Japan Car Rental

Renting A Car In Japan レンタカー


Car Rental in Japan.

Renting a car in Japan is an economical option if you are wanting to get off the beaten track of the Pacific Coast cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya and explore rural Japan, where the local public transport of buses and trains can be infrequent.

Car hire makes real sense if you are touring one of the more compact islands of Japan other than the largest island of Honshu.

Consider hiring a car to see more of Japan besides the main island of Honshu, such as Hokkaido, Shikoku, Okinawa, Sado Island and parts of Kyushu. Even on Honshu, a rental car is recommended for particularly rural regions such as in the prefectures of Yamaguchi and Shimane in the deep south of Honshu, and Aomori and Akita in the far north. All these places can all be comfortably and affordably explored by rental car.

Rental fees can be higher in Hokkaido than the rest of the country and a premium is charged for the islands of Rebun and Rishiri.

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 a car while in Japan.

Car hire companies in Japan are usually situated near major railway stations. Some of the main nationwide car rental companies in Japan are Nippon Rentacar, Toyota Rentacar, Orix Rent-A-Car. Mazda Rentacar and Nissan Rentacar.

Cars can be booked online with the big international companies such as Avis, Hertz and Alamo that have tie-ups with Japanese companies, but it is cheaper to book when you arrive in Japan.

The number plates of rental cars in Japan usually have the hiragana character れ or わ before the four digit number.

Japanese rental car.
A hire car in Okinawa - note the わ character denoting a rental vehicle
Japanese K-car.
Cars with under 1000cc engine capacity have yellow number plates and are called K-cars in Japan

Car Rental Costs in Japan

Car rental prices in Japan are similar for all the major companies. Typically a 1000 cc-1300 cc compact car such as a Honda Fit, Toyota Vitz, Mazda Demio or Nissan March will cost in the range of 5,000-6,000 yen per day. "K-cars," vehicles with less than 1000cc engine capacity and a yellow as opposed to a white number plate, are cheaper. Larger saloon models, 4x4 land cruisers and vans are more expensive.

Car rental costs include basic third party insurance and a charge of around 1,000+ yen per day will reduce your deductible costs in case of an accident to third-party property or the rental vehicle itself from around 50,000 yen to 20,000 yen.

Japan Rental Car Facts


Most rental cars come with a satellite navigation system (GPS), radio and CD player built in. Ask your car company to show you how to use it and maybe enter the telephone number of your destination hotel or ryokan before you set off. Some GPS systems have the option of an English-language menu but the majority are in Japanese. If you are familiar with their use, then they will be a big help to navigation, especially if the driver can delegate navigation to a front-seat passenger.

Gas Stations

Gas station in Nagoya, Japan.
Gas Station in Japan

Rental cars come with a full tank and the car should be returned with a full tank. The word for full tank in Japanese is mantan (満タン). Your car rental dealer may ask you to bring the receipt from the gas station and may provide a form for this purpose. Gas stations are found nationwide in Japan, with stations in rural areas tending to close for the evening. Most Japanese gas stations used to offer a full service with attendants, but increasingly, and especially in cities, gas stations are self-service (セルフ) and 24/7. Highway service stations usually have a gas station. Gasoline in Japan is currently around 160 yen a liter (October 2014).

The majority of rental cars in Japan are now no-smoking.

Some companies offer an ETC (electronic toll collection) unit in the vehicle to automatically charge you as you pass through expressway toll gates, though you will need to supply your own ETC card. Child seats are available on request as well as ski carriers and roof racks.

A credit card is normally necessary to rent a car in Japan.

Japan drives on the LEFT with the steering wheel on the right.

Car Ferries

Cars can be taken on many ferry routes in Japan and are reasonably priced for short sailings. The extra convenience of taking a car from where you set out (especially if you have children) needs to be weighed against the cost of hiring a car at your destination. A journey from say Kyoto to Osaka by car and then ferry to Beppu in Kyushu may well be cheaper and more convenient than using public transport and then hiring a vehicle at your destination.

Japanese car rental J-net.
Car rental dealer in Japan
Japanese car rental Hokkaido.
Car rental makes sense for travel in Okinawa, Hokkaido, Shikoku and on Sado Island

Driving Times between Japanese cities

Some typical driving times and accompanying expressway tolls on the expressway are: Kyoto to Tokyo (4 hours, 50 minutes, 10,100 yen), Nagasaki-Kumamoto (2 hours, 4,720 yen), Tokyo-Hakone (50 minutes, 2,000 yen), Sendai-Morioka (2 hours, 4,680 yen).
* Note: these times are for the expressway only and not for the time taken to reach the expressway. Expressway tolls may also differ a little from the above according to which exact interchange you entered and exited from.


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 hospitalization and/or death of a third party or serious damage to another vehicle or property, the claims on your insurance will be large, if not catastrophic.

Rent A Car Search

Rent A Car in Japan.

Use the Rentalcars.com search box below to rent a car in real time. Search and rent cars in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo and Nagoya as well as many other locations throughout Japan.

Car hire from the biggest brands at the lowest prices - guaranteed!

Useful Japan Driving Links & Addresses

JAF - (Tel: 0570 002811) Japanese Automobile Federation
Nippon Rentacar (English)
Toyota Rentacar (English)
Orix Rent-A-Car
Mazda Rentacar
Nissan Rentacar
Driveplaza - Has a search feature to calculate Expressway tolls (in Japanese)
W-Nexco - West Nippon Expressways (English)
E-Nexco - East Nippon Expressways (English)
US Embassy Tips For Driving In Japan

Driving Video

Books on Living in Japan