As famous as Japan is for its excellent high speed trains, there are times when you might need be interested in car rental in Japan. Maybe you want to reach a rural area inaccessible by train. Or perhaps you are heading to Hokkaido or Okinawa, where driving is often the only option. But whether you are renting a car by necessity or because you simply crave the feeling of the wheel beneath your hands, rest assured that renting a car in Japan is very doable. There are of course some licensing concerns, and rentals are not always cheap. With proper planning, however, you can complete the process and find yourself out on the open roads.
How to rent a car in Japan
The first step in renting a car in Japan is making sure that you have a workable license. The easiest option is to get an International Driving Permit before leaving your home country. While not all rental agencies in Japan will accept this permit, the majority will. You can acquire your International Driving Permit through the driving agencies in your own country. If you have a Japanese driver’s license, then the acquisition of an International Driving Permit is of course not necessary.
You can complete the rental process via the internet, but you will have to pay with a credit card. Consider buying extra insurance, because the plans that are included with the price of the rental do not offer complete coverage in the case of a collision. Once you have completed the process, print out the booking form.
On the day of your trip, simply bring the form and your license to the rental agency. There, you will confirm the details if the trip, they will hand you the keys, and away you’ll go.
Can tourists drive in Japan?
Tourists can drive in Japan, as long as they have the correct licenses. As mentioned above, an International Driver’s Permit is necessary in order to drive a car in Japan. This permit will not be obtainable for people from Switzerland, Belgium, Taiwan, Monaco, Germany, France, or Slovenia. If you are from one of those countries, you can still drive in Japan, but you have to obtain an official “Japanese translation” of your license via the Japanese Automobile Federation.
The driving itself in Japan is not especially difficult for tourists. With that being said, there are many things that will be different for visitors from certain parts of the world. Americans, for example, will need to get used to the fact that the Japanese drive on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car.
Tourists should also be aware that many Japanese highways are lined by giant walls on both sides. This means that road trips from one city to another are not always so picturesque. Drivers should also know that there are many tolls on Japanese highways.
Important advices for driving in Japan
The best advice for driving in Japan is to prepare thoroughly for your trip before setting out. The first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with the road signs in the country, as they are almost certain to be different from what you are used to. By studying them a bit before your trip, you can avoid some moments of panic on the road.
If you need to fill your gas tank, be aware that many service stations do not have instructions in English. Luckily the process is quite intuitive, with one major exception: after payment, you will need to touch a side panel to remove any static electricity from your hand before you start to pump your gas.
There are also certain rules that tourists must be sure to follow. Drivers must come to a complete stop at all railroad crossings, regardless of whether there is a train coming or not. Japanese drivers tend to respect speed limits, and so tourists should as well. Also, drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. Even a few sips will put you in serious trouble with the law if you are stopped by authorities.