Vehicle registration plates of Japan

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In Japan, the national government issues vehicle registration plates for motor vehicles through the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Land Transportation Offices nationwide. However, the local municipality rather than the national government registers certain vehicles with small engine displacements.

The number on the top line is a vehicle class code which begins with a 0 through 9 to indicate specific vehicle classification. This is signified by the length, width and height of the vehicle as well as engine displacement. Broadly speaking, passenger automobiles with engine displacements at or smaller than 2000 cc receive 5-series plates, while passenger automobiles with engine displacements larger than 2,000 cc (120 cu in) or more receive 3-series license plates.

foreign diplomatic plate with 外
foreign diplomatic plate with encircled 外

Official vehicles of the Imperial household are exempt from the requirement to display such plates. Official vehicles of the Self-Defense Forces, foreign diplomats, and the U.S. military are required to display other plates.

Night image of jikō-shiki (literally "character-glowing type", which means illuminated letters) plate, as might be issued in Osaka

The plates are installed on both the front and rear of the vehicle, with the rear plate permanently attached to the vehicle with a prefecture seal completely covering one of the attaching plate bolts. The plate is only removed when the vehicle has reached the end of service and has been sold for scrap, or exported. New vehicles are not delivered to the purchaser until the plates have been attached at the dealership.

Since November 1, 1970, a "jikō-shiki" (字光式) plate has been offered for private vehicles at the owner's request. The green characters on this type of plate are replaced with molded green plastic that can be illuminated from behind the plate. From May 19, 1998, specific numbers can also be requested if the numbers are not already in use. From 2010, these are also available in blue version of vehicle registration plates started in 1973.

The international vehicle registration code for Japan is J.


Class Engine (cc displacement) Plate color Text color Plate dimensions
Private vehicle >660 White Green Medium or large
Commercial vehicle >660 Green White Medium or large
Lightweight private (kei car) <660 Yellow Black Medium
Lightweight commercial <660 Black Yellow Medium
Microcar 0–49 Sky Blue* Blue Extra small
2 wheel 0–49 White* Blue Extra small
2 wheel 50–89 Yellow* Blue Extra small
2 wheel 90–124 Pink* Blue Extra small
2 wheel 125–249 White Green Small
2 wheel ≥250 White, green border Green Small

* These plates are issued by municipal governments.

44x22 cm (17.3x8.7 inch)
(for over 8 tons vehicle, or capacity of 30 people or more)
33x16.5 cm (13x6.5 inch)
23x12.5 cm (9x4.9 inch)
Extra small
about 20x10 cm (7.8x3.9 inch)
(differs according to each municipality)

Until 31 December 1974, kei cars had small green and white license plates. After this date, they received medium plates, now in black and yellow to distinguish them from regular cars.

Private vehicles Commercial vehicles
Compact or Large vehicles and motorbikes (displacements <250 cm³) Japanese green on white license plate.png Japanese white on green license plate.png
Kei car Japanese black on yellow license plate.png Japanese yellow on black license plate.png
2-wheeled vehicle ≥250 cm³ Japanese motorcycle license plate.png X

Please note that, to avoid any claims of invasion of privacy, the artist of these pictures has deliberately selected an invalid combination of characters.

The illustration shows what a plate might look like. The top line contains the name of the issuing office (Tama, shown, is in Tokyo) and a vehicle class code. The bottom line contains a hiragana character and a four-digit serial number divided into two groups of two digits separated by a hyphen. Any leading zeros are replaced by centered dots.

White plates can have the following hiragana (bold indicates rental vehicle characters):


Green plates can have the following hiragana:


Some characters, including ones with a dakuten or a handakuten, cannot be used on any plates, including the yellow and black ones:


A license plate in Japan thus follows this format: KK?*H##-## (e.g., 足立500き21-41), where KK is the name of the issuing office in kanji, H is a hiragana, ? is a 5 for vehicles less than 2000 cc and a 3 for vehicles greater than 2000 cc (other numbers are less common—1 for large trucks, 2 for buses, etc.[1]), * is a number from 0 to 99 (pre-1971 license plates will omit this), and # is a number from 0* to 9 (*leading zeros are replaced by centered dots).

Special use plates[edit]

license plate of the Imperial House of Japan

Vehicles owned by personnel with the United States military in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) have a "Y" on white plates, or an "A" on yellow plates, where the hiragana character is normally displayed. Earlier versions of the SOFA license plate displayed the letters "K", "M", "G", "H" and "E". These letters indicated the car was imported into Japan under SOFA and was left-hand drive. Today, cars with an "E" indicate that Japanese sales tax has not been paid and the vehicle will not remain in Japan when the military member departs. Since the 1980s, military commands have discouraged servicemembers assigned to Japan from shipping their vehicles from the U.S. into the country, so this is rarely seen. Military members who retire in Japan use the hiragana "よ". Many opt to purchase second-hand domestic vehicles through used car dealers off-base, and from other servicemembers departing Japan at on-base "lemon lots".[2]

Out of country plates[edit]

NHK announced in early 2009 that prefectures may now choose their own color scheme and possibly pattern. This is already being done with the motorcycle plates for Matsuyama, Ehime.

