Thirty million people commute by train each day in Tokyo, and among wealthy cities, the Japanese capital has the lowest car use in the world. In this excerpt from his book, Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse and What to Do About It, Daniel Knowles explains how and why Tokyo was built to be human-centric and relatively car-free, making it an unexpectedly calm major city that’s functional but also pleasant to walk and live in.
And even if you are willing to pay all of the taxes, you cannot simply go and buy a car in the way that you might in most countries. To be allowed to purchase a car, you have to be able to prove that you have somewhere to park it. This approval is issued by the local police, and is known as a shakoshomeisho, or “garage certificate.” Without one, you cannot buy a car. This helps to explain why the Japanese buy so many tiny cars, like the so-called Kei cars. It means they can have smaller garages. Even if the law didn’t exist though, owning a car in Japan without having a dedicated parking space for it would be a nightmare. Under a nationwide law passed in 1957, overnight street parking of any sort is completely illegal. So if you were to somehow buy a car with no place to store it, you could not simply park it on the street, because it would get towed the next morning, and you would get fined 200,000 yen (around $1,700). In fact, most street parking of any sort is illegal. There are a few exceptions, but more than 95 percent of Japanese streets have no street parking at all, even during the day.