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Go for a drive! Guide to Renting a Car in Japan

The best part about driving is being able to enjoy your trip as freely as possible. Why not head for sightseeing locations that you can't reach via public transportation, or make your own way throughout the country? You'll make your trip even more fun. Here are some tips on renting a car in Japan, so please try it.

1. Items necessary for renting a car in Japan

When you're renting a car in Japan, the driver's license and passport are required. In many cases, they also require a credit card, so please make sure your cards aren't expired.
The driver's license needs to show that you understand Japanese traffic laws and are certified to drive in Japan by Japanese law, so please make sure you have one of the following:
1. A Japanese driver's license
2. An international driving permit that follows the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic laws
3. A driver's license from your own country or region provided your country does not issue international driving permits and your country is considered to have the same driving laws as Japan. Must be carried with a Japanese translation done by a person recognized by the government. *A translation done by yourself will not be accepted.

2. Use the convenient rental car reservation site, TOCOO!.

This rental car site works in cooperation with a wide variety of companies, from national rent-a-car chains to local, small rental car businesses. They offer the lowest prices for every plan available at all rental car companies. Instead of going through and comparing all the estimates yourself, the site will do it, and you can use it to complete your reservation. You can search by your conditions, including date, airport, station, 24-hour branches, etc., so it's very convenient! This is a site that people who want to rent cars should definitely check out.
*To use this site, you must complete a free registration process.

2. Use the convenient rental car reservation site, TOCOO!.

3. Main Japanese Rental Car Services

・Toyota Rent-A-Car
There are many branches, around 1,200, and there are both English and Chinese reservation sites available, making it very convenient. There's a free one-way system where you can drop off your car at specific places within the same prefecture. There are English and Chinese GPS systems available (please confirm when you make your reservation). You can rent an ETC card for an extra fee, which is like a credit card that you can use to electronically pay toll fees so no need for cash on the road.
・Nippon Rent-A-Car
There are 24-hour branches in many places, including Narita International Airport, Haneda International Airport, Kansai International Airport, etc., so you can rent or return the car before your very early or very late flight. The reservation site is only available in English. There's a free one-way system available at certain places within the same prefecture. You can have a GPS and ETC card included for extra fees.
・Times Car Rental
There are English and Chinese reservation sites available, and you can rent sports and luxury cars in addition to Japanese cars. There is also a 24 hour emergency support service that is available in ten different languages, including English and Chinese, so you can rest assured in the case of car failure or accident.
*ETC cards are electronic, so no need to stop when passing through toll roads as long as you're going below 20km/h. If you don't have an ETC card, you must stop at the toll booth and get a ticket, then pay the fare in cash when you're getting off the toll road.

4. Things to watch out for on Japanese roads (traffic laws)

Traffic laws vary from country to country, so here is some information you should know before driving in Japan.

・Pedestrians have the right of way.
・Japan is a country that drives on the left, with steering wheels on the right.
・Because Japanese signs are only in Japanese, please learn how to identify basic traffic signs like one way, stop, speed limits, no entry, and no parking signs.
・It isn't an exaggeration to say that street parking in Tokyo is almost always forbidden except for paid street parking. The car may be towed if you park, so please park in lots.
・Before a railway crossing, one must stop, listen to hear for a train, and only pass through the crossing when the car in front of you has completely gone through. If you are caught not stopping, then you may be stopped by police.
・You cannot drive if you'd had an alcoholic drink. If the driver gets caught drinking and driving, the passengers will also be considered in violation of the law.
・You should not use your cell phone or the GPS system while you're driving.
・Using seatbelts is required.
・Children under 6 must sit in a child seat (can be rented from the rental car company).

5. Things to watch out for on Japanese roads (tips)

It's finally time for departure. Here are some points that you should watch out for on the road.

・Gas stations offer three types of gas: high octane, regular, and diesel. Please make sure not to use the wrong type of gas, as using the wrong type will damage the car. Make sure to take extra care at self-service stations.
・In Japan, fender benders and bumping into other cars or things are counted as accidents. Please be careful when parking to not damage the bumpers.
・In Tokyo, the roads and highways are often very crowded. Parking lots are also limited in number and also cost money, so renting cars is convenient if you have lots of time and money and want to leisurely travel seated.
・On highways, the exits, mergers, and divergences are very complicated, so even many Japanese people get confused. When you use it, please double check the routes and numbers of where you're going beforehand to reduce trouble.
・In an emergency, please call 110 for accidents (police) or 119 for ambulances.
There are many other rules to know, so please double-check beforehand.

6. Recommended places to visit in a rented car

・Perfect for rental car trips! Okinawa
Okinawa doesn't have trains other than a monorail, so it's recommended to rent a car there. There are many tourism areas, including beautiful beaches and World Heritage sites. Driving along the Kouri Oohashi Bridge underneath the blue sky and over the blue sea, or crossing the dynamic Nirai Kanai Bridge heading towards the ocean, are ideas for scenic drives.
・Hokkaido, where you can enjoy nature in its best state
Japan's longest road, National Route 12 between Bibai and Takikawa, is in Hokkaido. Why not take a drive down the 29.2km, straight road while enjoying the nature surrounding it? In the winter, from the beginning of December to mid-April, the snow gets very deep so people who are not used to driving in snow should be very careful.
・Kyushu, the kingdom of hot springs
Many Japanese people enjoy going on a hot spring-themed trip and visiting springs like Takeo Onsen, Ureshino Onsen, Unzen Onsen, Yufuin Onsen, while also checking out historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu. Until December 18th, 2016, there is a Kyushu Kankou Shuuyuu Drive Pass available that can be used with a rental car where you can use all the highways in Kyushu for a flat fee to your liking for up to three consecutive days.

On a rental car trip, you can change your course and stop wherever you like. You also don't have to carry heavy bags after shopping. You can enjoy your trip the way you'd like!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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