Renting a car in Japan

Driving on the left side

Driving in Japan is easy as the road network is of good quality. You can drive almost exclusively with Japanese-made cars such as Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi or Toyota, even a few Western models can sometimes be seen. Speed limits are usually as followed:

  • 40km/h in city centers;
  • 60 km/h on the road;
  • and 100 km/h on highways (for the first time since the opening of the first highway in 1963, this limit was increased up to 110 km/h from November 1st of 2017, based on a test made on a 50 kilometers segment in Iwate, Tohoku Area, in order to potentially reach a national 120km/h from the end of 2018).

However, rental cars for foreigners are not very developed in Japan, for several reasons.

First of all, they drive on the left side with mostly automatic gearbox cars. This might request a double adaptation time which can slow down some everyday drivers, accustomed to drive on right side with manual gearbox cars. Also, beware of blinkers and wipers commands which are reversed too.

Then, you have to justify of a Japanese translation of your driver ‘s license.

Next, road signs are not always in English, especially outside of big cities. While driving, you do not always have time nor knowledge to read kanji in order to find your way. Also, GPS, while being very common, are mostly in Japanese language only, which does not help those not bilingual, even if you can find an address only by typing the corresponding phone number.

Finally, the price charged for a car rental can be quite high, in a travel agency from abroad or even locally in Japan. The network of public transportation being so developed and cheap for foreigners traveling (especially thanks to the Japan Rail Pass), your final budget can be very different. If you are still willing to rent a car in Japan, it is recommended to choose a specialized agency well before arriving on the archipelago.

Among many websites of this touristy field, Tabirai can be suggested for several undeniable advantages:

  • easy online bookings;
  • very competitive rates;
  • all cars equipped with an English GPS;
  • wide range of vehicle types;
  • extensive covering network of destinations in Japan.

In order to cost you less, the driver must be over 25 years old and the vehicle returned back at the same pickup location point. Count a minimum of US$65 per rental day for a compact car, without including side expenses such as gasoline. As of tolls, fares are expensive, more than ¥20 (~US$ 0.20) per kilometer, making the Tokyo-Kyoto trip cost nearly ¥10,000 (~US$ 88.60) in highway fees!

This being said, renting a car can be interesting and even essential if you are willing to reach some remote places, poorly served by public transportation. In some areas, you can also rent motorcycles from 50cc to 125cc and more, but always with the relevant drivers’ license.

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