If you are in the process of planning a trip to Japan, we are pretty sure that the words “car rental in Japan” are at the top of your to-do list. It can easily feel overwhelming looking at all of the varying car rental locations, processes and pricing brackets.

And so, if you feel an instant headache coming on every time you try to tick off car rentals from your list, you can breathe a sigh of relief. We have everything you would ever need to know about a car rental in Japan!

In fact, at this stage the only problem you might encounter is remembering to drive on the left-hand side when you are driving a car in Japan. Thankfully, you also don’t really need to worry much about the traffic as it is organized, slow and safe.

Now with all of that being said, it seems that one of the great debates within the country’s travelling circles is whether or not a car rental in Japan is even worth it. Are they value for money? Is it more affordable to just take public transport? Is there adequate parking around Japan for your rented car?

My experience is: In all honesty, looking back on my trip to Japan, I have come to realise that it is not worth it.

Points to take in account when considering hiring a car in Japan

  • The area is quite densely populated and there is not really a lot to see when driving along the main roads and even less when you decide to drive on the motorways.
  • I would recommend hiring cars only if you want to leave the main roads and do a side trip for one or a couple of days.
  • On these narrow roads, it is wise to drive slowly, and it is useful if you travel in a small car.
  • Signposts normally only show the directions to the bigger towns in Latin letters.
  • As mentioned earlier, it is important to remember that in Japan, you drive on the left-hand side of the road. This means that the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle.
  • You have to at least be 18 years old to rent a car in Japan.
  • Insurance is a mandatory expense when you rent a car in Japan. It covers damage, injury and liability.
  • Japan has a zero drinking and driving tolerance. You can’t drink any alcohol, not even a small beer with lunch. The penalty for violating this law is harsh and expensive.

Car rental in Japan: The Pros

  • In general, Japanese drivers are patient and not aggressive drivers, so as a tourist driving in Japan, you can expect people to be patient with you as you find your footing on the road.
  • Japanese cars boast exceptional gas mileage. Even after several hours on the road, your tank will still remain pretty fuel. This is a win given that you won’t be spending much on gas!
  • Japan also offers more affordable car rental options. More specifically the Keijidosha or “Kei” cars. They are light vehicles, which generally have less power than a regular car, but they will get you from point A to be B without completely wrecking the bank.
  • You can set your own pace, stop wherever you feel like and change your itinerary without depending on train or bus connections. 

Car rental in Japan: The Cons

  • It is not only cheaper but also much faster and more comfortable to use the excellent train service and the Japan Rail Pass.
  • The Japanese translation of driving licenses is chaotic. They are absolutely confused, and it will take some time before the transaction can take place even if the salesman can speak some English. The rental company might be used to the international driver’s license, but the Japanese do not accept international licenses from a few countries and one of them is Germany. (I would advise checking and finding a major rental place in one of the big cities to make sure that there is a person who can speak English. Even then you might have to face language and translation problems).
  • Only the highways and main roads allow you to travel fast enough to cover long distances. Often main road connections between villages and towns that look okay turn out to be very narrow and winding and not useful for long-distance travel.
  • All rental cars I saw were automatic and did have a satnav, however not all satnavs had a software that could be changed into English (then a navigation app on the smartphone can help). So make sure you have an extra battery or a power bank with you so that you do not run out of energy. I was not able to get a decent road map either from any rental place or at a petrol station.
  • The rental contract is in Japanese only and I had difficulties to understand the most important details of the contract. It was helpful to have the photo translation app on my smartphone. So, I could at least have a good guess.

When considering a car rental in Japan it is important that you weigh all of your options. As it goes with any decision, there are always pros and cons. The aim of this blog is to give you an accurate overview of what renting a car in Japan entails. Whether you decide to rent a car or use their local transportation systems, you can be guaranteed that you will have the adventure of a lifetime!

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  • Travel Dudes

    I'm sure you've had similar experiences I had whilst traveling. You're in a certain place and a fellow traveler, or a local, tip you off on a little-known beach, bar or accommodation. Great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels. That was the inspiration for Travel Dudes.