Paid parking lots in Okinawa and Japan can be quite intimidating for someone visiting Japan or who doesn’t read Kanji (isn’t that most of us?). It’s time to stop living in fear of getting your car stuck in one of those automated parking spots. Paying for parking is a piece of cake if you know the right buttons to push.
Steps to pay for parking in Okinawa and Japan:
- Find your parking space # (painted on the ground)
- Enter your space # into the meter
- Press the “Calculate” button (精算; blue button in the picture below)
- Insert money (or credit card if accepted)
- If needed, press the “Receipt” button (領収書; green button below)
- That’s it, be sure to drive away within 2 minutes
Here’s a rundown of parking in Okinawa and Japan. Let’s start with the coin parking and how to make sure you don’t get your car stuck.
Coin Parking Lots
Coin parking lots are 100% automatic and are completely unmanned. So, to ensure you don’t drive off without paying your parking fees, a metal plate is triggered when you park and swings up to lightly rest against the bottom of your car. If you try to drive off with the metal plate still engaged, your car is either not going to move, or even worse, get damaged.
Identifying Coin Parking Lots
Coin parking lots are usually designated by a sign with P on it. Sometimes, there will be an electronic sign letting you know if the lot is full or empty:
- 空 or 空車 = Vacant; it’s usually in green
- 満車 or 満 = full; it’s usually in red
How Much Does Parking Cost in Okinawa and Japan?
Parking costs are very dependent on the city you’re in and the specific neighborhood. In Okinawa, the cheapest you’re going to find is ¥100 for 3o-minutes. The average is around ¥200 – ¥350 per hour.
How to Determine the Cost for Parking?
Each lot is going to have its own rate, so it’s first important to know how much the parking is. Here are the important Kanji characters to know.
- 分毎 = Minutes or 分 = Minutes
- 時間 = Hour
- 円 = Yen
Here are some examples fully written out:
- “20分/300円” = 300 yen for every 20 minutes
- “30分毎 100円” = 100 yen for every 30 minutes
It’s important to note that sometimes parking lots will charge you a different rate, depending on the time of day you park. In most places, parking gets cheaper in the evening time (8 PM – 8 AM), however, if a certain neighborhood has a nightlife scene, it’s going to get more expensive at nighttime.
In Okinawa and Japan, time is usually written in military time. So, if there are two different prices, don’t be confused by the large numbers next to them (for example, 1300 – 2400), that’s the time range (1 PM – 12 AM).
Also, it’s best to back your car into these parking spots. If you pull in straight, the placement of the metal plates can make it difficult to avoid hitting when your backing up your car to leave. The parking spaces are very small.
Other Important Things to Know
- The metal plates will go back up if you don’t leave your parking spot soon after paying. Each parking lot is different, so it’s just best not to pay until you know you’ll be leaving for sure. Don’t sit in your car texting or chatting; it’s best to get in your car and leave right away.
- After first parking your car, the metal plate will automatically go up after a few minutes. So, make sure you car is properly parked and adjusted right away.
- If you sit in your car before you’ve paid and before the metal plate is completely down, your weight could cause your car to lower and push against the metal plate. This may damage your car. Make sure you and any of your passengers stay out of the car until the metal plate is down.
- Not all parking lots accept credit cards; make sure you come prepared with yen.
- Parking lots do not accept bills larger than ¥1,000; so, make sure you have enough coins or ¥1,000 bills.
At major shopping centers, free parking garages are common. You can tell it’s free by lack of any mechanical gates/arms that require you to take a ticket before opening.
Parking garages aren’t always free though.
If you’re expected to take a ticket to enter the garage, there’s going to be a fee and it should be posted on the entrance somewhere.
It’s important not to lose your ticket. If you lose it, there’s usually a flat fee you need to pay, and in some cases, it can be a lot of money.
Don’t expect to be able to pay with a credit card either. Major parking garages (for example at large airports) will most likely accept credit cards, but it’s best to have yen just in case.
In parking garages that you need to pay for, it’s the same system as it is in most parts of the world:
To enter the garage:
- Take a ticket when you drive up to the entrance
- Once the arm/gate opens, drive-in and find a parking spot
- Make sure not to lose your ticket
To leave the garage:
- Determine if you need to pay the ticket before getting in your car. (Some garages require payment not at the exit, but at a different location).
- Drive up to the exit, put in your ticket and pay the required fee
- Once you’ve paid, the gate/arm will open, allowing you to exit the garage.
These things are awesome. It’s a big slim tower that stacks a bunch of cars, in a small amount of space. It’s like those laundry convayeur systems, but vertical and for your car. Some of these towers are as high as 10 to 15 stories tall!
Sometimes these things go underground instead of up. Same system, just in a different direction.
These things aren’t as tricky as the automated parking, because they are manned by a human being. They will have their prices listed on the outside in the same way the automated coin parking lots do above.
Residential streets are small and narrow in all parts of Okinawa and Japan. Though it’s common to see cars parked on the side of residential streets, you still need to be careful. Most of the cars belong to people who live there; and just because they’re parked there, doesn’t make it OK for you to do so.
The place I live in Okinawa is very popular among foreigners and U.S. military folks. It’s common to come home and find that my designated apartment parking spot has been taken; usually by a foreigner or tourist from mainland Japan.
