User Shaken

No, that isn’t the past participle of “shake”, although the experience did shake me a bit. Shaken (車検) is the Japanese vehicle test to get the endorsement sticker for one’s license plate, similar to emissions tests in the States, but far more comprehensive, and far more expensive. (I can’t tell you how hard it was not to title this one “shaken not stirred.”) I put my bike through the test today, and the story of my valiant struggle may be useful if you, like me, have quasi-legal modifications to your bike, or if you, like me, are a frackin’ dumbass.

Most people have professional mechanics put their cars and bikes through the test, and get charged several hundred dollars extra for it. Doing it yourself is called “user shaken“, and I decided to take the challenge this time and save myself some money. What could go wrong?

  • Mistake number one: waiting until mid-month to make a reservation.

By the time I used their new online reservation system, the only opening left was the last spot on the afternoon of the 31st. This left me no margin for error, and helped lead to my later problems.

  • Mistake number two: obsessing over my quasi-legal muffler.

My exhaust (Vance & Hines Pro Pipe) is at or possibly slightly over the legal db limit, but I spent all morning doing all sorts of improbable things to it to make sure it was safely below, only to get through the test without them even asking me to start the engine.

I got to the testing center and got through the mountains of paperwork, bought the required maintenance record notebook that you have to have with you but that is completely ignored, paid the testing fee, the vehicle weight tax, and the compulsory automobile liability insurance, and finally lined up for the test.
lined up for the slaughter
This is where I realized . . .

  • Mistake number three: forgetting to change the damn seat.

I always ride with a solo seat. The bike is registered as a two-seater. I have a two-up seat that I’ve used for previous tests. It takes two minutes to change the seats. I spent several hours farting around with the muffler this morning, when taking those two minutes to switch the seat around would have saved me hours of hassle. Dumbass.

First up, brake test. Put the wheels on rolling drums and then hit the brakes when the drums get up to speed. brake tester
No problem.

Next, chassis check. Smiling and nice old guy doing the test. General visual check: OK. Winkers, brake light, highbeam switch: OK. Banging on various parts of the bike with a stick to see if anything’s loose: OK. “Move on.” Whew, he didn’t even notice the solo seat!

Weaselfaced dude runs up. “You forgot to measure the bike!” Now I’m nervous. Height check, width check, length check: OK. I’ve registered the mods since extending the forks and raising the handlebars. “What’s the registered number of passengers? No rear seat? Fail.” Damn. Why’d this guy have to be competent? “You can see the white bulb through the red lens of your brake light. Fail.” Huh? Isn’t that normal?

The guys at my local bike shop told me I should try to use my whiteboy privilege, what is known as the gaijin license, to get out of any problems. . .

  • Mistake number four: Listening to those guys.

I follow their advice and affect a heavy American accent and pretend not to understand what he’s telling me very well. No dice. Nobody’s getting special treatment on this guy’s watch.

It’s 3pm. Testing center closes at 4. I call my wife to see if there’s any way she can bring the seat to me in time, but it’s just too far away. I’m going to have to take another day off work, go to city hall to apply for a temporary license plate, and it’ll be weeks before I can legally ride my bike! Well, I might as well finish the test so next time I can just fix those two things and be done with it.

Next, headlight angle and brightness check. A weird little droid thing comes out and adjusts its height to the light from my headlight.
headlight aimer droid
“Too high. Adjust it and go through again.”

Second try, different tester guy. “Still a little too high, and the lens is illegal. Fail.” By this time I’m so flustered I forget to be Stupid American, and I answer him in fluent Japanese. Luckily, with this guy, that was the correct answer.
“Oh, you understand me? The real problem is you’ve got a U.S. lens on that light, sending your highbeams off to the right, into oncoming traffic. Come around one more time, and tilt your handlebars a little during the test, and I might be able to tweak it to get you a passing result.”

Third try, same guy. OK! “But make sure you get a new lens next time.” This guy seems both competent and helpful, so I ask his advice about the seat and brakelight. “Go to a convenience store and buy a red magic marker and smear it all over the bulb and inside of the lens. If you always ride solo anyway, I can tweak the paperwork so you’ve got a passing one-seater rather than a failing two-seater.” Wizard Cocksucker!

For a while there, it looked like I was going to have to go without my bike during some of the best riding weather of the year, but it all worked out in the end. I rushed to the convenience store, slapped on the magic marker, and slid back into the testing center 2 minutes before 4 o’clock.

Forms and maintenance notebook: 198 yen
Vehicle weight tax and testing fee: 6400 yen
Compulsory automobile liability insurance: 20150 yen
Red magic marker: 142 yen
Avoiding the predictable punchline at the end of a list of prices: difficult.

Altogether nearly 300 US dollars for a little blue sticker, but I’m legal for another two years.
expensive sticker
I rode home under the cherry blossoms feeling good.

