What the Different Colored License Plates Mean: Explaining Cars in Japan

Everything about Japan fascinates me – vehicles are no exception. A couple months ago, when a friend was driving me to the train station, I noticed his car’s license plate was yellow, instead of the typical white (car) or dark green (bus or taxi).

kei car kijidosha Japanese compact car yellow license plate Japan

I nudged Ryosuke. “Hey. Why is the license plate yellow?”

“Oh, that’s because it’s a kei car. A compact car.”


“And that means there are only four seats. This car is tiny.”

After that, I started noticing there were specific parking spots for kei cars (K-cars, kejidosha, or 軽自動車). I also started noticing differences between the license plate colors. Here are my findings.

Regular car: White medium sized license plate with green letters.

Keicar / compact car: Yellow medium sized license plate with black letters.

Commercial vehicle (like a bus or taxi): Dark green medium sized license plate with white letters.

Japanese bus license plate color green Motor bike or other two-wheeled motorized vehicle: White small license plate with dark green boarders and lettering.

Regular bicycle: No license plate (of course), but a yellow registration sticker that carries your personal information. Police will occasionally stop you, run the number, check you ID to make sure they match, and let you go (unless you stole the bike, then you’re in trouble).

In any case, that is what the different color license plates in Japan mean. Pretty cool, right?

Japanese cars have different license plates

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3 responses to “What the Different Colored License Plates Mean: Explaining Cars in Japan

  1. that is very interesting! i thought that it would be similar to hong kong (and i believe UK) in that the front number plate is white and the back number plate is yellow (both with black writing). i’m not sure why though – better contrast? better light refraction during bad whether? to tell the front from the back? i guess it will be something that i’ll ponder on.

    • I’m glad you liked it!

      I’m mostly used to the American system where the license plates are a different color/style/font color depending on the state. I had the hardest time figuring out Japanese license plates when I first got here!

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