If you live in Tokyo, there is one sight which is strangely rare compared to back home. I don't believe I have seen an old or beat-up car once since coming here. While it is clear that people tend to be relatively obsessive about keeping their cars clean and well-kept, there's more to it than that.
Though many of my students have driver's licenses, few of them have cars so it's not a topic which I often discuss with folks, but one of my students told me something which fills in part of the picture of why there are so few (or no?) old cars driving around. We were discussing vans and large vehicles in general and she mentioned that she had a BMW van. I found this rather surprising since she has no children and her husband works a lot so they rarely travel. She told me that the van was really too much for her in terms of her needs and it was actually hard for her to handle when navigating the narrow roads in Japan.
Given her discomfort with handling a large vehicle, I asked her why she didn't just buy a regular car. This is when she enlightened me about the financial side of owning a BMW in Japan (aside from it being an expensive luxury car). Her current BMW is actually her fourth one. She said that her three previous models were sedans and she'd grown tired of having the same sort of car so she'd chosen a van as a change of pace, but now regretted it. When queried as to why she'd changed cars so often, she told me that she didn't want to but the financing structure made it desirable to do so.
She couldn't speak to the situation with all car makers in Japan, but she said that BMW set up a loan situation where one paid 1% interest on the loan for the first 2-3 years. After that length of time, the interest on the original vehicle would jump up to 3% or the buyer could trade in the old model for a new one and renew the 1% rate. This is an interesting policy not only because it encouraging one to keep buying a new car, but it also encourages one to remain with the same maker's models indefinitely. In fact, my student said that she wanted to get a different model car but the financial side discouraged her from doing so. It's an interesting system which encourages customer loyalty and a steady stream of new purchases, though it does seem a little like putting them in an economic straight jacket to get them to do so.