Ben Alcock

Travelling to Japan is a real treat. All that wonderful food, the gorgeous landscapes, astonishing cities, quirks and wonderful cultural traditions galore. And one of the best ways to soak it all up is from your own ride.

If you’ve been to Japan you’ll know that getting around is an absolute snap. Flights across and around the Land of the Rising Sun are affordable and frequent. And with an uber-efficient network of city metro rail services, inter-city locos, and the legendary Shinkansen bullet trains, exploring Japan is a breeze.

Shinkansen ‘bullet train’, Kyoto Station.

But have you ever considered a road-trip? Given the aforementioned conveniences you might well ask ‘Why would you bother?”

Well, for starters, there’s the freedom that being the master of your own vehicular domain brings.

Being able to stop when and where you want to for that unexpectedly delicious snack from a regional hole-in-the-wall will give you some serious Insta-chops.

You know those travel ‘moments’ that your taste buds are unlikely to forget—the ones you’ll very likely bore your real buds with through over-telling. But, hey, you’re a travel pro and that’s what you do, right?

So, if you’re considering renting a car in Japan, or recommending it to a client, what do you need to know?


Firstly, it’s pretty easy!

It all starts with an International Driving Permit or IDP.

Get yours before you leave home and you’re halfway there. The IDP is proof that you hold a current domestic driver’s licence but is valid only when you also carry your domestic driver’s licence with you—so, bring both.

An IDP is a requirement for renting a motor vehicle in Japan, costs AU$42 plus postage and can take up to 3-8 business days, to be processed and delivered in Australia.

Alternatively, you can pop into your preferred motoring club (NRMA, RACV. RACQ and the like) with a passport photo, your current drivers licence and get yours pretty much on the spot.


Book your car

Toyota car rental has a handy English-language website and pick-up points all over Japan.

Whether you use your favourite wholesaler or Japan specialist, broker or go direct, you’ll find the booking process much like that in any other country.

One thing you’ll find is a range of cars of just about every shape and size imaginable—some are seriously quirky.


Collect your ride

Picking up your car might be the one spot where a language barrier pops up. But don’t fear! Operators are adept at using translation tech to ensure all parties know what’s going on. The rest will be totally familiar—complete paperwork, inspect car and away you go.

Top Tip! Include an English-language GPS in your reservation, and getting from A to B and beyond will be an absolute breeze.


Hit the road

Waiting for change at the exit tollbooth, Kumamoto.

Japanese traffic is orderly and, even better, cars are right-hand-drive and they drive on the correct side of the road!

One word of warning: You pay to use the highways in Japan. Make sure you familiarise yourself with Japanese highway entrance (‘Interchange’) process. This typically involves pulling up to a boom gate or a tollbooth and collecting a ticket. You pay when you exit the highway.

Top Tip: If you’re planning on doing a lot of driving over a week or two, consider an Expressway Pass. These permit unlimited use of designated highways in specific coverage areas over a set number of days—usually 7 or 14.



Road trip lunch pit-stop. Eeny-meeny-miney-mo!

Hit the road and explore. Highway speed limits are typically 80-100 km/h, and there are regular rest areas (clean toilets, vending machines) and Service Areas with toilets, fuel, shops, restaurants and snack stalls. Yum!

No matter how you explore it, Japan is simply fascinating on so many levels.

Happy driving!

Have you ever driven in Japan? Would you?

If you’re looking for a Japan travel resource par excellence, visit the Japan National Tourism Organisation’s website—the official Japan tourism website for Australians and New Zealanders.