would you like to know how to drive in japan? Or how to get a driving license and how to arrange a rental car in japan? Then don’t look any further, but read this article about driving on the left side of the road, traffic rules, refueling, parking and if it makes a difference if you are traveling as a tourist or with a visa?
Let’s take a closer look at the topic ‘driving in japan’:
In japan the left-hand driving. at the age of 18, locals are allowed to get a driver’s license and usually drive an automatic transmission through narrow streets or, in stark contrast, on four-lane carriageways at countless traffic lights. Especially in big cities like tokyo, osaka or nagoya.
In addition, many japanese are on the road with their bicycles and you have to watch out like hell. By the way, driving on a freeway toll. So it is not easy to adjust to driving in japan.
Travelling by car is worthwhile to explore remote sights, to be independent from public transport or to travel in rural areas (bspl. Yakushima or hokkaido) simply be more mobile. For this you need of course driving license.
If your driver’s license is valid in germany or switzerland (other countries) you need:
- Valid driver’s license from the above countries
- Passport and a
- Japanese translation of the driver’s license
But if your driver’s license is in austria (other countries) issued, you need:
- Valid driver’s license from the above countries
- passport and the
- International driving license
Translation of the driver’s license
There are two ways to have your driver’s license translated:
* – offers the translator service directly from germany you will pay four (!) weeks before departure you must use. To do this, send the following to japan experience:
- scan/color copy of the front and back of your driver’s license
- Your address + phone number
- address of your first accommodation in japan (if known)
- 6.500 yen / ca. 55 euro
- duration> 4 weeks.
- Send original driver’s license to ADAC: ADAC sudbayern e.V. , driving license translation office, ridlerstrabe 35, 80339 munich
- Transfer the amount to the following account IBAN: DE46 7008 0000 0381 0161 00, BIC: DRESDEFF700, purpose: FSu country and name
- cost: 65 euro + 3.80 euro postage
- duration: one week
- Completed application
- Your driver’s license
- 3.000 yen / ca. 26 euro
- Duration: 2 hrs. Until 2 weeks (i.D. R. 2 hours.)
- Opening hours: mo. Until fr. 9.00-17.30 o’clock
- This service can also be requested in advance by mail. You also need to provide a return envelope, 500 yen processing fee and a japanese address.
If you have a translation, it is enough together with your valid driver’s license and passport you are allowed to drive in japan. But there is still the matter of validity!
Validity of the driving license
International driving license: the international driver’s license is for example. For austrians at most 1 year valid! If your driver’s license expires during this period, your international driver’s license will expire on the same date!
Japanese translation: the japanese translation is for 1 year valid. For short tourist stays this translation is not necessary (if you want to visit japan for> 3 months out) on re-entry again 1 year valid.
Attention: official agencies disagree on this! At longer stay in japan I recommend to send the driver’s license at the office rewrite to have:
Transfer of driver’s license
If you are staying in japan for a longer period of time, you should bring your driver’s license to before the beginning of the second year have a rewrite. It works like this for german, austrian and swiss:
- # 1. Go to the nearest driver’s license office:
- Fuchu driver’s license office
- 3-1-1, tama-cho, choufu-shi, tokyo (googlemaps)
- opening hours:: 8:30-16:30 (mo.-fr.) and 8:30-11:30/13:00-16:30 (so.)
- Directions: JR chuo line – MUSASHI-KOGANEI station (north exit.) and take the bus #6 or #7 to the bus stop shikenjoseimon-mae + 1 min walk
- Shinagawa/samezu driver’s license office
- 1-12-5, higashi-ohi, shinagawa-ku, tokyo (googlemaps)
- Opening hours: 9.-11.00 and 13.-15.00 o’clock (mo.-fr.) 9.-11.00 and 13.-15.00 o’clock (so.)
- Directions: keihin kyuko line – SAMEZU train station + 8 min walk
- Koto /ost-tokio driver’s license office
- 1-7-24, shinsuna,koto-ku,tokyo (googlemaps)
- Opening hours: 8:30-16:00 (mo.-fr.) 8:30-11:30/13:00-16:30 (so.)
- Directions: tozai line – toyocho station + 5 min walk
- Kadoma driver’s license center
- 23-16 ichiban-cho, kadoma, osaka (googlemaps)
- Opening hours: 8:45-12:00& 12:45-13:30 (mo.-fr.)
- How to get there: furukawabashi station + 13 min walk
- Komyo-ike driver’s license center
- 5-13-1 fuseya-cho, izumi, osaka (googlemaps)
- Opening hours: 8:45-12:00& 12:45-13:30 (mo.-fr.)
