Although it’s possible to take in almost all of Japan using the Shinkansen bullet trains, there may be times when the traveler wants to explore attractions off the main routes, or just try out driving in Japan for themselves.
There a number of different vehicle rental companies in Japan that foreign travelers can choose from, but those traveling with the Japan Rail Pass should take note that only one offers special discounts for JR Pass holders.
Read on to read more about the Eki Rent-a-car System, a service offered by the Japan Rail Group at most major stations in the country, and what foreign visitors need to be able to drive in the country.
Can foreigners drive in Japan?
Foreign visitors who wish to drive in Japan are required to be over 18 years of age, the minimum driving age in Japan. Those who wish to drive a passenger-carrying vehicle such as a bus or taxi are required to be over 21 and have 3 years experience on an ordinary license.
To drive in Japan, most foreign travelers are required to have an international driver’s license issued in accordance with the Geneva convention, which is still within the 1-year validity period from the date of issue.
A valid international driver’s license permits the holder to drive any of the following vehicles while in Japan:
- Motorcycles with weight not exceeding 400kg
- Motor vehicles used for the transport of passengers with weight not exceeding 3,500kg, comprising 8 seats maximum in addition to the driver’s seat
- Motor vehicles used for the transport of goods with weight not exceeding 3,500kg
- Motor vehicles used for the transport of passengers comprising more than 8 seats in addition to the driver’s seat
It is possible for the latter 3 categories of vehicle to be coupled with a light trailer.
Foreign citizens who are resident in Japan are able to obtain a Japanese driver’s license issued by the Public safety Commission of Japan in order to drive in the country.
Renting a car in Japan without IDP
Citizens of the following countries are able to rent a car in Japan without having an International driver’s license:
- Republic of China (Taiwan)
In order to rent a car in Japan, nationals of the above countries are required to present the driver’s license issued by their home country, together with a Japanese translation of the same license.
It is possible to obtain a Japanese translation of a driver’s license at an embassy or consulate of the relevant country in Japan, or alternatively, from the Japan Automobile Federation.
How much does it cost to rent a car in Japan?
On average, the typical fees for renting a car in Japan for a 24-hour period, classified by vehicle type, are as follows:
|Sub-compact (up to 4 passengers)||5000 yen (46 USD)|
|Compact (up to 5 passengers)||7500 yen (69 USD)|
|Mid-sized (6-7 passengers)||10,000 yen (92 USD)|
|Full-sized (7-8 passengers)||15,000 yen (138 USD)|
|Vans||20,000 yen (184 USD)|
Rates can often increase during peak times for tourism, especially on the northernmost island, Hokkaido, and can also vary between the many car rental companies operating in Japan. Most companies also offer rates for shorter-term rentals, between 6-12 hours.
Rental rates usually include unlimited mileage, any necessary taxes, and mandatory minimum insurance (1000 yen per day) to cover damage, injury, and liability. These fees are included in the average prices above. Rental fees can normally be paid by either credit card or in cash.
Most car rental companies in Japan ask drivers to return the vehicle with a full tank of gas, although many will offer to refill the car at the drop-off point, for a reasonable extra fee. The average cost of completely filling up a tank in Japan is around 150 yen.
Car Rental Discounts with the Japan Rail Pass
Travelers with the Japan Rail Pass for the whole country are able to get significant car rental discounts at Eki Rent-a-car offices when they present their valid train ticket.
Eki Rent-a-car has a presence in or close by most of the major Japan Rail stations, so it is incredibly easy to hop off a train and into a rental car for the onward journey. All Eki cars also come with GPS navigation systems, making it easier for tourists to navigate.
Eki Rent-a-car offers holders of a Japan Rail pass 10% discount off regular Japanese car rental prices when they book online in advance.
In order to obtain the discount, it is necessary to make a reservation on the Eki Rent-a-car website using the promo code for JR Pass holders. The traveler is able to provide their personal information in advance using the online form, as well as to select the desired model of car and preferred pick-up and drop-off points (these can be different).
The traveler then only needs to show their Japan Rail Pass upon arrival at their selected Eki pick-up point to receive their 10% discount. The only condition is that the JR Pass used must be valid for at least 1 month at the time of soliciting the discount.
The traveler will also need to present their valid passport and the necessary driver’s license to pick up their rental.
Where to Rent a Car with JR Pass
Eki Rent-a-car offices are located at the following JR stations, sorted by region:
Jr Pass rental discounts are not available at the following Eki Rent-a-car offices:
- All Shikoku offices
If you are planning to visit Japan on a budget, don’t forget to make the most of the JR Pass discount offered by Eki and arrange to rent a car from one of the available stations!
General Advice for Driving in Japan
If you are planning to rent a car and drive while in Japan, you might want to take the following considerations into account:
- Japanese traffic laws – The most important thing to remember if renting a car in Japan is to drive on the left! Foreign drivers should be aware that driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited in Japan, and drinking as little as one beer before driving can result in problems with the law. Travelers should also familiarize themselves with the many different traffic signs in Japan before driving.
- Parking – Although parking in small towns and the Japanese countryside can often be free, parking in Japan’s urban areas can be quite expensive, depending on the size on the city and the distance from the center. Many tourist attractions and national parks in Japan will allow parking for a flat fee of around 200 to 500 yen, while city hotels will usually charge around 1000 per night. Parking at hotels outside of large cities is usually free.
- Gas stations – Although some gas stations in Japan are open 24 hours, many close during the night. It will be necessary to know some basic Japanese to fill up at a full service station and communicate with the attendant: knowing how to ask for the price, how to pay, and the correct type of gas should be sufficient. There are also many self-service gas stations in Japan, although the menu will be exclusively in Japanese and you may still need to ask an attendant for help.
Travelers who take these concerns into account shouldn’t have a problem driving in Japan. Just remember to make your Eki booking online before arrival in order to get your JR Pass discount!
Cover photo by Oliver Astrologo