Times Car Plus – Affordable Car Sharing for City Dwellers

Written by: William on October 3, 2014 at 7:40 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This article by Greg Lane first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

While it’s great not needing to own a car in Tokyo (with all the incumbent expenses) there’s no question that it can be fun or sometimes necessary (big shopping trips) to get behind the wheel. That’s where car sharing services – like Times Car Plus – come in really handy, and for much less money than you might expect.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus

Times Car Plus is a service run by the company that operates the Times Car 24 parking lots which seem to sprout up on vacant land whenever a building gets demolished. There are literally thousands of locations dotted throughout the metropolis and beyond, so there is more than likely one nearby wherever you are in Tokyo. While the carparks are almost ubiquitous, not all of them have Times Car Plus cars available. Small parking lots may have only 1 or 2 cars while the bigger ones may have up to 10 or more cars available.

Getting Signed Up

Although sign-up and reservation is all in Japanese (if you don’t read Japanese, you’ll definitely need a friend to help). When you sign-up, you’ll have the option of joining as a corporate member or as an individual. If you have your own company in Japan, you’re best to sign-up as a company as it’s cheaper. Individual membership fees are ¥1,030 a month while the company plan has no monthly fees. The individual plan however, does include ¥1,030 worth of free driving each month, so if you use it regularly it will balance out.

After you’ve entered your information in the website, you’ll be given a few options to complete the membership. The fastest way is to head to the one of the Times Car Plus offices with your Japanese driver’s license. If everything is OK, they’ll hand you your membership card – which you need to unlock the cars.

How It Works

Reserving the car is relatively easy – even if you don’t speak much Japanese. Just install the Android or iPhone app, play with the map until you find a car nearby that meets your search criteria and then click the reserve button. This is where the system breaks down slightly – you’ll be sent to the mobile web page (which you’ll need to sign-in to) to complete your booking. When it’s time to pick up your car, head to the designated car park, put your card over the touch scanner on the back window and then climb in. The car will then start talking to you, telling you to remove the key from the device in the glove box. Then, you’re free to drive off. When you return it (to the same car park) you just do this in reverse.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus
Using the map, you can find nearby cars that fit your search criteria, then book them.

The Charges

Times Car Plus has a super simple system for charging. If you just want to grab a car and start driving, the cost is ¥206 for each 15-minute interval. So if you drive around for an hour, you’ll be charged ¥824. There are no charges for fuel or mileage. If you need to fill up, there is a fuel card attached to the driver side visor which you can use almost anywhere. If you do stop to fill up, they even give you a 15-minute free bonus. The ¥206 fee is for what they term “basic” cars – Suzuki Swifts, Mazda Demios and even larger Toyota Prius and Honda Fit Shuttles. If you want a “premium” car, the pay as you go fee is ¥412 for each 15-minute interval. The premium cars include BMW 116s, Mini One Crossovers, all electric Nissan Leafs (leaves?) and Audi A1s. However, if you reserve one of the longer time packs, you can get the premium cars for the same price as the basic ones. For example, if you get the 6-hour pack, you can choose any car you like and the total stays at ¥4,020. The only condition is that the premium cars are popular, so you should make sure you reserve early.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus
Nothing like a Chiba traffic jam to remind you how awesome the train system is.

After you’ve completed your trip, you’ll be sent an email summary of your trip – with surprising detail. Listed, is the total time of rental, distance covered, maximum speed reached (I hit 99mk/h), emergency accelerations (apparently I had two), emergency braking (zero) and any subsequent penalties. The fact that it records everything means you should think very carefully before opening up the throttle on a deserted country road. As the maximum speed limit in Japan is 100km/h, presumably if I had gone a few kilometres an hour faster, I would have incurred a penalty.

Special Deals

In addition to the 6 hour pack, there are 12-hour packs, 24-hour packs, early night packs, late night packs and all night (strangely termed “double night”) packs – each with a mileage component. They also run regular campaigns. For example, there is currently a whole weekend pack during autumn for approx. ¥9,000. Generally, for longer rental periods, you may find places like Niconico Rentacar to be better value.

So how is it?

