How to: Buy a motorcycle in Japan

YAMANASHI, JAPAN—If you had told me two years ago that you were leaving for Japan to pick up a motorcycle that you purchased from someone on the other side of the world, I would probably think you were either rich or crazy. But here I am, neither rich nor crazy, making arrangements to have my new-to-me two-stroke Japanese sport bike shipped home to Canada.

It began when I started planning to visit Japan, but wanted a motorcycle to ride while I was there. I really wanted a two-stroke street bike. I wanted a bike nimble enough to navigate the infamous Tokyo congestion, but powerful enough to keep me from feeling bored. Since two-stroke street bikes are largely unavailable in North America, this also may be my only chance to explore for myself what all the long-lived hype is about.

Of particular interest was the Honda NSR250. I was pretty influenced by the countless videos and reviews I had read online, with each reviewer gushing about these high revving machines and their impressive power to weight ratio. Although the maximum output of 45 hp at 9500 rpm was set by Honda to meet Japanese regulations, the NSR is the easiest of the bikes in its class to de-restrict, which has undoubtedly contributed to their popularity. The NSR was sold in Japan for more than 20 years until 2009, and its cult following left me intrigued.

The original Honda NSR 250 is still a sought-after motorcycle.

Although I read and speak some Japanese, communicating with sellers online presented a challenge. Even so, for the months leading up to my trip, I sought out the NSR250 on the Japanese bike classifieds site GooBike. Purchasing a bike this way would clearly be difficult to do, though, as I was unable to fully engage in the process. I would find listings for comparable NSRs that varied in price by thousands of dollars and I had no idea why, based on the limited information and pictures that accompanied each listing. This was starting to feel like a silly idea that was just swallowing up a big chunk of my time. I had no clue how to bridge the gap between a fantasy and reality — I was thousands of kilometres away in a different time zone.

Ready to give up, I decided to seek wisdom from the Internet and joined a foreign rider group on Reddit to throw the question out there. Immediately, I received multiple recommendations to contact Apex Moto in Japan. The shop, which is run by John Gavin, an Australian native, is located about 120 kilometres from Tokyo in Yamanashi and offers rental and auction agent services.

Apex Moto works with all brands of motorcycle.

The unique thing about this shop is that it will also assist with licensing and insurance to set you up on the road if you are an expat, or someone like myself who is just visiting but wants to explore the country by motorcycle. Because of its dealer status, Apex Moto has access to the two largest motorcycle auctions in Japan, BDS and AUCNET, meaning if there’s a rare Japanese bike you are searching for, this is your best chance of finding it.

How it’s done

The first step is to set up an account on the auction site that allows you to view all of the motorcycles coming up for auction across Japan each week; this is done by Apex Moto as soon as you express an interest in this service. Browsing the site over the next month, I did a bit of research on Apex Moto and the Internet basically exploded before my eyes with glowing reviews of the business and John’s work. I was sold on the idea and wired Apex the 120,000 yen ($1,440 Cdn.) deposit via PayPal.

Each week, I’d see probably five NSRs that I was interested in, which were usually accompanied by the basics: two or three pictures, a rating of the condition of the body and engine, and the mileage. In some cases, it was difficult to tell what condition the bike was in based on those two or three pictures. But because Apex was a member of the auctions, they usually had additional pictures and videos to share. In some cases, the additional pictures showed a small dent in the tank, in others, there would be a massive hole in one of the fairings.

One thing I appreciated was that nothing was overlooked when it came to the condition of the bike. I was sent pictures from John of minor scratches on the tank that I would have otherwise overlooked given the bikes I was bidding on were at least 10 or even 20 years old. Nevertheless, they were pointed out and brought to my attention. Having access to this additional resource, as well as the opinion of a licensed mechanic in Japan, really bridged the gap between the fantasy of owning a rare bike in Japan and actually getting one.

It looks cluttered, but Apex Moto is actually pretty well organized.

One thing to keep in mind is that the bikes move very quickly, and it was very rare to see the same bike listed for two consecutive weeks. I found that by Monday morning in Canada, most of the bikes coming up for auction on the following Wednesday were already posted. Each week, I would email John a list of NSRs that had caught my eye accompanied by auction ID numbers and a maximum target price.