- How to get there: komyoike train station + 3 min walk
- Your valid driver’s license
- Translation of driver’s license/international driver’s license
- driving license certificate for at least 3 months> present your passport and driver’s license and show that you have been driving for more than 3 months
- Japanese residence card (visa)
- Proof of your residence (住民票 jūminhyō) => get your ticket at your local city hall
- Passport photo (3 cm x 2.4 cm)
- If necessary. Vision aid (if noted on driver’s license!)
- Fee: 3.800 yen
- Time (lasts i.D.R. 4-8 hrs; there is no internet in the building!)
- #3. fill out application and go through various stations
Fill out the application, take the eye test and a passport photo if you don’t already have one. Thereby you walk from one station to the next one. Show up on time for the opening so you don’t have to wait too long and bring something to pass the time.
Do you have the first year already exceeded, you have to pass a written (and difficult!) pass practical test, which will get you from 30.will cost 000 yen in a driving school. Attention: but official bodies disagree on this point! At longer stays in japan I recommend to try first anyway, the driver’s license at the driver’s license office rewrite to let!
Almost everywhere you will find car rentals ( レンタカー rentakaa). However, at the local stores, the English skills of most of the employees are clearly limited. The easiest way to book a car is directly through their website:
car rental procedure
Before you are allowed to explore japan’s roads in a rental car, you will be briefed by the staff. This can take 10 minutes or up to 2 hours depending on how well the staff speaks English!
The you bring to the car rental:
- Print the booking copy
- Valid driver’s license
- Japanese driver’s license, translation/international driver’s license
The staff will copy all these documents and present you with the rental contract. We will also discuss when and where you need to return the car. After that, sign the contract and the staff will show you the car. Together you may look at. Display any existing damage and mark it on a piece of paper. Then the briefing takes place. Finally, they will give you the key and you can finally drive off.
Note: fill up the tank before returning the car. If you don’t, the car rental company will charge you accordingly.
If you want to save the extra fee, fill up the car before you drop it off. Japanese gas stations (ガソリンスタンド) offer either a full service (フル) or self-service (セルフ):
Full service (フル)gas stations require slight knowledge of japanese. Once you drive onto the site, an employee will direct you to the appropriate gas pump. Open the window, turn off the engine and open the gas cap. Tell the staff what you want to fill up:
- ハイオク haioku – super
- レギュラー regyuraa – petrol
- 軽油 keiyuu – diesel
Also, how much you want to fill up:
- 満タン mantan – fill up with gas
- 10 リッター – yu rittaa – 10 liter
- 20 リッター – ni-yu rittaa – 20 liter
- 30 リッター – san-yu rittaa – 30 liter
And how you want to pay:
- クレジットカード – kurejittokaado – credit card
- 現金 genkin – cash
Furthermore, the staff will pick up your trash (ゴミ, gomi) or offer free windshield wiping:
窓を拭きましょうか。 mado wo fukimashou ka? – should we clean the windows?
よろしくお願いします。 yoroshiku onegai shimasu – yes, gladly!
結構です。- kekkou desu. No, thanks!
After that, hand over your credit card or cash to the staff and wait for the receipt. Finally, the staff will guide you back to the road traffic.
gas stations with self-service (セルフ), on the other hand, have control panels, most of which are in japanese only. Just ask the staff for help here:
すみません。ちょっと教えて頂きますか。 sumimasen. Chotto oshiete itadakimasu ka? Sorry! Can you explain this to me?
Stick to the sentences/words from above. You pay directly at the pump or at the gas station.
#1. Select payment method:
- クレジットメンバー credit card
- 現金会員 – cash (for members)
- 現金 – cash
- 電子マネー – IC card (suica, pasmo, etc.)
- The easiest way to pay is by credit card (クレジット), because cash payment (現金) is more complicated! You get your change namely after refueling at a change machine (seisanki, 精算機)> see #8 cash payment.
#2. Credit card payment
Before refueling: insert credit card into the machine> map readout> take out card again.
#3. Determine type and quantity
Each row is sorted by fuel:
- ハイオク – super (yellow)
- レギュラー gasoline (red)
- 軽油 – diesel (green)
Tip: most of the time it is written in the tank cap what has to be refueled.
Then you select the quantity:
- 満タン – fill up with fuel
- 定量定額 – teiryou teigaku – fixed amount
#4. Touch Ground
Touch the button in the middle briefly to remove the electric charge.
#5. Select tap
At most gas stations, the grades are color-coded:
- Yellow = ハイオク – super
- Red = レギュラー gasoline
- Green = 軽油 – diesel
Wait until the tank is full.
#7. Take receipt
When you pay by credit card, you will automatically receive your receipt.