It generally works really well. However, you are sharing the car with others, so you’re hoping that the previous occupants cleaned up properly after themselves. On my first experience, the car was spotless. On the second, it contained rubbish, empty drink containers, food crumbs and even two boxes of cigarettes – all of which I had to throw away. After you’ve returned the car, Times Car Plus sends you an email asking about the state of the car which gives you the chance to tell them that it contained rubbish – so presumably the previous driver will get a black mark against their membership or some kind of penalty.

The actual driving is more fun than I expected. Tokyo’s blade runner style road system with tunnels, multilevel bridges and elevated motorways taller than a 10-storey building and toll booths every 5 minutes can seem intimidating, but you’ll likely find traffic levels much lower to what you’re used to at home and finding your way around isn’t difficult at all. If you can’t use the Japanese sat nav system, Google Maps turn by turn instructions also work pretty well.

Alternatives

Car sharing has really taken off in Japan recently. In addition to Times Car Plus, there is Orix Car Sharing and a another company called Careco – both of which partner with other car park providers to offer similar services so if Times Car Plus is not available near you, these may be good alternatives. We hope to review both of these at some time in the future, so stay tuned!

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Japan introduces roundabout junctions nationwide

Written by: William on September 3, 2014 at 9:04 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

People from Britain, like myself, often forget that many other countries don’t have roundabouts. The idea of a circular junction with no traffic lights, where the unspoken rules of the road define who gives way and who pulls out and when — this frankly baffles non-Britons when they first witness the workings of one of the nation’s iconic roundabouts.

While standardized and made famous in the UK during the 1990′s, there are roundabouts today in places as far apart as Qatar, New Zealand, China and France. And now Japan.

There has been some speculation about Japan introducing signal-less roundabouts in the past but they’ve finally done it. There are 15 operating in 7 prefectures around Japan, as of September 1st. There are actually around 140 circular intersections in Japan, with some of these now legally designated as roundabouts.

japan roundabout junction roads

In 2012 six unsignalized intersections were tested in Karuizawa, Nagano, and then further tests were carried out in Shizuoka and Shiga prefectures.

Motorists in Japan, with its danger of electrical blackouts from the frequent earthquakes and other natural disasters, are actually possibly safer off with roundabouts, as they can be used without power. Roundabouts are not only better for the environment, they are also said to reduce accidents.

And if the idea of giving way to oncoming motorists without a signal to tell you to stop sounds like a recipe for traffic mayhem, remember that the Japanese a polite bunch. We predict the roundabout will be a success in this land of small cars and good manners.

budda

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Toyo tire tread marks inspire Japanese yukata fashion

Written by: William on August 8, 2014 at 4:18 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 4 Comments

Toyo Tire and Rubber Co., Ltd. has created a series of yukata based on the tread designs of three of its tire products.

Here are what the Toyo tire tread yukata look like, modeled by Toyo employees. While you might associate tire treads with a somewhat rough or dirty image — since they are the parts of the tire that are gripping a road surface — or at least to be rather brawny or tough, the resulting yukata are as colorful and fun as you’d expect from the summer wear.

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

Yukata are, of course, Japanese summer kimonos and a frequent sight at firework displays and festivals in the hot months, though we’ve never seen any designed from tires!

“In order to give customers a sense of the rich expression of our tires,” Toyo says, “which are renowned for their original designs, we had our tread designs tailored into the patterns for yukata, a garment commonly worn during summers in Japan. By transposing the originality of tires, normally thought of as a simple round, black object, into the feminine world of color dimensions apart, we have created another unique touch point distinctive of Toyo Tires.”

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

The particular tread patterns come from popular Toyo tires PROXES R1R, OPEN COUNTRY M/T and NANOENERGY 0, while the dyeing in the yukata is in a traditional style.

The bad news is that that tire tread yukata are not for sale, though Toyo, after announcing the project back in July, promises to use the yukata at company promotional events.

