roads. However, the opposite is also true: if gas prices went down this month, the gas on the expressway will be more expensive.

The prices for regular gas in November and December were 140 yen and 136 yen respectively.

(Note that this only applies to gas stations on the expressways. Regular gas stations do not have to follow this rule.)

Source: Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) Magazine, November 2006

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Handle Keeper

The Japan Traffic Safety Association (JTSA) has started a new campaign to encourage partygoers to designate a specific person to be the (non-drinking) driver in the group. In English (or, at least, in Canada), we call such people the "designated driver" or "DD". JTSA wants Japanese people to call them "handle keepers". It's a silly name (I am always unimpressed with fake English), and I don't think the idea will have much success in Japan for two reasons.

1. There are already many different ways for people to get home after drinking: walking, trains (in Tokyo), taxis, daiko (taxi system with two drivers -- one driver and you go in your car and the other driver follows you to pick up the first driver when you get to your destination). The daiko system is perfect because it is fairly cheap (about the same as a regular taxi) and it means that you don't have to figure out a way to get your car back to your house in the morning. I think the designated driver system in Canada evolved out of the fact that we don't have daikos. Trying to imitate the DD system is a step backwards.

2. It is not a very "Japanese" idea to single one person out of the group and to give that person the huge responsibility of ensuring the safety of all of the members of the group. This kind of burden is not accepted lightly here.

I am usually the designated driver in my group of friends because I don't really like to drink very often. I am not opposed to the idea of designated drivers, and I am certainly in favour of anything that gets drunk drivers off the road, but I think that this "handle keeper" program is a little off the mark.

Handle keeper page on JTSA website: http://www.jtsa.or.jp/topics/T-71.html (in Japanese)

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Friday, November 24, 2006

IC-Chips in Licenses

Japanese driver's licenses will have IC chips embedded in them as of January 2, 2007.

The IC chip will make the cards more difficult to fake and will include information such as place of birth, which means that such private information will not be visible on the card. There will also be a PIN associated with the card which should improve its security features. It is thought that the use of the card will increase due to this new feature.

The PIN will consist of two four digit numbers (####-####) that you will choose yourself, but once chosen, will not be possible to change. If you enter an incorrect code three times, you will have to return the card to the Mito licensing center or a local police station. You are strongly encouraged not to use numbers related to your birthday, address, phone number, license number, or license plate number, numbers that are too simple (1111 or 1234), numbers that are too convenient (7000), or double use of the same number (3512-3512).

People who obtain their licenses after January 4, 2007 will automatically be given the new IC-chip license. People who already have their licenses will be given the new license when they renew their current license.

The fees related to license will be increased by 450 yen due to the embedding of the IC chip.

Obtaining your first license: 2100 yen
Renewing your license: 2550 yen
Replacing your license: 3650 yen

There will be no change to current procedures for obtaining licenses as a result of the embedded IC chip.

If you have any questions, please contact the Ibaraki Prefectural Licensing Center at 029-293-8811. They are open from 8:30am to 5:15pm on weekdays. (It is unlikely that they will provide service in English.)

Source: Ibaraki Prefectural Police site