Are you planning on renting a car in Japan to do a road trip? Then this post will be a handy guide!
Before we bought a car, we used to rent cars to go on road trips (here’s our first road trip, and one more for measure!) Nowadays, I rent if the place I’m going to is too far away to drive to, like my Kyushu trip with Carys last year.
Fun trivia: The letterわ on the car’s license plate always means that the car is a rental car!
Rental Car Companies
There are many rental car companies in Japan, and these are the ones we have rented from before:
Of these, I think I prefer Tocoo! the most because it’s in fact not a rental car company, but a website that aggregates from all the different rental companies out there. I can then easily search, sort by price, etc to get the best deal!
Things you need
Most important: A valid driving permit. (and cash, of course)
This means one of the following:
- A Japanese driver’s license,
- An international driver’s permit (IDP), or
- An official Japanese translation of your driver’s license if you are from Belgium, France, Germany, Monaco, Slovenia, Switzerland, or Taiwan.
Two of my Singaporean friends arrived in Japan with a Singapore license thinking that they can just drive here as-is, only to have their travel plans wrecked because they didn’t apply for the IDP in Singapore. Don’t let this happen to you!
Car: For a compact car (think Honda Jazz/Fit, Mazda Demio), ~7,000 yen for 24 hours is the norm (rental by the hour is available).
Drop-off fee: If you want to return the car at a different prefecture, a drop-off fee will be charged. For example, when we picked up the car from Nagasaki and returned it at Kumamoto, we were charged a drop-off fee of ~7,500 yen.
Options: If required, you can pay extra for options like baby seats, snow tyres, or insurance.
For your peace of mind, you might want to consider purchasing insurance for the car, especially when driving in a foreign country with possibly foreign weather conditions (e.g. snowy roads).
Insurance coverage amounts generally don’t vary too much from company to company, although you might have have to enrol (i.e. pay) in it for some companies.
Two more things to look out for:
- CDW (Collision Damage Wavier), and
- NOCs (Non-Operation Charges)
CDW is when you are waived of co-payment charges.
NOCs is the amount that you would have to pay if the car is deemed to be unfit for operation (e.g. when the car can’t be rented out because it has to be repaired/cleaned).
Both CDW and NOCs are typically not included in the rental cost and you have to pay extra to be covered for either.
Driving in winter
During winter months (Dec to Feb, although some places may have snow as early as Nov and as late as April), check the areas you are traveling to and see if snowfall is expected. If so, snow tyres are highly recommended. It’ll cost extra, but absolutely necessary.
There are tolls for driving on highways in Japan, and while you can pay by cash, an ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) card allows you to pay electronically, and is recommended.
Why is paying with an ETC card better than cash?
- There are discounts for ETC card users (e.g. Weekday night discount, Daytime discount, etc.)
- You don’t have to fiddle for coins; just breeze through!
- Traffic on ETC lanes moves a lot quicker; no need to queue!
- Many more lanes available for use
ETC cards can be rented for a small fee (something like 324 yen for most places).
Important: Make sure the car you rent has an ETC reader too!
Most rental cars have to be returned with a full tank, so don’t forget!
There are 3 main types of petrol in Japan:
Yeah, you’re probably going “Huh?!” but that’s what I’m here for haha.
- レギュラー (reh・gyu・rah) : Regular
- ハイオク(hi・oh・ku) (Esso calls theirs F1) : High Octane
- 軽油 (kay・you): Diesel
It’s unlikely you’ll need to use high octane unless you’re renting some super high-end European car or something, so check with the staff when you collect the car to see what kind of petrol the car uses.
Tip: You’ll want 満タン (man・tan) which means full tank.
A little Q&A:
Q: Why isn’t there anyone to help me?
A: Some stations are セルフ(seh・ru・fu) which means they are self-serve. But because of that they are usually cheaper too.
Q: Why is the price I’m charged different from the price advertised outside the station?
A: Sometimes, member prices (会員価格) are advertised as they are lower and makes for better bait haha
Q: Why is the petrol station closed?!
A: In Japan, only some petrol stations are 24hr. It’s not uncommon to have petrol stations close at 8pm.
I hope this was informative! If there’s anything I didn’t cover, just ask below!