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

[Hat tip to @nippon_en]

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Toyota shows off Pikachu, Fennekin Toyopet Pokemon cars at Tokyo Toy Show 2014

Written by: William on June 13, 2014 at 9:42 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 3 Comments

Toyota really did steal the show at the Tokyo Toy Show 2014. On top of their awesome Camatte Lab, which lets grown-ups see how a car works through driving a transparent vehicle and also allows kids to customize a sports car hood with their own drawings, the world’s biggest automobile maker also exhibited these Toyopet Pokémon cars.

toyopet pokemon toyota car pikachu fennekin tokyo toy show 2014

toyopet pokemon toyota car pikachu fennekin tokyo toy show 2014

No prizes for guessing what’s going on here. This is a Pokémon-themed Toyota car, a very striking Pikachu yellow. Toyopet was actually first exhibited back at the 2012 Tokyo Toy Show and is making a welcome return.

toyopet pokemon toyota car pikachu fennekin tokyo toy show 2014

This time the Pikachu car is joined by a Fennekin character (known in Japan as Fokko) vehicle too. The fox-like Fennekin’s nose really sticks out.

toyopet pokemon toyota car pikachu fennekin tokyo toy show 2014

toyopet pokemon toyota car pikachu fennekin tokyo toy show 2014

toyopet pokemon toyota car pikachu fennekin tokyo toy show 2014

Pokémon might be pretty old now but it still retains the power to make an impression, especially when it’s got the backing of a major car maker!

toyopet pokemon toyota car pikachu fennekin tokyo toy show 2014

And if you’re curious why you’ve never heard of the car model itself, don’t worry, it’s also not such a new one. The Toyopet line dates back to the 1940′s and made its last appearance on a series in the 1970′s.

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Toyota’s Camatte Lab at Tokyo Toy Show 2014 lets you design your own sports car hood

Written by: William on June 13, 2014 at 3:28 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Toyota has once again collaborated with Znug Design to produce another fun Camatte booth for the Tokyo Toy Show.

Following the Camatte’s first appearance in the 2012 and 2013 editions of the fair which allowed kids to play around with car panels, now comes a double treat for both design and automobile fans.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

The Camatte Lab is divided into two zones. The Tech Lab gives visitors an unusual up-close look at the inner workings of the car. The hands-on Design Lab is more creative, letting visitors customize a Camatte vehicle.

The Tech Lab features a Camatte57s without its body panels so you can see how the steering gear and differential gear box work. The internal parts are shown moving when the steering wheel and accelerator are operated.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

The Tokyo Toy Show booth features multiple screens so even the driver can see in detail what is going on with the mechanics from every angle.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

The neighboring Design Lab has a Camatte57s Sport vehicle with special LEDs projecting onto the hood. This means visitors can customize the sports car by displaying their own digital drawings with the LEDs. Kids, get your crayons ready!

The system scans the drawing and then projects it onto the car. Here are some of Toyota’s ideas for designs.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

Toyota bills Camatte as a “customizable, sporty, family-oriented concept” that will “free your imagination”. The name is inspired by the Japanese word for caring, meaning both “caring for others” and “caring for cars”.

The Tokyo Toy Show 2014 is open to the public this weekend at Tokyo Big Sight.

jts_may2013

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Nissan surprises hard-working mom with unique drive-in theater

Written by: William on April 4, 2014 at 7:52 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Nissan has created a fun film of an eight-year-old giving his mom a very nice surprise.

Hinata and his mom take a drive in a Nissan Dayz Highway Star.

Mrs. Masuda thinks she is going to be appearing in a marketing video but instead gets directed to a special car park where her family proceeds to put on a play to tell her how much they appreciate her efforts to bring them up.

nissan presents happy smile drive in theater

It’s a bit sentimental, but still makes a very welcome change to the usual approaches to advertising from major Japanese corporations that rely on using the latest popular celebrity face.

We don’t want to spoil things too much for you so here’s the video.

Nissan has done this kind of “Happy Surprise” film before. Last year they rewarded another young mother with a whole spectacle featuring her relatives, led by a husband who wanted to propose to her properly after 11 years of marriage.

The resulting video became a word-of-mouth hit, generating nearly 800,000 views at time of writing.

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Japan to get special Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games car license plates

Written by: William on February 11, 2014 at 11:25 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Japanese drivers will be celebrating the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on their cars with special license plates.

All the boxes have been ticked here. Mt Fuji? Yes. Cherry blossom? Yes. Perhaps the only stereotypically “Japanese” image that is missing is a geisha.

tokyo 2020 olympic games license plate car special

If the 1964 Olympics are anything to go by, design should be paramount to the Games… and design also means merchandising. Get ready for mountains of toys, stationery, souvenirs, memorabilia and more… all with the Olympic logo.

