Driving in Japan

Driving In Japan 日本での運転

Driving in Japan.

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.

Parts of Japan not served by railway can all be comfortably and affordably explored by car, such as Hokkaido, Aomori and Akita in the far north, the four prefectures on the island of Shikoku, Yamaguchi and Shimane in the south of Honshu, and, further south, parts of Kyushu and Okinawa, and, of course, tiny outlying islands such as Sado Island in the Japan Sea, the Izu Islands south of Tokyo or the Yaeyama Islands south of Okinawa.

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.

Akibacart on a promotional run, Ueno, Tokyo, Japan.
Vehicles come in all shapes and sizes on Japan's roads - be prepared for surprises

Roads in Japan

Driving in Japan.

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 40-45 km per hour on non-Expressway roads, very slow by world standards.

Speed limits are usually 80-110 km/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 (Electronic Toll Collection) 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.

Japan Expressway Pass.

Expressway Pass

The Japan Expressway Pass for foreign visitors can be purchased at car rental offices and works on the ETC system. The pass costs 20,000 yen for 7 days or 34,000 for 14 days. The pass is available for holders of passports of nations other than Japan and for Japanese permanent residents of other nations. A driving license valid for driving in Japan is also necessary.

* The Japan Expressway Pass pass cannot be used for expressways in Hokkaido, Sky Gate Bridge tolls (100 yen per round trip), Kanmon Tunnel, Daini Shinmei Road, Shuto Expressway, Hanshin Expressway, or expressways operated by the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway Co. or expressway public corporations.
However, it can be used on the Sanriku Expressway (Sendai-Matsushima Road), Kyoto Jukan Expressway and Bantan Road, operated by expressway public corporations.

Further information

Japan Expressway Pass Flyer (PDF)

Japan Expressway Pass Area (PDF)

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, Tokyo.
An old black Toyota Century, the vehicle of choice for Japan's bureaucratic elite, in Chiyoda ward, Tokyo
Japanese K-car.
Cars with under 1000cc engine capacity have yellow number plates and are called K-cars in Japan

Useful Links & Addresses For Driving In Japan

JAF - (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)
US Embassy Tips For Driving In Japan

Rent A Car In Japan 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!

Driving In Japan Video

Travel Books on Japan