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An Idiots Guide To Driving In Japan


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I figured quite a few of you who visit the Japan forum here would have had at least a fleeting thought about hiring some kind of sports car and driving in Japan during their trip. Despite the difficulties that CAN arise, it’s not too hard unless you’re a total idiot. Here’s an idiots guide to cover necessary points for the absolute beginner so you don’t go in completely unprepared.

Preparation steps:
(Before you leave for Japan)

International Drivers License!
For us Aussies, it’s as simple as going into your RACV/NRMA with your passport and drivers license, have your photo taken, handover about $25 bucks and you walk out with your international license. Without this and your passport, you won’t be able to hire a car full stop. Plus, if you get one, stop off at the Toyota Megaweb in Daiba and drive an 86 or something else in their roster around their facility.


Book a car!
The fun part! I’m assuming you want to hire a GTR right? No problem! Here’s the two main sites I see people using to hire a car. I have used Omoshiro as I wanted an R34 GTR.
http://www.premium-rent.com/en/ - A lot of modern and high end cars including the R35. For the man of many yen.
http://en.omoren.com/ - Mostly the 90’s classics. Use this if you want a Supra, R34, RX7 etc.

Important notes: You will need a credit card to not only book, but to pay when you arrive to collect your car. Visa and Mastercard are your safest bets.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS pay the extra for insurance. Common sense really. Its not a lot either.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS pay the extra to hire a GPS. (more on this later.)

Ok, so now we are in Japan. Ideally you’ve been in Tokyo for at least a few days and have familiarised yourself with the trains, the environment, and what Japan is like. You’ve either caught a train/trains or taken a taxi (moneybags!) to wherever you have decided to hire a car from.

Before you get to jump into the car you’ve picked, you will be required to fill out paperwork, give the car an inspection for any damage, and pay the sum on your credit card. We’re almost ready to go, but not just yet! First:

I cannot explain how CRUCIAL a GPS is. Tokyo is immense, and you’re a foreigner with no experience on their roads. Whether you use a Japanese GPS provided by the hire car firm, or are using roaming data on your mobile, this is a necessity!
If you are using something other than your phone, make sure the HOME location on the GPS is the rental location. This is your failsafe if you get yourself hopelessly lost, or when you need to head back to drop it back off. As your GPS will 99% be completely in Japanese, ask to get shown how to access the HOME location. Also ask someone to please enter in your destination to the GPS as well (if applicable.)
As far as I know there are very few English GPS systems available of Japan. I haven’t looked much, but if you can find one, Id highly recommend buying one before you go.


Oh yes I see know, how silly of me to not understand this! *extreme sarcasm*

Japanese Roads!

The local roads are similar to what you’re used to in Australia. Speed limits are clearly marked, usually either 40, 60 or 80kmh. Cars are RHD, you drive on the left and traffic lights behave the same way. Generally their roads are marked very clearly. Street signs are fairly universal, so just be observant.
The expressways of Tokyo form a spider-web of roads both above and underneath Tokyo. You will be merging on to and turning off of routes every 5-10kms. Despite the chaotic look of their roads at first glance, underneath they use a common sense approach to markings. Most road signs are written using Kanji, and then with roman lettering underneath. All the routes on their expressways are also numbered and lettered. Want to follow the Bayshore route? Just look for and take whatever entries and exits are labelled “B” (in actuality they sign it as "Bayshore route" but you get the idea)
Knowing how they code their roads is where it helps if you have a GPS completely in Japanese. If it’s a decent unit, it’ll list the code of your route. Is each exit or entry your taking numbered K6? Then look for and take the arrows pointing towards K6. Pretty simple huh? *refer disclaimer at bottom

Speed limits vary. On your expressways, most people sit at around 80kmh in the left hand lane, and depending on the road, either 100kmh, or 110-120kmh in the right hand lane.


Two examples of street signs you will see, now with these cheat codes its easy isn't it! As you can see, the letter and number codes are easy to read if you know what youre looking for!

Now this is super important. Tolls are EXPENSIVE in Japan. For example if you want to drive from Tokyo to Mt Fuji, which is only 100-150kms away, expect to pay around $50 EACH WAY in total in tolls on your journey.

