Driving In Japan
Driving In Japan 運転
For visitors to remote rural areas in Japan, driving may well be your best option for getting off the beaten track whether in your own vehicle or a rental car.
Hokkaido, Shikoku, parts of Kyushu, the prefectures of Yamaguchi and Shimane in the deep south of Honshu and Aomori and Akita in the far north can all be comfortably and affordably explored by car.
Providing you have a valid Japanese license or an international driver's license and a foreign driver's license that is at least 3 months old and is approved by the Japanese authorities then you can legally hire or buy a car while in Japan.
Hiring a car, rather than owning one, is becoming a cheaper option and is worth considering if you are a resident or visitor in Japan. Car hire companies congregate near major railway stations and ferry terminals in the big cities.
Cars in Japan drive on the LEFT, with the steering wheel on the right of the vehicle.
Vehicles come in all shapes and sizes on Japan's roads - be prepared for surprises
Apart from Expressways, there are few toll roads in Japan, and the mostly two-lane Expressways are your best bet for getting anywhere quickly.
Driving on Japanese national roads can be very slow due to the amount of traffic, the number of traffic lights and the few multi-lane roads that are suitable for overtaking. Estimate average distance covered at around 40-45km per hour on non-Expressway roads, very slow by world standards.
Speed limits are usually 80-110km/h on Expressways, 50 to 60 km/h on out-of-town national roads and 30-40 km/h in urban areas.
Unless you have an ETC unit and card in your vehicle, you will need to stop at the toll barrier as you enter a Japanese Expressway and take a ticket.
When you exit the Expressway, produce the ticket and pay the toll in cash or using a pre-paid Expressway card, which can be purchased at service areas on Expressways.
Service areas can be found at regular intervals of 50 to 150 kilometers with restaurants, convenience stores, gasoline, overnight parking, toilets and maps.
Some typical driving times on the Expressway are 5 hours from Kyoto
to Tokyo with a cost of 9,800 yen in Expressway tolls, Nagasaki-Kumamoto
(1 hour, 2,800 yen), Tokyo-Hakone (1 hour, 20 minutes, 1,800 yen), Sendai-Morioka
(2 hours, 5,800 yen).
* Note: these times are for the Expressway only and not for the time taken to reach the Expressway.
Car Insurance In Japan
All drivers in Japan must have at least third party insurance and carry the documentation (hoken-shomeisho) along with your driving license in the glove compartment when driving.
Fully comprehensive insurance at various levels is also available and usually recommended.
If you do have a serious accident involving the hospitalizing/death of a third party or serious damage to another vehicle or property, the claims on your insurance will be large, if not to say, catastrophic.
An old black Toyota Century, the vehicle of choice for Japan's bureaucratic elite, in Chiyoda ward, Tokyo
Cars with under 1000cc engine capacity have yellow number plates and are called K-cars in Japan
Useful Links & Addresses For Driving In Japan
- (Tel: 0570 002811) Japanese Automobile Federation
Driveplaza - Has a search feature to calculate Expressway tolls (in Japanese)
W-Nexco - West Nippon Expressways (English)
E-Nexco - East Nippon Expressways (English)
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