Translated by Jay Issei Karslake
Renting A Car In Japan - Guide To Rental Costs, Licenses, And Driving
Written by Mayu
Rental cars are convenient for sightseeing in Japan. This article explains where and how you can rent a car, including rental prices, driving license requirements, and Japanese traffic rules. Enjoy traveling with the independence that driving provides.
Car Rental in Japan
Renting a car in Japan is a great choice when traveling in rural areas without convenient trains and buses, like Hokkaido, Nagano, Hida Takayama, and Okinawa. Read more to learn how to rent a car, how much it costs, and what license requirements you need. We also provide tips on how to drive in Japan safely.
Rental prices vary depending on car types, but many places cost around 10,000 yen per day. A good resource for viewing the prices of major Japanese rental car companies is Tabirai Japan, a service that allows you to compare prices and even book a rental car in any region of Japan. You don't need to be a member to use the service.
Table of Contents:
1. Necessary Requirements to Drive in Japan
2. Manners and How to Rent a Car
3. Rental Prices
4. About Car Navigation Systems in English/Chinese/Korean
5. About Japanese Road and Traffic Rules
6. Japanese Highway Conditions
7. How to Use Parking Lots
8. How to Use Gas Stations/Stands
9. About Insurance
Necessary Requirements to Drive in Japan
First and foremost, you must be over 18 years old to rent a car in Japan, as according to Japanese law, you must be over 18 years old to possess a regular driver’s license. If you are over 18, then bring your valid non-Japanese driver’s license and passport with you when visiting the rental shop.
There are three types of valid driver’s licenses that may be used when renting a car in Japan:
1. Any driver’s license issued in Japan (for those living in Japan)
2. An international driver's license
3. A non-Japanese driver’s license with accompanying Japanese translation (in the case of a Swedish, German, French, Taiwanese, Belgian, Slovenian, Monacan driver's license)
International Driver's License
International driver's licenses must be issued in your home country's Department of Motor Vehicles before coming to Japan. These cannot be issued at your country’s embassy when already in Japan, so please keep this point in mind.
Driver’s License and its Japanese Translation
If you have a Swedish, German, French, Taiwanese, Belgian, Slovenian, or a Monacan driver's license, you don't need to get an international driver's license. All you have to do is bring your driver's license with its Japanese translation and your passport to any rental shop in Japan and submit it to them. The translations can be issued at JAF throughout Japan, and at each country’s embassy or consulate.
If you ask JAF to handle the translation, there are times where they will be able to have it ready within the same day, but other times it can take around two weeks. It costs about 3000 yen per driver's license translation.
Whether you're getting an international driver's license or a Japanese translation of your license, it's your best bet to apply for it ahead of time.
A reference guide for driver's licenses that can be used in Japan can be found here: Driver's License Guide
Manners and How to Rent a Car
When you're going to rent a car, you first apply on the Internet or from the counter of a shop. It's the same as renting a car in your own country.
Select the rental and return day, car type, one way or round trip, and options such as car navigation.
It's possible to rent a car on the same day that you apply at the shop, but you might not be able to rent the car type that you want. It's best to make your reservation a few days to one week ahead of time.
Sites with Reservations in English, Chinese, Korean, and Thai
There are websites where you can make reservations in English, Chinese, Korean, and Thai too.
Nissan Rent-a-Car, Toyota Rent a Lease, Nippon Rent a Car, and Times Car Rental are some of the options. After you've applied, you head to the shop on the day that you're going to rent the car. Make sure to bring your driver's license and passport to the shop.
On Tabirai Japan you can compare car rental fares and even book a rental car in a region of your choice. We warmly recommend using their services especially in areas such as Hokkaido and Okinawa.
Fill Up the Tank When Returning the Car
In Japan when you're returning a rental car, fill the tank up at a gas station near the car rental shop and submit the receipt to the shop. Sometimes the store will designate the gas station where you should fill up the tank. Make sure to check ahead of time.
In remote places, there are cases where gas stations close around 19:00 instead of being open for 24 hours. If the gas station is closed before you return the car, the rental shop will calculate the necessary gas price. This tends to be slightly more expensive than putting in gas at the gas station.
If you're just using the rental for a one way trip, you can return it to an affiliated branch of the store you borrowed the car from. Your return location is selected ahead of time, so it will be necessary to check where it is located and any public transportation that may be required after returning the vehicle in advance.
Rental Prices and Times
You can normally rent a car for 6, 12, and 24 hour time periods.
The approximate price range for passenger cars are:
6 hours: 5000 to 7000 yen
12 hours: 5000 to 7000 yen
24 hours: 7000 to 10,000 yen
On the other hand, if you're going to be renting a luxury car like a Toyota Crown or a Mercedes Benz, you can expect to pay slightly more, as listed below:
6 hours: 10,000-12,000 yen
12 hours: 10,000-12,000 yen
24 hours: 15,000-20,000 yen
It seems that the price for 6-hour and 12-hour rentals is often the same.
Remember you can compare the prices of various car rental companies on Tabirai Japan.
About Car Navigation Systems
Currently, most rental cars in Japan come with some form of car navigation system or GPS. There are vehicles that come with a car navigation system and those where you can add a car navigation system for an extra fee. It's a good idea to check ahead of time on the store of your choice’s website for these details.
