Author: Jack
POSTED ON 23 Apr 2019
  1. Japanese Plate Numbers – What Does It All Mean?

Have you ever saw a Japanese number plate and wonder what all the markings mean? Besides the fact that they are written in Japanese, the plates have a variety of different characters, colors, and symbols used in a seemly endless amount of combinations that relay a lot of information.

Vehicles Area of Registration

The first set of information on the plate we can interpenetrate is where the plate was issued. There are over 100 areas that issue plates within Japan and the kanji tells us which area. Not every city has its own plate but all 47 prefectures of Japan are covered.

Vehicle Classification

The next set of information we can gather is the vehicles classification. Privately registered vehicles will normally have numbers of 3XX or 5XX and is based off of a vehicles engine displacement, or a vehicles physical dimensions. Smaller cars that have an engine displacement of 660cc to 2,000cc and have a volume of 4.7 x 1.7 x 2 meters will receive a 5XX number. This includes Kei cars but we will get to that later.  Privately own vehicles that goes beyond these requirements (such as a Nissan Skyline) will receive a 3XX number.

You may also see number plates with only 2 numbers, or even 1 digits. Depending on the vehicles type, purposed it was used for, area it was registered in, and time era, the vehicles would come with either a 1 digit or 2 digits. It gets so much more in depth and complicated that this water down explanation will have to do for now. After 1999 though, vehicles registered would come with 3 digits

Small lorries (JDM sized) will receive either a 4XX or 6XX number, where as their full sized versions will a 9XX number. 8XX is for special purposed only vehicles.

The Hiragana Meaning

Yes – even the hiragana has a meaning to it.  If the car is registered for private use only, that will be represented by the set of Sa -Ta – Na – Ha- Ma- Ya and some – Ra. A set example is Sa-Su – Se – So (さ-す-せ-そ) , Ta- Chi- Tsu- Te- To (た-ち-つ-て-と), etc.

Company registered vehicles will have A- I -U-E- and the Ka set (あ-い-う-え-か-き-く-け-こ). He is not used as the meaning of へ means fart and that wouldn’t be appropriate to have on a number plate as owners who were unlucky enough to get He would be very embarrassed to have it. I’m not even joking.  Shi (し) isn’t used as it means death, O(お) is too similar to A (あ) which would be confusing, and N (ん) is just difficult to read.

Rental cars are represented by either Wa or Re (わ-れ) and stationed US members will have Yo (よ) E-H-K-M-T-Y. Each letter has a different meaning to it as well such as Y is active members who bought their car in Japan whereas E is for an active member who brought their car from the States to Japan, and doesn’t pay road taxes on it.

Bottom Numbers

The numbers at the bottom are basically randomly generated and must have four individual numbers from 0-9, unless the owner requests a custom number.

Plate Colors

The colors of the plates also relay specific information. Yellow plates represent kei cars, white represent standard cars, green represents commercial cars (think taxis), and blue represents diplomats.