Also referred to as Japanese Domestic Model, the term refers to cars manufactured for Japanese market conditions and consumption, which is why so many cars of Japanese extraction are illegal in the USDM and other world markets. There are many reasons for the illegality, but foremost is the fact that Japanese cars have headlights that are designed to light up the left-hand side of the road, which can make it a dangerous business to drive such a car in right-hand traffic at night
Of course there are other reasons, such as emission controls, but for the most part, cars destined for the Japanese market differ markedly from the same models destined for foreign markets, particularly with regard to suspensions, new technologies such as Variable Cylinder Management, and power output of cars produced between 1988 and 2004.
Cost Of Car Ownership In Japan.
In contrast with the USDM, where the average age of the national vehicle fleet is approaching eleven years, car owners in Japan not only have to comply with a strict annual vehicle inspection, but also increased costs of registration that is linked to the age of the car. In other words, the older the car, the more it costs the owner to have it legalized for the next year of use.
This test is known as “shaken”, and even while most car owners say the attendant costs leaves them shaken and bruised financially, the procedure is compulsory, and involves the following:
A typical shaken for a new compact family sedan can run to several hundred dollars with costs ranging from anything between $813 to $1 627 at the time of writing (June 2015). For used cars, these basic costs can be seriously inflated by exorbitant service fees and “repair” costs charged by professional mechanics and repair shops.
Moreover, the basic shaken costs increase every year, with the increases based on a sliding scale according to the age of the vehicle. However, it is possible to perform the shaken on a DIY basis, but the common practice is to appoint an agent or mechanic since the average Japanese car owner is too busy surviving in a hugely competitive economy to spend time on getting car registrations filled out.
Some Shaken Requirements.
Below is a shortened version of the basic shaken inspection:
All vehicles must also comply with specified minimum ground clearance requirements, which is checked with reference to the lowest point of the vehicle- a point that may not include any suspension component.
Other issues like aftermarket body kits, exhaust systems, rims, tyres, window tinting, and interior modifications have to pass stringent requirements with regard to size, body overhang, safety, or transparency. Faced with the high cost of keeping a car on the road in Japan, many owners simply buy new cars every year or two, and the millions of perfectly good cars that are too expensive to register simply end up as exports to grey markets, or on the scrap heap because their engines and transmissions are exported to feed an insatiable demand for high performance engines elsewhere in the world.
Japanese Used Car Exports.
Viewed from the shaken perspective then, it is not so surprising that so many JDM cars are exported to some markets in Africa and Europe, Russia, and particularly Mongolia, where the right hand drive configuration of Japanese cars do not present problems. However, the US and Canadian markets see relatively few JDM cars due to the rule that imported cars have to be 25, and 15 years old respectively before the road worthiness requirements in these countries no longer apply.
Nonetheless, many JDM cars are imported and sold illegally in almost all markets, mainly due to the fact that according to the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the average car in Japan only covers a distance of about 5 800 miles, whereas the average yearly driving distance in the US is about 12 000 miles. Moreover though, JDM cars almost always have suspensions that are set up for the hilly, twisting roads there, which means that JDM cars almost always handle better than the same cars built for export markets.
In addition, JDM cars almost always have improved throttle response, due to different ECU programming to improve driveability in hilly terrain, in addition to not having Active Yaw Control systems that could interfere with the improved throttle response, especially in wet or snowy driving conditions. The downside is however that most JDM cars are detuned to allow for stricter emission controls in markets where their engines are sold legally.
Beware The VIN, Or Lack Of It.
Contrary to almost all other markets, the JDM does not use VIN numbers. In its place, they use a FRAME NUMBER that consists of anything between nine and twelve numbers and characters in different combinations to denote and identify the model and manufacturer. A good example is the frame number “SV30-0169266”, which can be decoded as follows:
Since the frame number does not contain enough information, additional use is made of a model code number, a good example of which would be SV30-BTPNK, which can be decoded as follows:
Which is why it is sometimes impossible to order and import certain parts directly from Japan: you may have a legal JDM import with a VIN number, but since VIN numbers are unknown in Japan, the sales clerk there may have no idea what car you are talking about. The same holds true for illegal imports because even if you wanted to use OEM parts exclusively, the guys at the local dealer may never have heard of the model you are describing.
To Import- or Not.
Today, there is no need to import any JDM car or engine illegally. There is a vast range of legal models available so if you are attracted to Japanese cars, as opposed to cars from the Japanese Domestic Market, take your pick from any model in the following ranges: Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution’s, and Nissan that offers giant-killers such as Skyline GT-R’s, Acura/Honda NSX’s, and Toyota, with various Supra models.
Moreover, none of these legal models will have factory-fitted devices to limit you to speeds of “only” 190 km/h!