#8. Cash payment
When paying with cash, the same steps apply as when paying with a credit card. However, you take out the receipt and pay cash. If you get change back, take your receipt and go to an extra change machine (seisanki, 精算機). This machine will read your receipt and eject the change.
japanese road traffic
- Left-hand traffic
- Pedestrians always have priority
- Allowed alcohol limit: 0 per mille
- No phone or navigation device operation while driving
- Compulsory seat belts for all passengers
- Children under 6 years of age require a child seat
- Driving license from 18 years
Drivers in japan usually drive 10 km/h faster than allowed. Often faster if traffic allows it. Specifically, the following speeds are required:
- 30 km/h – in side streets
- 40 km/h – main roads
- 50-60 km/h – country roads
- 80-100 km/h – highway
speed camera in japan
Speed cameras often hang over the roadway disguised as cameras:
The larger box with the red light is a speed camera. Mobile speed cameras also exist, but rather rarely. They often disguise themselves as three black paper bags placed on curbs or in parked cars.
Most directional signs are usually bilingual (Japanese and English) and self-explanatory. A brief overview:
- Directional indicator:
- Stop sign:
- No entry (except bicycles 自転車):
- No overtaking:
- No Parking:
- Absolute ban on stopping (with exception for waiting drivers in the car& sundays and holidays):
- No turnaround:
- Pedestrian zone:
- Possible directions (not straight ahead)!):
- Pedestrian and bicycle path:
- Attention danger of slipping:
- Attention school route:
Japanese traffic lights
Traffic lights hang horizontally in front and/or behind the intersection. If there are one or more green arrows underneath, you are allowed to drive in the corresponding direction, even if the traffic light is red:
Attention: pedestrians usually have the green light as well!
- A red, flashing traffic light should be obeyed like a stop sign!
- Japanese drivers usually accelerate at orange and stop at red!
- In big cities like tokyo, there are traffic lights every 100 meters, so there are long waiting times!
Roads in japan
Most roads in japan are maintained and free of charge. In older cities or villages, the streets can sometimes be narrow and cramped. Exceptions are highways that charge tolls.
At railroad crossings you must always stop first! Just handle the yellow cross like a big stop sign and see if you have a free passage.
Crosswalk – NEW
Foot crossings are indicated on the road by two diamonds. Drivers must actually stop in front of crosswalks when a pedestrian is crossing. However, only a few road users adhere to this rule. As a pedestrian you better watch out if the cars are really stopping.
The "T" side street marking – NEW
A "T" indicates that you are entering a "T" intersection. If you find a "T" lying on the road, it means that you are on the priority road. However, if there is a "T", you must respect the right of way and stop.
Here you pay either with a special money card/ETC card (you get it from the rental car company) or in cash (一般). You can easily calculate the fees with the ETC calculator:
- Toll calculator guide: http://www2.Kumagaku.Ac.Jp (english)
- Toll calculator: http://search.W-nexco.Co.Jp/ (Japanese)
For example, the route is tokyo> kyoto for a family by car much cheaper than by shinkansen or night bus. For tourists there is a toll pass, but it is only worth it for long distances.
Parking (駐車場 chuushajou) in the big cities is usually quite expensive and costs several hundred yen per hour. In smaller cities or in the countryside you can often find free parking. In the vicinity of sights, a parking space costs about 500 € per day
1.000 yen (4.80 € – 9.50 €). Hotels in large cities offer parking for 1.000 yen / 9 € per day.
A special feature are parking lots with turntable lift and elevator:
To do this, you drive into the lift and when you drive out, you can make the car turn 180° with the turntable.
Tip: some parking spaces are marked with these signs indicating whether they are still free: 満車 (occupied) or 空車 (free).
If your car breaks down, pull over to the side of the road immediately and turn on your hazard lights. Place if necessary. Set up a warning triangle 100 meters away and call the Japanese Automobile Club (JAF) roadside assistance service:
JAF road service tel.0570-00-8139 ; or short number: #8139
The service is always 24 hours accessible. If your car rental company is a member of JAF, the service is even free. If you are in germany ADAC-plus-member you can also use this service free of charge. So: take your ADAC-plus-membership-card from germany with you!
If you have an accident in Japan, call them immediately:
- police: 110
- ambulance/fire brigade: 119
In case of an accident, you must always contact the police and report the incident. If your Japanese is not sufficient, ask other people for help:
救急車を呼んでください！ kyukyusha wo yonde kudasai! call an ambulance!
警察を呼んでください！ keisatsu wo yonde kudasai! CALL THE POLICE!
As with a breakdown, make sure your vehicle is on the side of the road and secured. Give first aid if necessary!
And now all clear?
Do you now know how to drive a car in japan? If you are not well informed, then I can not help you! If you prefer to take the train, I can understand that too. 😉
Explore japan with a rental car now!
Error found? Tips? Leave me a comment!
