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Road Trip Safety In Japan - 5 Tips On Social Distancing And Driving

road trip in japan

Written by Jasmine O

2020.08.27 Bookmark

Road trips in Japan allow you to see a side of Japan normally inaccessible to those using public transit. Driving to your destination can also feel safer during these uncertain times with the coronavirus. This article introduces advice to have a memorable and safe time on the road in Japan.

How to Have a Safe And Memorable Road Trip in Japan

road trip in japan

Taking a road trip in Japan is an ideal solution for anyone longing for a vacation and escape from the bustle of everyday life.

Driving in Japan will reveal hidden gems of the country, from stunning rural scenery to charming roadside stops and destinations otherwise tough to reach via public transportation. A road trip also eliminates the need to ride on crowded trains or buses, making it an excellent option for social distancing while traveling.

This article introduces practical tips on taking a memorable road trip around Japan that will be safe for you, your passengers, and anyone else you meet along your journey. For those looking to rent a car in Japan, Times Car Rental, Tabirai Rental, are recommended and will help you find and book the right vehicle for your trip.

Road Trip Safety Checklist

- International driver's permit or Japanese driving license
- A rental car/car you feel comfortable driving
- Hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes
- Protective masks to wear outside the car
- Water, coffee, tea

1. Choose Your Destination Carefully

japan map

As of August 2020, there are no official travel restrictions in place in Japan, making it acceptable to take trips within the country. The government's current Go To Travel campaign actually encourages residents to take trips around the country with rebates and discounts.

Go To Travel Booking Websites: HIS, JTB, AirTrip,, J-Trip, Kinki Nippon Tourist, Nippon Travel, Yahoo! Travel

This doesn't necessarily mean that you can travel without caution, however. While Japan's coronavirus rates are lower than in other countries, there are still infections throughout the country, concentrated mostly in Tokyo, Osaka, and major metropolitan areas. Theme parks, museums, restaurants, and sightseeing facilities countrywide are affected by the pandemic and will have potentially have reduced business hours and be implementing anti-coronavirus measures.

All of this means that choosing your road trip destination is more important than ever. We encourage selecting off-the-beaten-path places and spots with camping or private lodging for those staying overnight. However, exercise caution and respect local regulations, even when in rural areas.

2. Pick A Less-Crowded Time to Travel

japan road trip planning

Equally as important as where you go is when you go. To avoid traffic and crowds, it is highly recommended to take a road trip on a weekday rather than on weekends. Drivers should also be aware of public holidays in Japan and any preceding or following weekends, as these times are very popular periods to travel.

Peak times of the year for travel tend to be in spring and fall, so be aware of the crowds if you plan on seeing the cherry blossoms or the foliage. On the other hand, summer and winter, due to the harsher weather conditions, see fewer travelers on the road. For those visiting a region for a time-sensitive event, please note that most festivals and large-scale gatherings are canceled until further notice.

For those working in Japan, taking a vacation during weekdays can be difficult, but we advise trying to do so to avoid people and help lower your infection risk and the people around you. Keep up with the news learn about any new developments with the coronavirus in the area you're thinking about visiting.

3. Bring Hand Sanitizer, Antibacterial Wipes, and Masks with You

hand sanitizer in japan

Cars provide a comfortable and individual space when traveling, meaning that drivers and passengers don't have to exercise the same precautions as when on public transportation. While you don't have to wear a mask when driving, always carry a supply with you and put one on when getting out of the car. If you are renting a vehicle, be sure to wear your mask when picking up the car and returning it to the rental shop.

In addition, prepare a supply of hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes. Rental cars get cleaned in between passengers, but as an extra measure of safety, you can wipe down the steering wheel, GPS, radio, and other surfaces inside. These wipes can be used to disinfect surfaces at other destinations during your trip, too. Bring hand sanitizer with you also to keep your hands clean.

Retailers throughout Japan sell these disinfecting items, but in case you want to shop online, we suggest shopping in bulk on Amazon Japan. Click here to see surgical masks, here to view hand sanitizer, and here to look at hand wipes.

4. Practice Social Distancing at Rest Stops and When Outside of the Car

road trip in japan

The enclosed space inside your vehicle means that you don't have to wear a mask, but when you have to go outside, be sure to put one on. During a road trip, stopping off at parking areas and service areas in Japan is very common. With huge parking lots and clean, spacious facilities filled with unique regional souvenirs, food courts, and comfortable restrooms, these highway rest stops provide much more than just a break to those on the road. They are a fantastic place to sample the local food and culture of the region you're passing through and can be considered sightseeing destinations in themselves.

These stops, however, can sometimes become very crowded, so it is essential to exercise caution during these times. As mentioned above, wear a mask, and practice social distancing by standing at least six feet (two meters) away from other people, and respect all anti-coronavirus measures put into place.

The checklist mentioned at the top of this article includes snacks and beverages if the rest stops are too crowded for your comfort level.

5. Map Out Your Route Ahead of Time

japan road trip

An intersection without street signs
Take advantage of the vehicle's GPS and input your destination or map out your route before you start the car. Highway signs in Japan are in English and Japanese, but smaller roadside signs are nearly all in Japanese only, and once you exit the highway, minor streets are unmarked. It will be much easier and less stressful to know where you're headed to ahead of time. The GPS will also let you know how much you have to pay for toll roads, which connect most areas of Japan.

Mapping out your route gives you a record of exactly where you've been driving, which is also critical during this pandemic. Making unplanned stops is okay as long as you can physically distance yourself from other travelers, but sticking to a plan for where you get out of the car may be the best strategy.

Road Tripping in Japan


Shikisai-no-Oka in Biei, Hokkaido, is easily accessible via car.
Driving in Japan is, for many people, a very freeing and enjoyable experience, whether it's your first time getting on the road or part of your daily routine. The highway roads are maintained nicely, speed limits are reasonable, and traveling via car can take you to so many new places that would otherwise go undiscovered. A carefully-planned road trip may provide the right change of scenery during these difficult times.

Be sure to drive only if you're feeling in good health. Have a fun and safe trip!

Recommended Rental Car Services:
- Times Car Rental
- Tabirai Rental
Suggested Booking Sites:
- Rakuten Travel

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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