I thought it might be helpful to write a little about renting a car in Japan, in April this year we hired a car and self-drove for 4 days in Yamanashi prefecture.
Japan arguably has one of the best transportation systems in the world and so for many people renting a car wouldn’t cross your mind whilst visiting Japan. If you plan to go to some of the main draws in Japan, Tokyo or Kyoto then a car probably isn’t necessary. However, more and more people are wanting to see a different side of Japan, out of the neon lights and into the green of the inaka- the Japanese countryside. Here transportation is a little different and a number of great locations to visit might have little to no access via buses or trains.
For my fourth trip I really wanted the freedom of getting around in Japan much more easily, and the ability to go at our own pace was really appealing. We love (are obsessed with) Mount Fuji, and having been to Kawaguchi-ko and Yamanaka-ko before I knew that, although there are a number of bus routes, with locations so far apart it would really reduce what you could see each day. For photography purposes too it made more sense to be able to get around at 4am to catch a sunrise, rather than wait for the first bus of the day.
We rented with Toyota Rent a car at their Kawaguchi-ko branch. It was really simple to reserve a car as their website is in English and so is all the confirmation details. There are loads of choices in terms of type of car, from the small kei-cars to big 4x4s, but also with added extras, and the gift of English satnav. When we arrived to get the car an English speaking member of staff took us through all the safety and legal information.
In Japan they drive on the left side of the road, being from the UK I have always done so, so I had no concerns with that. If you are concerned about road signs then it is very easy to learn the basic signs for stopping etc. Being pictographs most signs can be worked out, and those with kanji on can often be recognised simply by shape.
In the picture above you can see that signs to location use English and that speed limits and other signs are easily able to be understood. One sign that can be a little confusing is the “stop” sign, in most countries this is housed in a hexagonal sign, whereas in Japan they use an inverted triangle with the kanji “止まれ” within.
One other thing to get used to is the speed, the speed limits in Japan are really low! The above picture shows a 40 kph speed limit! We did find that by sticking to the speed limit we got overtaken quite frequently, but no one was aggressively tail gating or even honked at us for obeying the speeds.
Driving in Japan was really great, it was easy to get used to the road systems, signage and the operation of the car. It really gave us the ability not only to explore and visit places we wanted to, but also to find new places that we didn’t even mean to visit!
The picture below is us stopping right by some SFD land for lunch!
I’d really recommend renting a car in Japan, the roads are all well laid out and there are so many great places to visit which are off the beaten track, I will definitely be doing a self drive holiday in Japan again. The only thing that might reduce how long that is for is the cost, Toyota are apparently quite an expensive company to rent from, at around £50 a day for the options we selected. However, if you think about the cost of a JR pass then a car suddenly doesn’t seem to bad!