Renting a Car in Japan
Why rent a car in Japan?
For many visitors coming to Japan, rental cars may seem like an unnecessary way to spend money. After all, Japan’s subway and train systems are some of the best in the world. It would be easy to think that there was absolutely no need to rent a car in Japan. Well, that’s where you would be wrong! There are a many good reasons to rent a car in Japan.
One reason would be the lack of trains in certain areas. I mentioned Japan’s advanced train systems above, but those are mostly in the Tokyo/Osaka areas. Once you leave the large cities it starts to get a little difficult to find your way around, especially in Hokkaido or Kyushu. Without a car you will either have to plan your trip around bus schedules or pay hundreds of dollars to take taxis all over the place — no thank you!
Another good reason to rent a car is if you are traveling in a group and have a lot of luggage. Hauling your large suitcases everywhere is just plain miserable. Unless you plan on staying in the same hotel for your entire trip, odds are you will be doing a lot of walking with that heavy luggage. Instead, having everyone pitch in for a car is not only cheap, but much easier for moving around Japan.
And my final reason for renting a car is how fun it is to drive in Japan! I’m sure most people have seen some kind of movie or anime with winding roads in some mountain in Japan. Being able to actually drive on those kinds of roads in real-life is thrilling. I know what you are thinking.. no, do not drift in your rental car!
Okay, so now you are interested in renting a car in Japan, but you still have a lot of questions, uncertainties, and maybe even a little fear running through your mind. It is my hope that this article will clear any doubts you have, and to help you make a more informed decision when you choose to rent a car in Japan.
What are the requirements?
To drive in Japan you need to be over 18 years of age and must possess a valid license to drive in Japan.
Most people renting cars in Japan will be required to have an International Driving Permit, or ‘IDP’ for short. If your home country is a signatory of the Geneva Convention of 1949, this is your only option if you want to rent a car in Japan. You must obtain the IDP before visiting Japan. It is usually not possible to obtain one after already arriving. It usually costs about $20.00 (USD) to acquire one. For more detailed information, see our other article about International Driving Permits.
People of certain nationalities are able to drive in Japan with only a translation and their original licenses (An IDP would not be a valid option in this case). To see which countries fall under this category also see the International Driving Permits article.
How much does it cost?
It is difficult to give a precise answer to this question, as the prices vary for different companies and seasons. Some rough pricing ranges would be as follows:
- Compact car: ￥5,500-￥8,000 (About $55-$80 USD)
- Standard car: ￥8,000-￥12,000 (About $80-$120 USD)
- Minivan: ￥12,0000-￥22,000 (About $120-$220 USD)
Some seasons to look out for are late December to early January, early February (Chinese New Year), late April – early May (Japan’s Golden Week). The demand for cars during these seasons is quite high, so you can expect a significant increase in prices. If you want to travel during these times I would highly recommend that you book as early as possible. Not only will you get a better rate, but you will also have a car reserved before they all run out.
If you plan on renting for a week or more, you should check to see which car rental companies offer long-term discounts (We do). This can save you 10% – 20% on your total rental costs.
Is it safe to drive in Japan?
This is another question that is difficult to give a direct answer, but if I had to keep it short, I would say yes. The skills required to drive safely does not really change, no matter which country you are from. As long as you obey speed limits, merge onto highways safely, use your signals, etc. You will probably be fine. If you are a good driver in your home country, you will probably be a good driver in Japan as well.
However, there are few things to keep in mind. In Japan you steer on the right and drive on the left. If this is opposite from your home country, do not worry! You get used to it a lot faster than you think you would (Fast as in 5-10 minutes). Most roads have center barriers, so it is very difficult to turn into the wrong lane unless you are being very careless. Local roads within cities can have very narrow streets. When you see an oncoming vehicle, often times you will have to pullover to the side in order to let the other oncoming car pass (assuming you have more space to pullover than the other person does). Also, you want to be careful around cities because of the large amounts of foot-traffic. There will be pedestrians and bikers around every corner so be sure to drive slowly.
Also if this is any consolation, in over three years of business at NICONICO Rent a Car there have been no fatal accidents (we mostly just see scratches from parking errors). If you are an attentive driver, you will more than likely be okay.
How do I rent a car?
In recent years, renting a car in Japan has become very easy. Many companies have multilingual websites specifically for tourists coming to Japan. To begin, either go to a large travel site (Expedia, Kayak, etc.) or go directly to the rental company’s website. Choose the car type that best fits your needs. You will probably be required to pay with a credit card immediately. If you are renting from an airport location there are often shuttles to take you to the rental shop. This information will either be on the websites or in your confirmation email. Be sure you know where you are going before you arrive! Once you arrive at the shop you will be required to sign a rental agreement and review other important information. These are often offered in various languages. Receive the keys and you will be ready to go! It’s as easy as that!
What happens if I get into an accident?
Approximately 1 out of every 100 rented vehicles has a minor accident (fender bender, minor dents, etc.). If you are involved in an accident you will be required to call the police to receive a police report. This police report is required for insurance to cover most of the costs. This could be difficult if you do not speak Japanese. To make it easier for foreigners, NICONICO Rent a Car offers a 24/7 multilingual call center that you can call and call-center will initiate a three-way call with the police. From here you will receive proper instruction on what to do next.
As for payment, the insurance included standard with every rental will cover most of the damages. You will just be required to pay the deductibles. This can vary between companies, but will usually cost up to a max of 50,000JPY ($500.00 USD). In addition to the deductibles you may also be charged a Non Operation Charge (NOC). This is basically a fee you have to pay to compensate for loss of business. This can cost up to 50,000JPY as well.
If you are worried about the financial burden after an accident, many rental companies offer safety plans. These plans usually remove all financial burdens in the case of an accident. These plans are usually charged by a fixed price per day.
Here I would like to share some useful bits of knowledge!
If you are driving in Japan, you will most likely want to rent an ETC card. This will allow you to pay road tolls easily without having to dig out exact change. These are usually offered as an extra option for very cheap (324JPY).
If you are travelling in Hokkaido or Kyushu look into the Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP) and the Kyushu Expressway Pass (KEP) to save money on road tolls.
In Japan people turning on their hazards for a few blinks means “thank you.”
Make sure the car you are renting from has a multilingual navigation system. The GPS in the cars are a lot easier to visually understand than smartphone navis (google maps, etc.)
Wrapping it up
Now you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about renting a car in Japan. Of course renting a car is not always the best option, and I highly recommend that you research what kind of transportation services are available for the area you will be in. If you are travelling to Hokkaido or Kyushu, (spoiler alert) you will most definitely want to rent a car.