Renting a car is an option you might want to consider if you plan to visit Japan’s rural areas and get away from the city for a while. Transportation in these areas can be both inconvenient and infrequent and this is a good idea to make your traveling easier, especially if you’re in groups or with a lot of luggage.
However, it is not advisable to rent a car when exploring the big cities of Japan. The traffic tends to be heavy and parking can be inconvenient and expensive. A better choice would be the public transportation such as trains, subways, taxis, and buses.
To rent and drive a car in Japan, you must be over 18 years old and must possess a Japanese driver’s license or an International Driving Permit (IDP).
International Driving Permit (IDP) is issued and must only be obtained in your home country’s automobile association for a small fee. Japan nor your country’s embassy or consulate in Japan doesn’t issue this permit, so keep in mind to obtain it in advance.
On the other hand, if you have a Swedish, German, French, Taiwanese, Belgian, Slovenian, or Monacan driver’s license, there is no need for an IDP. Instead, your driver’s license with an official Japanese translation is all that is needed. A translation can be obtained from the Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF) through your country’s embassy or consulate.
The translation job for your driver’s license might, however, take around two weeks to finish. Or if you’re lucky enough, it can be handed to you on the same day. It’s your best bet to have it translated in advance to avoid the hassle of waiting. A fee of ¥3000 ($27) per driver’s license is required.
Additional information for your driver’s license’s Japanese translation can be found here:
Japan’s leading car rental companies are TOYOTA Rent a Car, NIPPON RENT-A-CAR, NISSAN Rent a Car, and Times Car RENTAL. These companies operate hundreds of outlets across Japan and offer a variety of cars, even large vans, buses and recreational vehicles. You can book your car on their websites where additional helpful information and FAQ can also be found. And no worries, they are in English.
If you want to compare prices of car rentals in Japan, a website called Tabirai Japan will help you. It also allows you to book a rental car in a region of your choice.
The cars can normally be rented for 6, 12, and 24-hour time periods. Price range may vary depending on the type of car and are usually increased during holidays and peak seasons.
Listed below are the approximate regular season rates for passenger cars:
6 hours: ¥5 000 – ¥7 000
12 hours: ¥5 000 – ¥8 000
24 hours: ¥6 000 – ¥10 000
But if you want to rent a luxury car, expect to pay more:
6 hours: ¥9 000 – ¥15 000
12 hours: ¥12 000 – ¥22 000
24 hours: ¥16 000 – ¥29 000
Additional charges will apply to:
- Exceeded rental hour schedule.
- Cancellation of reservation.
**Some car rental companies apply cancellation fees. If you do not show up without prior notice more than one hour of the reserved time of car pick up, it will be regarded as a cancellation and the cancellation fee should be paid. However, if the cancellation is made on the same day, no charges will be applied.
- Child safety seats.
**If you are accompanied by child/ren under 6 years old, you are required to use a child safety seat.
- Snow tires (winter tires).
**Snow tires are necessary options when driving on snowy/icy roads. It is free for rental offices located at snowy areas, while additional fees are charged at other rental offices.
Most rentals cars have GPS navigation system. Some systems are set in English, Korean, and/or Chinese, whilst, some are not. In cases like this, it’s easier to input destinations by your phone number.
Electronic Toll Collection system or ETC is a Japanese highway system for using roads with toll fee. If you want to avoid stopping at the toll booths (where you pay in cash to the attendant), an ETC card in your car is recommended. It collects tolls electronically and debits the accounts of registered car owners without requiring them to stop.
Applying for an ETC card, however, is a long process. A credit card and an address in Japan are requirements to get one. But there are car rental companies/outlets that allow you to rent an ETC card. Toll fees are then calculated upon returning the car and the card.
Gas stations in Japan are either full service or self-service style. Some are open 24-hours, but most of them close at night time (as early as 7). High octane gas (which is more expensive) and diesel are widely available, use the appropriate gas for your car. Payment is possible by card or cash.
Note than self-service stations are mostly in Japanese. Should you need some help, there will be an attendant to guide you.
Parking on the roadsides in Japan is not allowed. You must park your car in the parking lot areas before you can go sightseeing spots. The parking fee greatly differs depending on the location you wish to park your car in. The closer you get to the cities, the more expensive it is. Outside the cities, parking is often free.
When renting a car in Japan, keep in mind these few reminders:
Fill up the tank when returning the car. This is one the rules of car rental companies/outlets in Japan. Make sure to gas up before returning the car, and show them the receipt as proof. Other companies/outlets designate gas stations, so keep it in mind or check it ahead of time. Failing to comply, an additional fee will be charged.
No smoking. Most of the cars are no smoking vehicles, be sure to follow the rules.
Avoid illegal parking. If an illegal parking sticker has been affixed to your car, appear at the police station and complete the payment of the fine. Upon returning the car, present a proof that the fine has been paid. Failing to do so, a fine-payment deposit will be charged.
Do not drink and drive. Avoid accidents on your way. Drive safely and responsibly.