Do you want to know how to ride the shinkansen in japan?? Or where to find a shinkansen timetable?…
You’re looking for tips on how to travel around japan cheaply? You want to know how your..
Have you ever wanted to know how to find work in japan? Did you..
you have heard of the japan rail pass? Then inform yourself in this article…
126 thoughts on" [tips] renting a car in japan: how to do it! ”
Super summary. Should have read this before my first adventure on the streets of Japan. 😀 last year i drove more than 6000 kilometers in a motorhome through japan (like some others here via japancampers) . My experiences are in line with most of what you read in the comments here. Here are my 5 cents about driving in japan:
1. driving license:
the translated driver’s license seems to be endlessly valid, at least if it matches the document it was translated from. I also assumed the 1 year rule at first. But I also got told when I asked the camper rental company that the translation is endless.
2. Speed cameras:
i have only been flashed once so far (in kobe) (at least i think so, never got a letter 🙂 ). Speed cameras are almost non-existent, at least on country roads (I haven’t noticed any in any prefecture) – which is not an invitation to speed.
I think in urban areas or on the highways you meet them more often. Maybe it should be pointed out in this context that there are also prison sentences above a certain limit (30 km/h too fast i think). Up to 20 km/h over, it is however I believe ‘only’ 9.000 yen. Why the japanese are rather lax with the speed limits.
Come one also times gladly on the own road side to meet! This is quite normal in japan. Should be very careful in cities! Mainly because of this:
Always choose the best option. If you are involved in an accident, especially with personal injury, you can be banned from leaving the country! Be occupied until the damage is paid in full! Without appropriate insurance, this can quickly go into the hundreds of thousands of euros! Have many travelers not on the radar. Should be pointed out just for that reason.
I think the ADAC is a good place to go.
5. Staying overnight in the car:
"staying overnight in the 7eleven/family mart/lawson etc parking lots in your car is no problem" i would be careful with statements like that in the comments! It is generally forbidden in Japan to stay overnight in the car and can be expensive, should it be the coincidence that but times is controlled. For overnight stays in general, if there is a public toilet, it is more likely that it is allowed at this place (that’s why no one says anything against it at a konbini), it is also true for some parks that it is allowed there. But you should always ask if it is not signposted (unfortunately mostly in japanese)! and ignorance does not protect from punishment – especially with japanese officials.
BUT: generally the japanese have a super legal solution:
Michi no eki / 道の駅 / road station.
These are the official places where it is allowed to stay overnight by car. The overnight stay there is free and is also used by Japanese on trips. There is a network of more than 1400 throughout japan. All with 24/7 open sanitary facilities, usually with an attached store and udon restaurant for breakfast.
On country roads they are signposted. there is a japanese app that lists all michi no ekis with their characteristics and ratings. In google maps you can also find the road stations. If you stay there you play it safe! Some are even located on the beach or have their own onsen!
6. Engine Brake:
if you travel a lot in japan, especially in the countryside, you will quickly notice that there is a lot of one thing: MOUNTAINS. Accordingly, one is often on the road in serpentines uphill and downhill. The average european is often not so familiar with mountain driving. Therefore, it should be pointed out that after an hour of downhill driving the brakes like to get hot (and no longer so good or times a second not brake). That’s why it’s a good idea to shift down from D to 3 or 2 (depending on the make) even with an automatic car and to spare the brakes, so that you can stand still in case of emergency. You wouldn’t believe what you come across on narrow japanese country roads in the mountains. 😀
yes, the trucks all drive like hell in japan! On two-track interstate roads, it is better to make room for it. 😀 in case of doubt they are stronger.
googlemaps works fine, but the routing tends to suggest a shorter way through side streets instead of going through the next main street intersection. So always have the map in mind and weigh whether the route makes sense. Fixed installations in rental cars tend not to have this problem.
9. rain gutters:
a peculiarity of japanese roads. Especially in the dark on country roads one should pay attention to it. The rain gutters on the left and right of the road are sometimes not covered and so deep that many a careless driver had to wait for the towing service after the underbody of the car has made acquaintance with the road ..
yes, it takes forever to get from A to B if you don’t use the (toll) highways. Japan always offers you one surprise after the other along the way if you keep your eyes open. Best to plan roughly with a lot of time and concentrate on one region. There is too much to see in too short time. 🙂
Generally I can say, the normal rental cars in japan are mostly as expensive as a van or motorhome. The gasoline is cheaper than in Germany. So why take the train from hotel to hotel, when you can travel by van or motorhome much more independently, even in the hinterland, and also cheaper (transport and accommodation in one)? Since there are everywhere onsen and konbinis, it lacks one actually at nothing. 🙂
I hope that helps a few adventurers further. I’m going to keep browsing your site. 🙂