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How to Rent a Car in Japan

Here are the basics on taking the road less traveled.

By 5 min read

Driving in Japan is one of the best ways to visit places off the beaten track. Even with Japan’s great public transport, some places are only accessible by car.

Renting a car in another country is no walk in the park. You need to consider where to get the car, whether your license will work and a few other things. Not to mention remembering to drive on the left!

Not to worry, here we’ll outline all the basics you need to know for renting a car in Japan so you can do all the exploring your heart desires.

License and registration

Check if you can explore Japan with your license.

One thing that you need to think about before you even leave for Japan is your license.

A lot of travelers opt for something called an international driving permit. This is something that you can get in your country of residence before you travel.

A few things to note about the international driving permit:

  • It must be obtained in your home country (at places like the Department of Motor Vehicles in the U.S. or the post office in the U.K.)
  • It costs a nominal fee to obtain
  • You must have a valid driving license in your home country
  • The international driving permit is valid for one year from the date of issue
  • You must have spent three months outside of Japan for it to be valid (this part is only relevant to re-entrants to Japan)

While the international driving permit is available for those traveling from places like the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and Australia, not every country can use it. Check the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department website for more information.

However, the nationals of some countries (like Germany, France and Switzerland) can drive in Japan with their home license and a Japanese translation. Check the list of applicable countries here.

Finally, getting your home driving license converted for use in Japan is also possible. Depending on what country you obtained your license, you may be able to just do the written test, but other countries are required to do the full driving test. This is a good option if you will be in Japan for the mid to long term.

Useful vocabulary

Before you head to a car rental spot, make sure you’re equipped with some Japanese vocabulary to get your ride as soon as possible:

Japanese Japanese (romaji) English
どこにかえせばいいですか? Doko ni kaeseba ii desu ka? Where should I return the car?
りょうきんけんだいみですか? Ryokin wa hoken-dai komi desu ka? Does this price include insurance?
ガソリンのしゅるいなんですか? Gasorin no shurui wa nan desu ka? What kind of fuel does it take?
レギュラー Regyura Regular gasoline
ハイオク Hai-oku High-octane gasoline
けい Keiyu Diesel
いちばんちかいガソリンスタンドはどこですか? Ichiban chikai gasorin sutando wa doko desu ka? Where is the nearest gas stand?
二人でうんてんします。 [Futari] de unten shimasu [Two] of us will be driving
があったあい、どのばんごうでんすればいいですか? Jiko ga atta ba-ai, dono bango ni denwa sureba ii desu ka? What is the number to call in an accident?

Rental services

Out of the sky and onto the road!

Once you’ve got your permit ready, you can head to a car rental to get your wheels!

These are the main car rental services in Japan:

These car rentals usually gather around airports and major train stations, where they’re within walking distance or have a pick-up service.

It’s possible to rent one on the day, but booking in advance is much better. You can book through their official websites or a travel site like Rakuten Travel to see if they have any deals. Rakuten Travel almost always has coupons, so look at them first!

Costs (and hidden costs)

Don’t forget to budget for gas!

How much you spend will depend highly on what kind of trip you’re going on, so it’s a good idea to figure that out beforehand.

For example, picking up a car in one place and returning it in another can be quite costly, so it might be better to figure out if there is an easy train route from one of the destinations.

Depending on where you rent the car, you can rent a car for 24 hours for a base fee as low as ¥3,000-¥5,000 for a kei (lightweight microcar) or regular compact car. But a luxury saloon or minivan for the same amount of time might run you around ¥30,000 or more.

You’ll need to ensure your wallet can also handle the extra fees like service charges, insurance, toll fees and gas. Toll charges can rack up quite quickly!

Depending on the rental company, there are usually two types of insurance you can add on, each costing around ¥600-¥1,200 per day. But getting both of these means you don’t have to pay sky-high costs if you get into an accident (up to a certain limit).

Renting and returning

Take good care of your rental car.

If you have a reservation, approach the counter and say your name and reservation time. If you don’t have one, start by asking if there are any cars available today: “kyo aki no kuruma arimasu ka?” (but note that it’s always far better to book in advance, as there might not be any available).

You will then be given a form to fill out, and they will take your license to photocopy. If you are using an international driving permit, show them your license, permit and passport.

Then you will be taken to your car, where you will walk around the car with the staff member to check for any scratches. Point out any you notice so the staff can write it down, then sign the document to say you’ve seen the scratches and take responsibility for any new ones created.

When returning the car, fill it with petrol first, as you will be charged otherwise. Take your rubbish with you, and go to the counter to confirm your return.

And that’s it! Don’t forget that in Japan, we drive on the left and you should be good to go.

Have you ever rented a car in Japan? Let others know what to expect in the comments below.

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