Planning to rent a car in Japan? Having your own wheels can be a great way to discover the Japanese countryside and sites that lie beyond the biggest urban centers, but there are a few things you should know before setting off on your adventure.
Essential Tips for Renting a Car in Japan
Book from home. Don't wait until you get off the plane to rent a vehicle. It will be cheaper to book your car before leaving home.
You need an International Driving Permit. U.S. residents need to get an International Driving Permit to operate a vehicle in Japan. This document is simply a translated version of your state-issued driver's license and can be obtained from the AAA.
You'll drive on the left. Japan is one of a handful of countries (including the U.K., Ireland, Australia and South Africa) where people drive on the left. The switch can take some getting used to, so consider renting a car after you've recovered from jet lag..
English will be limited. If you don't speak Japanese, reading road signs and understanding the details of your rental contract will require some extra planning. Make sure to download an English-language navigation app to help find your way around.
Pay for the rental in yen. You may have the option to pay for the rental in U.S. dollars, but this option will cost you more in the long run. Pay in the local currency to avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion fees.
Liability and damage insurance is included. Japan's rental car companies include liability and damage insurance in the contract, but in case of an accident you'll be responsible for paying the deductible unless you add on a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). You could also have to pay a non-operation charge the rental company has to take the vehicle out of service.
Get an electronic toll card. Many Japanese highways have electronic tolls. Foreigners can purchase passes at rental companies that allow you to drive on toll roads for up to two weeks without incurring additional charges. The prices of the passes depend on whether you choose a Japan-wide pass or one for certain regions such as Hokkaido or Kyushu. The passes aren't cheap—you can expect to pay nearly $200 for a week-long unlimited pass for travel all around Japan, but the price drops to under $100 for a region-specific pass.
Don't rent a car when you're in a city. While a rental car can be great for checking out sites in the countryside, driving in Japanese cities can be difficult for non-Japanese drivers. Instead, plan on using public transit and cabs to get around.
Check out regional rental options. It's best to do some homework about the rental options and costs before getting to the counter, especially if you don't have a firm grasp of Japanese. You'll find local companies with names such as Nippon Rent-a-Car, Toyota Rent a Car and ORIX Rent a Car. Note that while these companies may offer websites in English, you might still have translation issues when going to pick up the car.