Touring Japan by car: Rental-car guide for tourists

rental car

photo by Vroom

The winter of record—making coldness is over, and spring is in the air. Many of you must be looking forward to going outside of the city for a picnic. When you go to suburban area or countryside, driving is the best way to get there, probably. But not many city dwellers own cars and drive on daily basis, especially in the central Tokyo. For such city people, renting a car can be handy when they occasionally drive to somewhere far outside the city.


Major rental-car agents in Japan

Rental-car businesses are often run by automakers’ groups other than car-leasing companies. JR group, which is the largest railway group in Japan, also has rental-car division that operates shops in many major railway stations. Unlike car-leasing companies and JR operated shops, rental-car shops operated by automakers only offer cars they manufacture. The followings are major rental-car agents in Japan.

Times Car RENTAL, Nippon Rent-A-Car, TOYOTA Rent a Car, ORIX Rent-A-Car, Nissan Rent-A-CarNiconico Rent-a-Car

Other than these major agents that operate shops across Japan, there are rental-car dealers who operate within specific regions and areas. 


Things you need to rent a car in Japan

In Japan, anyone who is 18years of age or older and has a driver license valid in Japan can rent a car. Drivers licenses may be issued to people younger than 18-years old in some other countries, however, you must meet age requirement of 18 years or older to rent a car in Japan. Also, you must have either of the following driver license to drive in Japan.

  • Japanese driver license
  • International driving permit according to Geneva Convention on Road Traffic
  • Driver license issued in Switzerland, Slovenia, France, Belgium, Principality of Monaco or Taiwan accompanied with a Japanese translation issued by an entity designated under Japanese law

※To rent a car with a license other than Japanese license, you must present your passport.
※Japanese translation must be printed by an embassy or consulate of license issuing country, JAF or Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan (Taiwanese license only). JAF has the largest number of branch offices across Japan. Translation service by JAF may be available on the same day, or take up to 2-weeks.



Booking a car

Though you may be able to hire a rental-car by just calling in a shop without booking, it is a good idea to make a booking beforehand as there is no guarantee that the shop may not have a car that suit your request. While a booking can be made over the phone during shops’ trading hours, online booking is open 24hours from anywhere suits you. It is important to compare prices and conditions of rental-cars. Among many comparison sites for rental-cars, “Rakuten Travel” and “Tabirai JAPAN” are easy to use with multi-lingual sites. Making an online booking on these sites is straightforward.

  1. Enter all departure date, return date, pick-up location, return location, vehicle type and other conditions and click “Search”. 
  2. Choose a car you want to hire from a list of available vehicles, then click “Select car”. 
  3. Enter your details including name, email address and credit card to complete a booking. 
  4. Print out a confirmation letter emailed to your address to bring to the shop on pick-up day.

Rakuten Travel
Tabirai JAPAN


Accessories and options for rental cars

Accessories and special options are available to meet your requirements. Details of deals may differ depending on agents and type of cars.

  • GPS
  • ETC card
  • One-way rental
  • Child restraint seat
  • Exclusion of liability compensation system
  • Automatic/Manual transmission

※GPS and ETC system may be included as standard.


Important reminders

  • Most rental-car agents require credit card payment. You may need to present your photo ID such as passport and public health insurance card in addition to your driver license.
  • Make sure to fill up a rental car before returning it. If the tank is not full when returned, you will be required to pay refueling charge set by each rental-car agent according to the travel distance you have made. 
  • Fees for one-way rental services, which are often provided by major rental-car agents, is calculated by a distance between departure shop and destination shop. The longer the distance is, the higher the price will be.


Happy Driving!

Hiring a rental-car in Japan is easy. You only have to have a valid driving license under Japanese traffic law. But make sure to carry your passport on you if you are driving on International Driving Permit, or Japanese translation if you are driving on the driver license issued in your country. Payment for rental-car hire is mostly made by credit card, then there will be no difficulties. Just remember to bring a copy of confirmation letter to the shop on pick-up day.


Related Article:
Three options for foreigners to drive a motor vehicle in Japan
Check before driving! Traffic offences in Japan 
Driver license: Procedures to update residential address when moving house
Driving tips in Japan: Gas Stations
Driving tips in Japan: Car parks
Driving tips in Japan: General roads
Driving tips in Japan: Toll roads
Driving tips in Japan: Car accident
Driving tips in Japan: Traffic ticket
Unlimited use of expressways! Japan Expressway Pass for foreign tourists
Best for driving trip! Regional expressway passes
Stuck on the road? Call JAF for roadside assistance
If you are buying a car in Japan: Guide to Japanese car insurance
What are insured? Check this before hiring a car in Japan
Japanese people no longer into owning cars? Car sharing in Japan
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Get first driver license in Japan! Driving lessons in English





あきらことほ Kotoho Akira

Living outside Japan for a good many years, I often rediscover nice little things about this country every time I return here. I would be more than happy if this column may help you find your "nice little things about Japan"!

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