Today we'll learn about what exactly the District Transport Bureaus handle, what they don't handle, and, down there at the bottom of the article, how to find your nearest branch.
*Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism
Doesn't it realize how obnoxiously long its chosen English name is? This is the same country, mind you, that has gobs and gobs of application forms that don't accommodate anyone with a full name longer than 6 characters, including plenty of online forms that return a "your name is too long" error.
Anyway, when you buy a car, the District Transport Bureau is the place where you take said car to have its registered name changed (if you bought from an individual) or to have it newly registered in your name (if it is a new car from a dealer or if the dealer removed the previous owner's name and plates from the car before selling). This is the authority that issues the coveted 車検証 (しゃけんしょう) and Japan's vehicle registration plates (a.k.a. license plates, registration plates, ナンバープレート).
However, the bureau only issues these items for full-sized vehicles. Yellow-plate Kei cars report to a different authority: The Light Motor Vehicle Inspection Organization, or 軽自動車検査協会 (けいじどうしゃけんさきょうかい). In most areas, the Light Vehicle Organization will have it's offices located nearby the larger District Transport Bureau, so effectively the place you need to go to is the same, just the desks you wait at and the paperwork you fill out differs. Registering a Kei car is also, I hear, a quicker process than that of a full sized auto.
By the way, if you buy a car from a dealer and ask them to take care of the plates for you, this is exactly the same place that the dealer must bring the car. In fact, the vast majority of people waiting in lines and sitting on benches at these offices are car dealer employees. When you ask a dealer to do it for you, you pay for the employee's time and transport, whereas if you change plates yourself, the processing fees usually don't exceed the 2500-3000 yen range. (Of course, it also costs you your time.)
Unlike the DMV in the U.S., the issuance of driver's licenses and vehicle registration plates are handled by separate authorities in Japan. A driver's license in Japan comes from the Driver's License Center, 運転免許センター (うんてんめんきょせんたー). In regions without a Driver's License Center, some procedures (renewal, change of name, change of address, etc.) may be handled by a local police station, but the initial license is always issued by the Driver's License Center.
If you want to try your hand at "self-shaken," the District Transport Bureau is also the place to go for that. One of the buildings in the bureau will have a large auto pit where cars can be taken for shaken inspection. Garages and mechanics that offer shaken services are licensed by this bureau and perform the same set of inspections on each vehicle. The difference in price between hired shaken and self-shaken is a matter of knowledge and convenience. To do a self-shaken you don't need to know a terrible amount about cars, but you do need to know how to go through the procedures at the bureau. More importantly, you will need the time (during weekdays, usually applications are accepted from about 9:00-16:00) to take your car to the bureau and have the inspections done yourself. A garage or a mechanic, on the other hand, may do it on a weekend and hang on to your car until it's convenient for you to pick it up.
Has anyone else noticed a trending in Japan for people to pay to have something done rather than learn how to do it themselves?
The region a District Transport Bureau or a Light Motor Vehicle Inspection Organization administers isn't exactly proportionate to a prefectural government (as it would be in, say, the U.S.). That's why there are more types of vehicle plates in Japan than prefectures; if you live in the right area you can have your vehicle plate say something cool like 富士山, 六本木, or 鈴鹿.
Usually there will be several bureaus in a prefecture based around its centers of population. If you live in the boonies, unfortunately this could mean that the bureau that administers your area is a two or three hour drive away. Check out these handy websites for a complete listing of all branches of the District Transport Bureau and all branches of the Light Motor Vehicle Inspection Organization, including access maps and operating hours.