How to Rent a Car in Japan

If you are coming to Japan, are planning on getting out of the main centers of Tokyo or Osaka, and are able to get an International Drivers License, we highly recommend renting a car. The freedom that comes with driving while on holiday in Japan cannot be understated, making it easy to get to that out of the way restaurant, onsen, or ryokan. If you are travelling with family or a group of friends, driving can also be cheaper and far less hassle than taking public transport.

  • 01

    Rental Companies

    Nippon Rent a Car

    Nippon Rent a Car

    There are four major car rental companies in Japan that have locations nationwide, and are guaranteed to be close to the major train stations and airports.

    These companies are:
    ● Nippon Rent-A-Car
    ● Toyota Rent-A-Car
    ● Nissan Rent a Car
    ● ORIX Rent-A-Car

    There are also a lot of smaller and local companies, especially in less-populated areas, but renting a car from these four major agencies have a few advantages: the cars available will be relatively new, car navigation systems (often multilingual) come standard, consistent pricing, and the reservation systems on their websites are easy to navigate.

    In addition, due to the number of branches available, you can also choose a ‘drop-off’ option allowing you to leave your car at your destination, and continuing on your journey or returning via a different mode of transport. But above all, these four companies have brand recognition and are very reliable.

  • 02

    Preparing to drive in Japan

    Preparing to drive in Japan

    Preparing to drive in Japan

    If you are just travelling to Japan for a holiday, you will be legally permitted to drive by getting an International Driving Permit before you leave your home country. The process is relatively straightforward, and drivers with an International Driving Permit can drive in Japan for one year from their date of entry into Japan.

    Travellers from Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Monaco, Switzerland, or Taiwan, can legally drive in Japan for up to one year with only an official translation of their license and do not require an International Driving Permit. Check with your local embassy for more details. If you are planning on staying in Japan for over one year as a foreign resident, you can convert your foreign license to a Japanese license.

  • 03

    Renting a car

    Renting a car

    Renting a car

    Once you have your Driving Permit ready, it is a simple process to rent a car in Japan. We rented a car with Nippon Rent-A-Car which we recommend due to their level of service, but if you are renting from one of the four major rental companies the process is very similar.

  • 04

    Make a reservation on their website before you arrive

    Make a reservation on their website before you arrive

    Make a reservation on their website before you arrive

    The Nippon Rent-A-Car site is multilingual and supports English, Traditional Chinese, Korean, and Thai languages. As Nippon Rent-A-Car is not tied to an individual car maker, you can choose from a range of cars from various manufacturers.

    If you are looking for a compact car for two or three people, the Honda Fit is a popular choice, and if you are looking for a vehicle for a larger group the Toyota Alphard is a large luxury class van. Nippon Rent-A-Car also has a Premium Car Rental service featuring cars from manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

  • 05

    Arriving at the airport

    Arriving at the airport

    Arriving at the airport

    As well as locations nationwide, Nippon Rent-A-Car and other car rental agencies have counters at major airports such as Narita. If you have already made a reservation online, you can come to the counter and pick up your car immediately.

    The staff will explain a few things:
    - Insurance: There are a few different types of insurance available.
    - Refueling: Please make sure to refuel the car before you return it.
    - In case of emergency: Please call the police immediately. If you are involved in an accident, you will need to receive a traffic accident certificate.

  • 06

    Interpretation Service

    Interpretation Service

    Interpretation Service

    These explanations are usually given in English, but if there is a particular point that you have a question about or something is hard to explain, it may be difficult for the staff member to understand. In that case, Nippon Rent-A-Car has an interpretation service available where an operator can be called to guide you and the staff through the conversation.

    If you would like to extend the rental period, or have been involved in an accident, this interpretation service can be invaluable. You will also be given a pamphlet which explains all of this information so please make sure to hold onto it for the duration of your rental period.

  • 07

    Picking up the car

    Picking up the car

    Picking up the car

    If you are renting the car from airports or major train stations, the office where you can pick up the car is often at a second location a short drive away. In this situation, the staff will drive you there by bus.

  • 08

    Check the car

    Check the car

    Check the car

    Before you are ready to drive away, check the car with the staff to make sure any scratches or marks that are already on the car are recorded. Most major rental companies—including Nippon Rent-A-Car—update their fleet every two years, so you can be guaranteed that the cars available for rent are comfortable and well maintained.

  • 09

    How to navigate

    How to navigate

    How to navigate

    The staff will also guide you around the car showing where the various, signals, gauges and levers are, as there is a pretty good chance they are different compared to the car you normally drive. They can also show you how to use the car navigation system, and change the language setting.

    The language interface supports four languages, but it can be difficult to search for and set destinations based on the place name as the underlying database of locations is often only in Japanese. In this situation, shops and other locations can be searched for using their phone number.

  • 10

    ETC Card

    ETC Card

    ETC Card

    If you are planning on using the expressways on your travels around Japan, we recommend that you also rent an ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) Card. This card allows you travel through the ETC on and off ramps, and means you don’t have to stop each time and pay with cash or a credit card. Nippon Rent-A-Car can supply a rental ETC Card, and you pay for the tolls when you return the vehicle.

  • 11

    Don’t forget the rules

    Don’t forget the rules

    Don’t forget the rules

    When you go to the counter to pick up your car, the Nippon Rent-A-Car staff will also highlight some rules that are particularly important because they are unique to Japan.

    - Japanese road signs
    Japanese road signs are quite different and you need to make sure you recognise them. The most important is the stop sign. If you come across this sign you need to come to a complete stop before proceeding, and it is violating this rule that has led to a high number of traffic violations by tourists in Japan.

    - ETC entrances for expressways
    When coming onto an expressway there are usually two entrances, ‘ETC’ for vehicles with an ETC Card and ‘General’ for vehicles without. If you decide not to rent an ETC Card you have to use the General entrance. Nippon Rent-A-Car specifically recommend renting an ETC Card so that you can enter the expressway comfortably and stress-free.

    - Parking violations
    In Japan, if you get a parking ticket for parking in an unauthorized spot you will need to go to a police station and present the ticket to them. If you need to park somewhere, use the Car Navigation system to locate a parking lot and park there.

  • 12

    Filling up your gas tank

    Filling up your gas tank

    Filling up your gas tank

    In Japan, the vast majority of gas stations are manned making refueling a safe and easy process. The staff are knowledgeable and familiar with basically every type of car so they can recommend the type of gasoline used in the car; whether it is diesel, regular or high-octane (also known as premium).

    If you’d like them to fill up the tank, just say ‘mantan kudasai’. If you come across a self-service, or unmanned, gasoline station you will need to be able to recognise the three types of gasoline. They are color-coded, but may not be written in English; red is regular, yellow is high-octane, and green is diesel.

    You can find more information in the Rental Guide you receive when you rent a vehicle, or on the Nippon Rent-A-Car site here: https://www.nrgroup-global.com/en/insurance_accident.php#target08

  • 13

    Special Offer

    NAVITIME Special Offer

    NAVITIME Special Offer

    NAVITIME Special Offer - Up to 5% Off

    Safe driving!

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