If you’re traveling in Japan from overseas the idea of renting a car to get about is probably pretty daunting, but it needn’t be, as car rentals here are very efficient, and with a little bit of knowledge, easy to navigate and understand.
Rental cars aren’t especially necessary if you plan to stay in and explore the larger cities only, as they have excellent public transport networks. However, they are an attractive alternative if you want to venture off the beaten-track into the countryside, where public transport can often be both inconvenient and infrequent.
Rental cars can also be a more cost-effective way of getting about for groups of people, especially for those with luggage and suitcases that need to transported from location to location.
Car Rentals in Kumamoto
The wider prefecture of Kumamoto is exactly the sort of place a rental car can come in very handy, with a wealth of interesting places to explore along the beautiful coastlines to the west of the prefecture, and through the rugged mountains to the east.
Exploring the windings roads of Mt. Aso, in Kumamoto
Kumamoto has a good selection of car rental companies ready to cater for your needs, they are typically concentrated in the city center around Kumamoto Station, and around Kumamoto Airport which is situated to the east of the city. There are also a few stand-alone rental shops scattered throughout the rest of prefecture.
Recommended Routes within Kumamoto Prefecture
If this is your first time in Kumamoto and you’re sure which direction to head in we’d like to introduce two routes that show off the very best of the prefecture, and are ideal for exploring by rental car. They are both easy to access from hotels within Kumamoto City or from Kumamoto Airport, if that’s where you will be starting your adventure.
Mt. Aso and the Milk Road
The first route will take you through the stunning scenery of the Aso Kuju National Park, allowing for great views of Mt. Aso, a highly active volcano and along Milk Road, a winding road flanked on both sides with green pastures filled with grazing cows.
The route starts in the northwest of the area along Route 339, it joins Route 12 and then takes you along Route 45, towards the northeast corner of Aso Kuju National Park.
Driving the Milk Road through the Aso Kuju National Park
The Amakusa Pearl Line
The second route is over on the west side of the prefecture along the Amakusa islands. This whole area is dotted with lovely views out over the ocean and the surrounding islands, of which there are 120 in total. This route will take you across five large bridges, allowing for spectacular coastal scenery along the way. Highlights include views from the Matsushima Observatory.
Exploring the open roads along the coastline of Amakusa, Kumamoto
Aerial view of the Pearl Line that traverses multiple bridges and islands
Getting Started with your Car Rental
Exploring Kumamoto by Rentacar
The first thing you will need to do if you don’t have a Japanese Driver’s License is obtain an International Drivers Permit (IDP) from the National Automobile Association in your home country for a small fee. Foreign nationals can drive in Japan with a recognized IDP for up to one year, after which a new permit is required. Please note – you cannot apply for or obtain an International Drivers Permit in Japan if you are not a resident of Japan.
This is an example of an International Drivers Permit obtained in Japan, your permit will have the city and country of issue printed on the front
Next, you find the company from who you want to rent your car (an online search should provide you with a variety of options), and proceed to make a reservation either online or by telephone. Most of the big rental companies in Japan have English support on their homepages, this doesn’t necessarily mean there will be English speaking staff should you decide to make your booking over the phone.
Rates usually start from around 5000 JPY per 24-hour period for a compact car, and can go up to 15,000 JPY for a full size family vehicle, or more for vans and other such vehicles.
Some companies offer 12-hour rentals at a cheaper rate, and most places will offer discounted rates if you rent the car over a period of days. Rates tend to include unlimited mileage, taxes and basic insurance cover. Insurance can be upgraded for a fee to ensure you are fully covered – something we recommend regardless of how short your planned trip is.
The open roads of Kumamoto are perfect for exploring in a rental Car
At the Car Rental Shop
Once you have your reservation in place you just need to turn up with your Drivers License or International Drivers Permit on the day/time of the booking. You are required to pay the total cost of the rental at this time, a receipt for which will be issued when you return the car. Payment can be made with either cash or by credit card (we recommend you have cash as a back-up).
Inside a Car Rental Shop
The staff will go over the details of the various insurance options – if they don’t speak English and you don’t understand Japanese, they usually have a detailed print-out in English for you to look over. They will also explain what to do in the event of an accident or emergency. You then inspect the car for any damages, and providing there are no issues, you are usually on your way within about 20-30 minutes.
Remember, Japanese cars have their steering wheel on the right-hand side of the car, and traffic flows on the left-hand side of the road - the same as in the UK and Australia.
Steering wheels in Japan are on the right-hand side of the car
Note – Car rental shops at the airport are usually located a short distance from the terminal. Once you have located the company desk inside the arrivals terminal your rental company will provide you with a free shuttle bus to and from the terminal to the rental shop.
Airport Pick-up Shuttle Bus
Most rental cars these days come with in-built GPS navigation systems already included in the initial cost, but some places require an extra fee for an external GPS unit. Many of the GPS systems have an English menu option, which you can ask the staff to set for you.
Other extras that come at a small cost include child seats and snow tires (should you rent during the winter season).
Remember to ask staff at the car rental shop to switch your GPS system to English
Returning your Car
Rental cars are usually returned to the place at which they were rented, however for an extra fee you have the option of returning them to a different branch of the same company. The amount of this fee varies depending on company, length of rental and location.
You are expected to always return the car with a full tank of gas, although some companies offer a system where you pay a little extra for them to fill the tank for you. The cheaper option is to always fill it yourself.
List of Car Rental places in Kumamoto
The following is a list of companies (in alphabetical order) that have car rental outlets in Kumamoto Prefecture with English information webpages. In some instances these companies may have more than one branch in Kumamoto, a quick look at their website should help you decide which branch is most convenient for where you will be located.
Budget Car Rental – Kumamoto Various Locations
Nippon Rentacar – Kumamoto Various Locations
Nissan Rentacar – Kumamoto Various Locations
Orix Rentacar – Kumamoto Various Locations
Sky Rentacar – Kumamoto Various Locations
Times Car Rental – Kumamoto Various Locations
Toyota Rentacar – Kumamoto Various Locations
Exploring Kumamoto by Rentacar