The entire process of finding my NSR took just over a month, and I ended up winning a 1991 MC21 model, the second last generation of the NSR, for 590,000 yen, which is just over $7,000.

Malinda’s 1991 NSR cost her about $7,000 to buy.

Despite ultimately finding the bike, I still consider myself lucky, and I recommend leaving yourself more time if you are searching for a bike that is older or rare. Around the time I entered the auction process, it appeared that the prices were somewhat inflated, which John attributed to the bikes being very much sought after. It didn’t help that during the period I was engaged in the search, there was a shortage of substitutes, such as the Suzuki RGV250 and the Yamaha TZR250. Unfortunately, I had entered the auction process in the midst of a seller’s market.

At the end of the process, the fees are as follows:

  • The full cost of the bike (less the deposit that was paid at the beginning of the process).
  • 10% Japanese sales tax.
  • A 12,000 yen fee ($140 Cdn.) that must be paid to the auction house.
  • A 38,000 yen fee ($450 Cdn.) to Apex to pick up and inspect the bike.
Apex Moto is a good place to just hang out if you like bikes.

Riding the bike when you’re there

If you are planning on simply importing the motorcycle into Canada, this is where your buying process would end. However, I had ambitions of exploring Japan with the NSR, so I needed to obtain an International Drivers Permit. This can be arranged through CAA in Canada, and the process takes about 10 minutes with a fee of $25 for a permit that’s valid for a year.

Since the motorcycle had to be registered under my name for insurance purposes, I also had to contact the Canadian Embassy in Japan to obtain a notarized signature, which pretty much gets the ball rolling on your two-wheeled adventure in Japan. The process only takes a few minutes and is a requirement to ultimately have the bike registered for the road.

Malinda’s new-to-her NSR, still clean and shiny on the day she collected it.

There are two types of Insurance in Japan. Jibaiseki is mandatory if you are to operate a motorized vehicle. If you were to be involved in an at-fault accident, it is designed to cover the victim of the accident. The second type of insurance, Ninihoken, is optional and more comprehensive. It can be tailored to suit your needs and covers things such as third-party injury, property damage, liability, or injuries sustained by you.

Both of these insurance policies can be purchased to cover only a certain period of time. In my case, I was able to start riding the bike the day the insurance was set up (which was the day I picked up my bike), and cancel it a few days before I left the country, so in the end I paid a monthly rate around $57. Although I was charged a month in arrears, I wasn’t obligated to sign onto a one-year policy.

When I arrived at the shop here in Yamanashi to pick up the motorcycle, I was sent to the licensing office with a native Japanese speaker from Apex Moto. They were extremely knowledgeable about all the ins and outs of local licensing, which made it a very quick and painless process. Their assistance with all of the paperwork and red tape is an invaluable asset; if you have a poor comprehension of the Japanese language, this would be an extremely difficult, if not impossible, process to navigate.

Ready to go explore the tight, winding roads of Japan!

The entire process of licensing, setting up insurance and last minute maintenance on the bike took only a few hours, and by mid-afternoon, I was riding the bike.  I was really impressed by the scope of the services provided by Apex. They did a lot of the leg work when it came to the procurement of the bike, but their services extended to setting me up on the road in Japan. I knew that three weeks would fly by very quickly, but there was no time wasted on having to navigate the red tape. The combination of the expertise they provided both with motorcycles and licensing made them a big asset, and really got my dream of exploring Japan on a rare Japanese bike off the ground. 

Stay tuned for Malinda’s Japanese adventure on her Honda NSR250, and for her experience importing the bike home to Canada.


  1. I’m super interested in the importation process. I want a bike that I can only get south of the US but everything I read on Transport Canada says that it can’t be done! Can it be done (legally)!?

  2. There is a motorcycle district in Ueno Tokyo. It was magical. I’d do there once a month and look at all the great used bikes. Many models I’d never see in Canada. I noticed that the shops started to close one by one, I assume for all the same reason bike sales are down everywhere. Japans economy isn’t helping matters much.

    I’ve been getting a connection error this last week with this site with two different browsers. Am I the only one?

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