Because the Japanese writing system, particularly the kana, is unique to Japan, standard-issue Japanese license plates are considered unacceptable for international travel. If motorists wish to take their vehicles abroad with them, the Ministry of Transport will issue them with plates with the hiragana and kanji scripts replaced by Roman letters. The hiragana prefix is replaced by a Kunrei-shiki romanization of that character. The kanji prefecture/office code is replaced by a two- or three-letter abbreviation, the first two letters representing the prefecture, the third (if present) representing the office within the prefecture. All the numerical portions of the plate remain the same.

Using the example given above, the plate (足立500き21-41) would then read TKA 500 KI 21-41 (TKA for Tokyo Adachi).

Vehicle class code system[3][edit]

In addition to plate size and color, Japanese plates since 1962 have identified the vehicle type (signified by length, width and height as well as engine displacement) by use of a vehicle class code signified by a number on the top line of the plate for all vehicles with three or more wheels. The vehicle class code system is not widely understood outside of Japan, and as a result, Japanese vehicles displaying "vanity" Japanese license plates at overseas shows and events are often unwittingly misrepresented.

Motorbikes and other two wheeled vehicles do not use this system.

In 1967, double digit vehicle codes were introduced for the first time, once all previous possible combinations were used. For example, 3 would become 33, and then 34, 35, etc. This began in October 1967 in the more populous prefectures initially for the most common vehicle classes such as 3 and 5. In April 1971 all vehicle codes become double digit across the country. Double digit codes finally stopped being issued in 1999.

By the early 1970s, three wheeled passenger cars were no longer in production and some prefectures began to issue the double digit codes 77, 78 and 79 as an 'overflow series' for passenger cars 2000cc and under. This practice stopped in 1999.

By May 1998, some prefectures were beginning to run out of all possible combinations of double digit vehicle codes for the most common classes (notably 5 and 7) and began issuing triple digit vehicle codes.

1962-71 1967-99 1998- Description
1 11, 1x 1xx Truck with displacement larger than 2000cc
2 22, 2x 2xx Small to medium bus
3 33, 3x 3xx Passenger car with displacement larger than 2000cc
4 44 through 49 4xx Truck, van or station wagon with displacement from 660cc to 2000cc
5 55, 5x 5xx Passenger car with displacement from 660cc to 2000cc
6 66, 6x 6xx Three wheeled truck with displacement less than 360cc
7 Three wheeled passenger car
77 through 79 Passenger car with displacement from 660cc to 2000cc ('overflow' series)
8 88, 8x 800 Special vehicle requiring yearly inspection with displacement greater than 660cc
9 99 900 Tractor or forklift
0 00 000 Construction equipment

Transportation offices and markings[edit]

In 2006, several new location names, known as Gotōchi (ご当地, local place) numbers, were approved by the MLIT for places that wanted to increase their recognition for purposes such as tourism. Criteria included the need for 100,000 vehicles in the area and the avoidance of an imbalance in the prefecture. The new locations began appearing in 2006 on plates for vehicles registered in certain specific cities, towns and villages in or near the places marked below in green.