Car Navigation Systems in English, Chinese, and Korean
Most of the car navigation systems available are in Japanese, but in places like Hokkaido, where many travelers from abroad visit, there are some stores that have prepared car navigation systems in English, Korean, and Chinese.
About Japanese Road and Traffic Rules
Here we have rounded up some important traffic rules to remember while driving in Japan.
In Japan, the steering wheel of the car is on the right hand side and vehicles drive on the left side of the road. England, Australia, India and South Africa are some of the other countries that drive on this side of the road as well. For those living in right lane-based countries and continents like Vietnam, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, North America, and Europe, it is very important that you pay attention and drive on the correct side of the road in Japan.
Chains on Tires in Snowy Regions
In regions like Hokkaido, Nagano, and Hida-Takayama where it snows heavily, cars run with tire chains specifically for the winter. This is to prevent them from slipping in the snow. In these snow-prone regions, you can also rent snow chains at the same time as you rent the car of your choice.
Japanese Highway Conditions
Japan's highway roads have higher toll fees compared to abroad. For example, if you drive for 100 kilometers, it'll cost 3000 yen on average. Please keep in mind the toll fees when using the highway.
Also, the highway speed limit is 100 km/h. If you go over the speed limit, there's a good chance that you'll be stopped by the police and can face hefty fines.
What is ETC?
Japanese highways have a service called ETC (Electronic Toll Collection system). It's a system where, when you use a road with a toll fee, you can avoid stopping at the toll booth and instead will receive a charge on your credit card the next day via a signal transmitted from the card within the car itself to receptors in the toll gate. To use this system, you must have a credit card with an ETC function.
It takes around 2 weeks for the application process to go through and you must have an address within Japan. For those who are only going to be in Japan briefly, we recommend using the the toll booth with green panels and making your payment in cash to the attendant instead.
How to Use Parking Lots
Since you aren't allowed to park cars on the side of the road in Japan, when you go to sightseeing spots you'll have to park in a parking lot. The parking lot fees range from 200 yen 700 yen and differ greatly based on location. The closer you get to the city, the more expensive it is. A lot of leisure facilities and shopping malls have an adjoining parking lot, where parking is free with a ticket from the facility or a receipt.
In most parking lots, you take the ticket from the entrance and you turn in your ticket when leaving so that your total is calculated at the gate. Another type is the lock style, where you input your parking spot number into the machine and make your payment.
Gate Style Type
In the gate style where you first take the ticket, you press the button on the machine, take the ticket, then find a spot and park your car. The parking ticket displays the time that you entered. When leaving you can put the ticket into the machine or hand it to a toll attendant and hand them your payment. Make sure not to lose your parking ticket or else you will have to pay a much higher fee before you are able to leave the parking lot.
If you do lose your parking ticket, the phone number for the management company is listed somewhere in the parking lot. Please call that number and follow their instructions.
Lock Style Type
The lock style, on the other hand, has no entrance gate - you simply drive into the lot, park your car in an empty space after reversing over the contraption in the space. Once the car has been parked, this device raises a bar or otherwise locks the car in position.
When you return to your car, first you head to the payment machine and input your spot number, pay the amount displayed and then head over to your vehicle. The lock system will have disengaged at that point, then you simply drive away.
Parking Lot Types
Japan has three different types of parking lots: flat parking lots, self-run parking lots, and machine-run parking lots.
Flat Parking Lots
This is a parking lot established on unused land instead of building a parking lot.
Self-run Parking Lots
A tower type parking lot where the user tries to find an open parking spot by themselves. It's often connected to shopping malls or other commercial facilities.
Machine-run Parking Lots
A tower type parking lot where your car is moved to a parking space by machine, not yourself. These are convenient because you don’t need to spend time searching for open space.
There are some 24 hour parking lots within Japan as well. Choose the most convenient for your purposes and budget when traveling to get the most out of the experience.
How to Use Gas Stations/Stands
Gas stations of all sizes can be found all throughout Japan. There are mainly two types of gas stations though - full service style and self-service style.
Full service is where an attendant fills your tank and cleans your windows, or performs some other small cleaning service on your car for you, while self-service is just that - you pump your own gas. Gas prices at self-service stations tend to be cheaper, however, as there aren’t as many staff on duty.
To put it simply, the two gasoline types are: regular (for standard cars) and high octane (for higher performance or sports cars)
Please use the appropriate gas for your car. Generally, the high octane gas is more expensive. How to use the gas stand itself is pretty much the same as it is in Western countries and other Asian countries. If there's something you don't know or are uncertain of, ask the gas station staff.
When you rent a car in Japan, basic compensation insurance is already included in the fee.
However, if you cause an accident, you may have to pay an additional 50,000 yen to 100,000 yen. For more information on these insurance policies, please ask the rental company.
Explore Japan in a Rental Car
Rental cars give the chance to explore lesser-known places in Japan, from Hokkaido to Nagano to other areas with little public transportation. With knowledge on where, when, and how to rent a vehicle, take the freedom that comes with driving and enjoy traveling in Japan! Please remember to drive safely.