The announcement of the special car license plates is merely the first step towards the national fanfare with which the Games will be prepared. Apparently it is the first time such a special car license plate will be made in Japan; they are usually very simple affairs in Japan. However, the images shown in this news report are only suggestions based on what officials have described. No formal designs have been released yet.

While we are certainly curious to see what the official mascot and logo design will be like, things don’t bode too well for the mentality of the Games organizers, though.

The executive committee behind the Games is populated almost entirely by men of pensioner age.

Former Prime Minister Yoshi Mori (76) is one of the most senior — both in rank and age. He recently made a real gaff — in a long career of gaffs — by giving World War Two as a reason why he never learnt English, despite being the head of state of the world’s second biggest economy at the time. He had been asked at a news conference if only-Japanese-speaking men all of a certain age was the right image to give out at such an international and prestigious event as the Olympics.

“I was in second grade when the war ended and until then, English was considered the enemy’s language,” Mori apparently said.

Well, I hope he leaves his weapons at home come 2020′s opening ceremony.

jts_may2013

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Tokyo Motor Show? No, it’s the Itasha Motor Show!

Written by: William on November 26, 2013 at 11:55 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

While the crowds were flocking to see the latest innovations in the Japanese automotive industry for the Tokyo Motor Show, there was another big car event in Odaiba last week.

As Nissan and Toyota et al showed off their concept cars that might just indicate the future of mobility (or the labors of an generously funded R&D department), November 24th also saw a one-day-only Itasha exhibition out in the bay.

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

Itasha are heavily — well, let’s be honest, overly — decorated cars that reflect the owner’s tastes in moe. A typical Itasha will feature shojo girls and other anime characters, and of course is driven by a self-professed otaku.

On Sunday, over 80 cars were driven down to Odaiba to be shown off to the world.

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

This “three-dimensional” Madoka car was spotted earlier this year and caused a storm on Twitter. Nice to see it back.

itasha otaku car madoka moe tokyo motor show

[All images via MyNavi.]

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Toyota Camatte57s is a build-it-yourself concept car for kids

Written by: William on June 19, 2013 at 11:05 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Showcased at last week’s Tokyo Toy Show 2013 was the Camatte57s, a concept car by Znug Design for Toyota.

The brainchild of Kenji Tsuji and Kota Nezu, the minimal Camatte57s is not only designed for kids to drive (obviously not on the road!), but also for them to be able to have fun personalizing and playing around with the car aesthetic.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids

The car has outlandish tires that poke out, plus the whole thing has this funky retro vibe that both hipsters and kids will love. The three-seater is very cozy — deliberately so, since the idea is to make driving in the car fun for kids again.

A previous version was introduced at last year’s Toy Show but this year there was an improved model which can be customized with fifty-seven lightweight panels. You don’t need complicated tools to attach and switch the panels — it’s so simple, even a child can do it.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids

The idea is the driver’s parents sit in the back, supervising their child while being taken for a ride. Just in case, there is an extra brake in the back so if the little one has trouble, daddy or mummy can stop the vehicle. Naturally you cannot have your kid drive on the real road so it is intended for large gardens or other special sites — not ideal for Japan, but surely tenable in America, Australia, Europe and other markets.

This is one of the first generation models.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids

To demonstrate, they also showcased a “sports” version of the Camatte57s with stripes and snazzy colors. It’s based on a Tamiya toy released last year.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids sports version

Here are Toyota’s other suggestions for how to customize the colors. “Infinite possibilities”, as they say…

Why so much effort being put into inspiring the next generation to love cars? Surely they would automatically taken an interest, no? Not so in Japan, which for years has been suffering from a downward trend in new car sales among younger consumers known as kuruma-banare. Car rental services are very convenient and reasonably priced in Japan, and with most of population living in cities, people feel like they don’t need to own a vehicle. (Car-share programs are more limited, due to legal issues that tie a car officially to a specific parking space.) There is some irony in Toyota being the biggest car manufacturer in the world but its cars are bought less and less by drivers in its own country. Projects like the Camatte57s are an attempt to reverse the trend and get new drivers interested in having their own car again.

budda

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