If you have no problems driving on the left-hand side then driving a car in Japan is not a problem.
The traffic is organized and slow and safe. But is it worth making the effort to hire and travel by car?
My experience is: that it is not worth it with one exception if you want to get away from the main routes.
Points to Take in Account When Considering Hiring a Car in Japan
- It is not only cheaper but also much faster and more comfortable to use the excellent train service and the Japan Rail Pass.
- 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.
- Though car rental places have difficulties (if you are German) when they see the Japanese translation of the driving license. They are absolutely confused and it will take some time before the transaction can take place even if it happens that the salesman can speak some English. The rental company might be used to the international driving license but the Japanese do not accept the international driving license 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).
- 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.
- All rental cars I saw were automatic and did have a satnav but 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 pack 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.
- Only the highways and main roads have the chance of traveling fast enough to cover long distances. Often main road connections between villages and towns that look ok on the satnav turn out to be very narrow and winding and not useful for long-distance travel.
- 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.