It should go without being said but use common sense:
- Don’t park too close to intersections. If you do, you’re likely to get hit and it makes it difficult for other drivers to see oncoming traffic.
- Don’t block other people’s driveways. If it looks like an entry or exit point for a piece of property, be respectful. Don’t block it and give people plenty of room.
- Make sure residents can get in and out of their own driveways. Though you may not block the driveway itself, because Japanese streets are so narrow, even if you park on the other side of the street, it might still be impossible for someone to get in and out of their driveway.
- Check yourself by asking: “If I lived here, would I be annoyed if someone else parked here?” If the answer is yes, then don’t park there.
- It’s common to see no parking signs created by home or business owners. Sometimes they’ll put cones out like in the photo below. It’s wise to respect these because there’s a very higher probability they’re the type to report you to the police or, at the very least, come outside and tell you to leave.
If you’re going to be living in Japan, it’s likely that your city’s government requires you to prove that you have somewhere to park your car, legally. And in many cities and prefectures, that parking spot needs to be under a certain distance from where you’ll be living.
If you are under SOFA status, I’ve never heard of this being required by the Japanese or U.S. government.
Also, if you have a “Kei” car (i.e., small, light car designated by the Japanese government and marked by having a yellow license plate), there are many cities that don’t require you to prove you have parking. Of course, you still need to find parking.
If you’re going to a smaller business establishment like a restaurant or a small shop, it’s important to look out for any signage about parking.
Often times businesses will have a certain number of parking spots slotted for their customers. If all of those slotted spots are taken, you’re on your own to find parking. So, you’ll most likely be looking for a small, coin parking lot.
It can be tempting to use the parking lot of a nearby convenience store or another business’ parking lot, but be careful. There are usually signs letting you know that parking is for customers only.
Some parking areas will close at night. And many of these areas will have gates or other devices that make it impossible to get your car after-hours. That’s right, you’ll be waiting until morning to retrieve your car.
In Okinawa, areas to watch out for are San-A, MakeMan, and along the Sunabe Seawall.
San-A has a gate that they shut after they close. The Sunabe Seawall has a cable, that when tightened, ropes off the entire parking area. If you’re car is still parked, you’re out of luck.
So, if you’re going to be parking and leaving your car late at night, it’s a good idea to:
- Check for signs with hours of operation
- Check to see if there are any gates or devices for locking in cars
- When in doubt, just ask someone that works there.
Parking Fines in Okinawa and Japan
If you get caught breaking a parking rule, fines are not cheap in Japan. You’ll know you’ve been slapped with a fine when you see a big yellow ticket attached to your window or get a letter in the mail from the police office.
Parking fines can range from ¥10,000 to ¥18,000 ($100 – $180) or even higher in some places in Japan. Even worse than a ticket is getting your car wheel locked or your car towed. If this happens, you’re responsible for all the expenses, which can run about ¥40,000 ($400) and take up a lot of your time.
If you’re living in Japan, it’s important to know that Japan uses the point system. So, in addition to a fine, you’ll be handed 3 points to your record. Once you get 6 points, you’re looking at getting your license suspended for 1 to 6 months. Ouch!
If you’re renting a car and get slapped with a ticket, make sure to notify the rental company.
According to the All Japan Rent-A-Car Association, if you’re renting a car and get a ticket, there are 3 steps:
- Go to the police station noted on the ticket
- Pay the parking fine and get proof that you’ve paid
- Notify the rental car company of the ticket and show proof you’ve have paid
I would highly recommend making copies (or just take a picture) of all the documents passing through your hands. People make mistakes, and you want to make sure you’re able to prove you followed the required steps.
If you don’t take the necessary steps, well, you can expect even more fines to pay. And they usually get exponential more than the original fine.
Just like in most parts of the world, Okinawa and Japan have police designated just for monitoring parking in certain areas. They often wear green uniforms and are walking the streets in pairs looking for people violating parking laws.
If they’re not walking the streets, they may be riding in mini police cars.
According to The Japan Times, in 2006, a law passed allowing private companies to issue parking tickets that are enforceable and recognized by Japanese police. Even more reason to follow the parking laws, as it has become more likely that you’re going to get cited.
Understanding Parking Signs in Okinawa and Japan
There are some intuitive road signs in Japan, but as an American, the parking signs I needed to read up about.
Here are some important signs to know in regards to parking:
No Parking or stopping
No Parking or Stopping During Certain Time Periods
No Parking (may stop up to 5 minutes for loading/unloading; the driver needs to be present at all times).
Time-limited parking zone
Closed to all motor vehicles
Important Things to Remember
- If you’re driving in Okinawa and Japan, make sure to be carrying yen with you and make sure you have enough coins or ¥1,000 ($10) notes for parking. Don’t expect to find free parking and don’t expect the paid parking to have a credit card machine.
- Use common sense. If you were a resident in that neighborhood, and you’d be annoyed with someone parking there, don’t park there. Be respectful.
- Most people park in spots by backing into them. So, when you go to leave, you will be driving straight. Either way is legal. In tight parking spots, however, it’s best to back in.
Important Kanji to Know
- 分毎 = Minutes
- 分 = Minutes
- 時間 = Hour
- 円 = Yen
- 空き = Free/Parking Spot Available
- 空 = Free/Parking Spot Available
- 満車 = Parking Spots Full/No Parking Spots Available