9 thoughts on “User Shaken

  1. Ben, I’m glad we don’t have to go through that JCI here next door. My inspection was $4.00 and took all of 2 minutes. All they wanted to see was the hazard, winkers, high/low beam, brake and horn. I have to do it every year before I re-register the bike for US Forces Korea wich is a pain in the butt.

    The plus side too is that I gon’t have to pay road tax every six months either. For the Koreans it’s outright robbery for a foreign car or motorcycle.

  2. Starbucks had a “Shaken tea” last year. I eventually learned that this was tea that they shook up in a cup with fruit juice or something like that. But at first I was thinking, “What does tea have to do with shaken?”

  3. I feel for you. I know the nightmares of shaken, and the obsession of details like,…’you don’t have the right shape tires for your crappy K-jidousha van.’ Anyways, I’m now a biker here in the US, and I’m thinkin’ about moving back to Japan. If and when I do, I’ll certainly get a Japanese custom, like a tricked out SR or a GB Clubman. Now if you look at magazines like Custom Burning, or Street Bikers, none of those bikes would come close to passing ANY of the tests you mentioned above. I’m curious if you know what dudes that ride ‘full customs’ like that do about shaken. Any thoughts or knowledge? Thanks.

  4. Mike,
    Most of the people with really radical customization spend weeks before shaken remodifying their bikes just enough to pass the tests. Most people keep the original parts so they can switch back temporarily once every two years. It helps that the testers don’t seem to care when it’s obvious that you’ve just tweaked your vehicle for the test. In the parking lot of the testing center, you sometimes see mechanics with several bikes and one set of stock mufflers switching them between the bikes before running each through.

    Stinger used to own a Trimuph where, to pass the test, km/h marks were scribbled on the speedometer in magic marker at random spacing. And a friend of mine, when she realized the didn’t have the seat strap necessary for her passenger seat, was told to take off her belt, slide it under the seat, and go back through. They only care whether you have technically passed the rules on the day you test, not whether your vehicle is usually legal.

  5. Hey there Big Ben! It’s good to see a site like this on the net when everything else related to Japan is written in the local language. I’ve been working on my Japanese for 2 years now but kanji still throws me for a loop!

    You mentioned that you had to re-register your bike after doing some mods (handlebars, forks, etc.). I’m 6’4″ and need to do the same with my Yamaha DragStar 1100 after purchasing an extension kit for the footpegs, installing some aftermarket footboards, changing the pipes, and installing some new handlebars with risers in the near future. How did you go about updating the title legally and how did you measure the dB level on your pipes (or was that just by ear)?

    I wish I could join some of the groups out there on the mainland but I’m stuck here on this rock of Okinawa for at least the next year. After that it also looks like I’ll be at the mercy of the U.S. military until I retire in about 11 years. I’d like to think that a rain-check is possible, when I finally have the opportunity to ride in Japan again, but that’s quite a wait! I guess I’ll just have to enjoy the sites from my computer by enjoying your posted pictures. Thanks for the site again!

  6. Brian,
    The registration for modification is done as part of the shaken procedure. They’ve got two forms, one for vehicles with new modifications and one for vehicles without. Most bike shops will do it for you, or you can do it yourself, but there is a lot of kanji involved.

    As for dB levels, they only measure you if you’re obviously over the level, so just make sure the bike isn’t too loud, or switch mufflers for the test.

    Thanks for the kind words about the site.

  7. Planning on doing my own shaken tomorrow. The bike shops want over a week and ~80000yen and I figure I can do it for half a day off work and less than 40000yen, and get my bike back faster. Plus I don’t have to worry about the shop trying to get me to repair things which the testing center could care less about.

    Thanks for the info – helped me decide to do it myself.

  8. Did it! Went and got my shaken renewed myself. Grand total, about 27000 yen for my 400cc bike – 20000 for 2 year’s insurance and the rest in taxes. (It’s little more for a bigger bike I guess). But still, saved myself a LOT of money from the 80000 yen the bike shop was asking.
    Basically it went like this.. I brought all the necessary papers (insurance, old shaken, proof of tax payment) to the Tokyo shaken branch in Shinagawa, filled out a bunch of forms and was told to go to lane 2 of the testing center. Aside from waiting for the people in front of me (which didn’t take long), the actual testing took under 10 minutes. They did/tested the following:
    1. Banged my forks and some belts with a mallet to make sure things were stuck together
    2. All lights working properly
    3. Speedometer test
    4. Front brake test
    5. Rear brake test
    6. Headlight offset test (on high beam only)
    7. Exhaust test (CO and HC)
    Unfortunately the first time around I failed the HC (Hydrocarbon) test. They told me to really warm up my engine and turn up the idle speed, so I went for a bit of a ride, put the idle up to 3000rpm, came back and they pulled me right to the front of the line to just redo the exhaust test. Second time round I passed no problem and voila! I was done.

    Total 1 hour at the testing center, and I saved over 50000yen. Time well spent if you ask me! I highly recommend doing it yourself if you speak Japanese or can get somebody to fill in all the forms for you.

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