Just do it! Honestly it’s definitely worth it. There are tons of reasons why it’s a good idea.
- Sights: Japan has so much to offer with sights and amazing landscapes spread around the whole country.
- Safety: People drive very well in Japan and I rarely experienced traffic aggression. In the three weeks we drove, I got honked at only once.
- Roads: The roads are of very good quality, I rarely had to drive on gravel roads. In the Kansai area the roads in the hills were quite narrow at times but picturesque.
- Escape the crowds: With Japan being such a popular destination, most of the sights you will visit in the bigger cities will be packed of tourists. That is why it was nice to drive to less popular areas and experience a different Japan. With the result that locals were surprised to see foreigners and starting a staring competition.
- Comfort: Japan is all about being comfortable. Most of the cities have tourism centres with good detailed maps of the whole area. At most, if not at all, sights, you will find a parking right next to the actual sight, so people don’t have to walk too much 🙂
- Pricing: In the end it would have cost us more to go by public transport than by car to see all the places we’ve seen when driving.
Things you need to know:
- Validity of your driver’s license in Japan. As a Belgian, I was obliged to get my driver’s license translated into Japanese. It’s not enough to have only your international license! I went to the JAF in Sapporo and got my license translated in one hour. Watch out in popular cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, where this can take weeks. I recommend contacting the JAF office in advance. (link to JAF : http://www.jaf.or.jp/inter/entrust/index_e.htm)
- Toll roads: Most of the big highways in Japan are toll roads and are quite expensive. It is however possible to take smaller roads to avoid to pay, which we did. It takes longer but you see beautiful landscapes.
- Left, always left: Like in Britain, in Japan you drive on the left side of the road and most cars are automatic. So no need for all new left side drivers to hit their right hand repetitively against the window when attempting to change gear.
- Maps.me: We used the mobile app “maps.me” as our navigation system and it was quite accurate. However, we still used the maps from the tourist offices to have more details. It was a good combination.
- Rentalcars.com: We booked the cars online through Rentalcars.com. This website is reliable and the pricing is good. It offered us the cheapest deals in Japan in English.
- Parking: We avoided driving in big cities but we’ve heard that it’s expensive to park and that the police is severe about illegal parking
- Michi-no-eki: No worries if you don’t find a camping or a hotel to sleep at. In most of the cities you will find a free parking area dedicated to travellers/truckers that need to sleep in their vehicle. You will usually find at those locations a toilet, vending machines and sometimes a tourism office. Some michi-no-eki’s also offer access to their wifi network. Look online or ask the tourism offices to find the location of these parking areas.