Issuing office Marking Former markings
Prefecture Municipality Jpn Transliteration Intl
Aichi Komaki 尾張小牧 Owari-Komaki ACO
一宮 Ichinomiya ACI
春日井 Kasugai ACK
Nagoya 名古屋 Nagoya ACN 愛 (AC)
Toyohashi 豊橋 Toyohashi ACT
Toyota 三河 Mikawa ACM
岡崎 Okazaki ACZ
豊田 Toyota ACY
Akita Akita 秋田 Akita ATA 秋 (AT)
Aomori Aomori 青森 Aomori AMA 青 (AM)
Hachinohe 八戸 Hachinohe AMH
Chiba Chiba 千葉 Chiba CBC 千 (CB)
成田 Narita CBT
Funabashi 習志野 Narashino CBN
Noda 野田 Noda CBD
Kashiwa CBK
Sodegaura 袖ヶ浦 Sodegaura CBS
Ehime Matsuyama 愛媛 Ehime EH
Fukui Fukui 福井 Fukui FI
Fukuoka Fukuoka 福岡 Fukuoka FOF 福 (FO)
Iizuka 筑豊 Chikuhō FOC
Kitakyushu 北九州 Kitakyūshū FOK
Kurume 久留米 Kurume FOR
Fukushima Fukushima 福島 Fukushima FS
会津 Aizu FSA
郡山 Kōriyama FSK
Iwaki いわき Iwaki FSI
Gifu Gifu 岐阜 Gifu GFG 岐 (GF)
Takayama 飛騨 Hida GFH
Gunma Maebashi 群馬 Gunma GMG 群 (GM)
前橋 Maebashi GMM
高崎 Takasaki GMT
Hiroshima Fukuyama 福山 Fukuyama HSF
Hiroshima 広島 Hiroshima HSH 広 (HS)
Hokkaidō Asahikawa 旭川 Asahikawa AKA 旭 (AK)
Hakodate 函館 Hakodate HDH 函 (HD)
Kitami 北見 Kitami KIK 北 (KI)
Kushiro 釧路 Kushiro KRK 釧 (KR)
Muroran 室蘭 Muroran MRM 室 (MR)
Obihiro 帯広 Obihiro OHO 帯 (OH)
Sapporo 札幌 Sapporo SPS 札 (SP)
Hyōgo Himeji 姫路 Himeji HGH
Kobe 神戸 Kōbe HGK 兵 (HG)
Ibaraki Mito 水戸 Mito IGM 茨城 (IGI), 茨 (IG)
Tsuchiura 土浦 Tsuchiura IGT
つくば Tsukuba IGK
Ishikawa Kanazawa 石川 Ishikawa IKI 石 (IK)
金沢 Kanazawa IKK
Iwate Yahaba 岩手 Iwate ITI 岩 (IT)
平泉 Hiraizumi ITH
盛岡 Morioka ITM
Kagawa Takamatsu 香川 Kagawa KAK 香 (KA)
Kagoshima Kagoshima 鹿児島 Kagoshima KOK 鹿 (KO)
奄美 Amami KOA
Kanagawa Aikawa 相模 Sagami KNS
Hiratsuka 湘南 Shōnan KNN
Kawasaki 川崎 Kawasaki KNK
Yokohama 横浜 Yokohama KNY 神 (KN)
Kōchi Kōchi 高知 Kōchi KCK 高 (KC)
Kumamoto Kumamoto 熊本 Kumamoto KUK 熊 (KU)
Kyoto Kyoto 京都 Kyōto KTK 京 (KT)
Mie Tsu 三重 Mie MEM 三 (ME)
鈴鹿 Suzuka MES
Miyagi Sendai 宮城 Miyagi MGM 宮 (MG)
仙台 Sendai MGS
Miyazaki Miyazaki 宮崎 Miyazaki MZ
Nagano Matsumoto 松本 Matsumoto NNM
諏訪 Suwa NNS
Nagano 長野 Nagano NNN 長 (NN)
Nagasaki Nagasaki 長崎 Nagasaki NS
Sasebo 佐世保 Sasebo NSS
Nara Yamatokōriyama 奈良 Nara NRN 奈 (NR)
Niigata Nagaoka 長岡 Nagaoka NGO
Niigata 新潟 Niigata NGN 新 (NG)
Ōita Ōita 大分 Ōita OT
Okayama Okayama 岡山 Okayama OYO 岡 (OY)
倉敷 Kurashiki OYK
Okinawa Ishigaki 沖縄 Okinawa ONO 沖 (ON)
Osaka Izumi 和泉 Izumi OSZ 泉 (OSI)
Sakai OSS
Neyagawa 大阪 Ōsaka OSO 大 (OS)
Osaka なにわ Naniwa OSN
Saga Saga 佐賀 Saga SAS 佐 (SA)
Saitama Kasukabe 春日部 Kasukabe STB
越谷 Koshigaya STY
Kumagaya 熊谷 Kumagaya STK
Saitama 大宮 Ōmiya STO 埼玉 (STS), 埼 (ST)
川口 Kawaguchi STW
Tokorozawa 所沢 Tokorozawa STT
川越 Kawagoe STG
Shiga Moriyama 滋賀 Shiga SIS 滋 (SI)
Shimane Shimane 島根 Shimane SN 嶋 (SM)
Shizuoka Hamamatsu 浜松 Hamamatsu SZH
Numazu 沼津 Numazu SZN
富士山 Fujisan SZF
伊豆 Izu SZI
Shizuoka 静岡 Shizuoka SZS 静 (SZ)
Tochigi Sano とちぎ Tochigi TCK
Utsunomiya 宇都宮 Utsunomiya TGU 栃木 (TGT), 栃 (TG)
那須 Nasu TGN
Tokushima Tokushima 徳島 Tokushima TST 徳 (TS)
Tokyo Adachi 足立 Adachi TKA 足 (TOA)
Hachiōji 八王子 Hachiōji TKH
Kunitachi 多摩 Tama TKT 多 (TOT)
Nerima 練馬 Nerima TKN 練 (TON)
杉並 Suginami TKM
Shinagawa 品川 Shinagawa, Ogasawara TKS 品 (TOS)
世田谷 Setagaya TKG
Tottori Tottori 鳥取 Tottori TTT 鳥 (TT)
Toyama Toyama 富山 Toyama TYT 富 (TY)
Wakayama Wakayama 和歌山 Wakayama WKW 和 (WK)
Yamagata Mikawa 庄内 Shōnai YAS
Yamagata 山形 Yamagata YA
Yamaguchi Yamaguchi 山口 Yamaguchi YUY 山 (YU)
下関 Shimonoseki YUS
Yamanashi Fuefuki 山梨 Yamanashi YN
富士山 Fujisan YNF

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vehicle Code System since 1962 - Japanese License Plates Archived 2006-11-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ How to Purchase and Register a Vehicle Archived 2008-07-15 at the Wayback Machine, Web site of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62).
  3. ^ "Vehicle Code System since 1962 - Japanese License Plates". 2006-11-21. Archived from the original on 2006-11-21. Retrieved 2018-04-24. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)

External links[edit]