Japan still uses manual Toll gates which can be a bottleneck. If you have an ETC http://www.go-etc.jp/english/ You just drive through the gates labelled ‘ETC” on a LED screen above the gate. The sensor reads the device, and off you go! Don’t even have to stop! Think of it like a Japanese Citylink account. If you want to go this route, organise it before you leave for Japan.
However if you do not, you have to drive through the gates with the led screen above coloured in Green and labelled only in Kanji. These are manual gates. There are 2 types. Entry/Exit gates will have you driving up, hitting a button and collecting a ticket. The next gate you get to after this, will be where you pay that ticket you collected. The gates can be anywhere from 5kms to 30kms apart. The further apart, the more expensive. Pay it, and off you go again! The other type will have you driving up and paying the toll in one go, collecting your receipt and then off you drive again! Pretty easy! Some gates will also do both in the one gate, and their led screen will be half black and half green. Makes sense doesn’t it!



Typical toll gate, makes sense now huh? Dont go through the ETC gates unless youve got a sensor, lest you feel the wrath of 1000 annoying car horns from people behind you

Service Stations!
We can’t forget if you’re driving a rental, not only do you need to fill up on your exciting journey, but also you will need to fill before you take it back.
They still have full service, service stations. Drive in, hand a bit of cold hard over to an attendant, they fill ‘er up, wash your windscreen, empty your ashtray and even more. This is all free. They then even direct you back into traffic. Say “Mantan genkin de” which means fill tank paying with cash. Make sure you tell them what octane you want as well.

At night expect to use only vending machines at a lot of service stations. Ahhhh how the Japanese love a good vending machine! Drive in, and put some cash into the machine next to the pump. Then fill your car. The machine will then print you a receipt. Take that receipt to another machine that will be near the office, insert it, and then it will hand you your change (if any) and a receipt. Off you go!



Sorry bro, my Micra only takes E85 made from Unicorn tears, you got any?

Parking L

Is very expensive. Like any first world country. The better the area or more convenient, the more expensive. Expect to pay around 600 yen (~$7) an hour. All days can easily be up to and over 6500 yen (~$70 AUD) a day. There are a lot of tiny little 2-5 berth carparks dotted all over Tokyo. They are unmanned usually and vending machine operated. If you plan on keeping your car overnight then you MUST make sure your accommodation has parking. I say this as a lot of hotels dont have parking. You have to remember how dense Tokyo is. Shopping centres have car parks, and there are multi storeys around. A lot of parking is only in Kanji, so expect to be confused. Rule of thumb, the further away you get from the city centre, the *easier* and more prevalent parking will be (including free parking)



Told you parking was hard to find! but what a bargain, its only costing me 1 000 000 yen per 30 minutes!

Now that I’ve covered a few things you will come across and need, here’s some hard truths:

- If you aren’t 100% confident in your driving and navigation abilities, I don’t recommend renting a car in Japan, or any foreign country for that matter.

- If you don’t have any kind of navigation equipment, don’t even bother trying to drive.

- If you don’t handle pressure or stress, same as above

- As the expressways go over and under Tokyo, and through mountains in the country, expect to go through some very very long tunnels. Expect to lose GPS signal and have to drive blind. This is where your abilities in driving navigation will have to shine so you don’t get lost. This WILL happen, so be prepared.

- Research the easiest way to get to where you are going, as you will changing routes very often. Even a relatively straight line will have you merging and exiting regularly. Refer to points above.

- I do not recommend driving in the actual city of Tokyo. Remember that Tokyo/Yokohama is home to like 30 million people, with an average of 6000 people per square km! The roads are congested, parking is scarce, expensive and hard to figure out. I would ONLY recommend renting a car if you are using it to go for a day trip or few nights trip out of the city into the country. Or doing some Wangan midnight style 2am runs on Daikoku Futo or the Shuto Expressway. (I don't condone it) Trust me, the novelty of driving a GTR in stop-start traffic for hours on roads you don’t know and signs you can’t read, getting charged an extra $50 per hour you’re late back to the rental yard loses its appeal real quick. It’ll make you dream of being back on a train, care free and fancy free.

