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.
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.
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.
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.
I rode home under the cherry blossoms feeling good.