- Don’t drive during peak times! 8am on a Monday? It’s going to be BUSY, 6pm on a Friday, SAME THING! Driving back from Mt Fuji on the Tomei expressway back into Tokyo on a Sunday afternoon? Expect to sit in traffic for 6 hours. (this is no joke, I know this from experience) Believe it or not, Japanese people are just like us. They go to work during the week, they like to go away for a weekend, and they like to go away as a family during school holidays when the kids are free. Unless you’re a fan of traffic jam simulators, avoid any peak times to maximise your driving pleasure.

- Driving is EXPENSIVE. Double the cost of your rental car. This will cover the costs of driving your car for a day or two. Tolls are expensive, Fuel is expensive, parking is expensive.

- This is based around renting a car in Tokyo. These rules apply to any other city in Japan, but each have their own identities. For example Kyoto is set out in a grid pattern, meaning navigation is a little easier (relative terms here people!) Universal truth though – congestion is REAL in Japan. Save your daily city travel to public transport, bicycle or your 2 plates of meat ONLY.

- Even though a lot of things operate under common sense, these are still foreign roads, with foreign rules in a foreign language. Expect to be confused, a little lost and sometimes frustrated.

- Japan is a cash society. Always have cash with you in the car. Pay for fuel, parking and tolls with the cold hard. Make sure you have enough to cover yourself and them some whilst in the car.

As I said this is just a very basic idiots guide for people who are going in completely green. Hopefully this helps a few people out! If you have any questions myself or others will try our best to help you out!


Why is the world sideways? I wouldnt be like this if i'd just read this guide first!
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This is Awesome! Thank you!!

I'll be planning a driving trip in Japan in November and hadn't even considered needing an International licence as I haven't needed one in other countries before.


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love driving in japan.

everyone speeds (about 75kmph in a 60 zone in tokyo) works well when everyone does it.

everyone is polite and follows road rules and it just works. don't be a jerk.... basic rule for most public interactions in japan.

remember to flash your hazards to say thank you if someone lets you in.

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awesome tips, thanks.

In the future I hope to buy a car over there (with help from contacts and organised prior to arrival) and for a road trip across parts of the country. Then sell the car before leaving.

I think I read someone had done this and it turned out well... what do you think?

(im talking about a holiday 1-3 months long)

also: f**k yeah to cruising japan in style


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awesome tips, thanks.

In the future I hope to buy a car over there (with help from contacts and organised prior to arrival) and for a road trip across parts of the country. Then sell the car before leaving.

I think I read someone had done this and it turned out well... what do you think?

(im talking about a holiday 1-3 months long)

also: f**k yeah to cruising japan in style


This is exactly what i want to do would be epic

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When I used to live over there one of the hardest things I found was when on an expressway and there is a fork in the road the signs only show one city name for each direction. Generally the next city along that route. When on a long trip it gets tricky when you know the final city but not the order of places you would pass. Obviously GPS would fix this but smart phones weren't around back then and my poverty pack car lacked Gps.

Flash hazards when people let you in which they do often.

Always keep cash on ya as nobody pays with cards

As for buying a car, As far as I'm aware you can only buy a car if you have an address, and it has available parking spots spare, they know how many spots some houses have and if there already used. I had to crush my car as I tried to sell it after leaving. Because I didn't have an address there anymore they wouldn't transfer it. Got some coin from scrap yard for it but not what it was worth

Edited by t_revz
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  • 4 years later...
  • 1 month later...

so everything went well with my hire car, except a few things:

- didnt come with ETC card, so had to pay tolls with cash. its a pain.
- google maps is better than it used to be for japanese roads, but its still unclear instructions and confusing as f**k for multi-layered roads.
- a bike rider and car driver were pissed at me once: I was in the middle road of a T-intersection (tight local streets) and car +bike approached from my left. So I gave way to them. Apparently I needed to go first, coz otherwise the car wouldnt fit? I dunno, i tried to wave them through but they looked at me puzzled so i drove off to the right... it was confusing.

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  • 1 year later...

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