Self Driving a rental car is one of the best ways to explore Japan. In fact, it is one of the best destinations to drive in Asia. A lot of people think that Japan is crowded and it is hard to drive but it is actually not the case, especially if you are doing other parts of Japan other than the Tokyo area.
Self Drive in Hiroshima, Kansai & Shikoku – Choose Hiroshima Airport
My recent trip to Japan covered Hiroshima, Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara) and Shikuko Island and we choose to land in Hiroshima Airport, simply Hiroshima has a fewer crowd and the air ticket is cheaper to land there. The air ticket to Hiroshima from Singapore cost around SGD 650 (USD 441) including return with Silk Air no transit. The distance from Hiroshima to Osaka by car is about 4 hours drive so you roughly know where is Hiroshima.
Our total stay is 9 days in Kansai and Shikoku Island. So if you do not know which airport to choose from for landing in the Kansai region, I highly recommend you to land in Hiroshima Airport. It is way better than Kansai Airport. Why? Less crowd so it is easier for you to get use to the roads and test drive, especially in a new country.
The benefit of car rental
The good thing to rent a car is you get to see the sightseeing spots that are hard to get to using public transportation. Thus, it saves times and money if you have 4 to 5 pax in a sedan car.
This is what you need in order to rent a car in Japan
1. Valid license from your home country
2. On top of that, please also apply for an international driving permit before your trip – a must.
3. Online booking with car rental company
Follow the steps for Online booking with Rentalcars.com
1. Click on the link above (Rentalcars.com)
2. Search the car you want
3. Indicate the rental days (including arrival and return day)
4. Insurance – the default setting will include insurance, please uncheck and do not purchase online.
Special pro tips: Insurance – please remember to uncheck the insurance box (It is default with insurance). Only purchase the insurance coverage when you pick up your car at the rental car counter in Japan. This is to avoid paying twice for the insurance coverage because even if you have paid the insurance coverage online, the rental car in Japan will still insist you to purchase another coverage as they do not believe you have really done that online. Unless you print out and show them the proof of insurance. ( We experience paying twice! At the UK self-drive and Japan Chubu self-drive)
Once you have touched down at the Hiroshima Airport, go to the car rental counter. There are several companies such as Toyota, Nissan, Times Car & Orix. Ours is Toyota so we go to Toyota counter and tell the staff we need to pick up our car. Show them the reservation.
Within 5 mins wait, the Toyota minibus comes and pick you up to the car rental office which is located about 5 mins drive from the airport. Their service is really good, they help you with the luggage too.
Car Rental Office
The car rental office is located about 5 mins drive from the airport. Nissan, Times Car and Toyota rental offices are located in the same area.
Toyota Car Rental Office
These days, most Japanese who work in the tourist industry speak English. If you have any question you wanted to ask and they cannot understand, please use google translator.
This is what you need to do when you are at the car rental office.
- Show your reservation
- Show your driving Licence & Internation driving Permit
- Tell him you want to purchase insurance coverage (I usually suggest to get comprehensive)
- Apply for ETC card – to save
- Credit Card
Great saving by ETC card
ETC stands for Electronic Toll Collection. It is super useful to get an ETC card because by using ETC you get a discount and can pass smoothly through toll gates without preparing cash for toll payment. Most importantly, there is about a 20-30% discount if you use ETC card.
Just inform the car rental staff you need an ETC card in the car, they will insert the card into the car (in a hidden area), you won’t able to see it and you won’t be able to take out also.
It is a postpaid card. All used toll will get itemized and you can pay when you return the car.
We spent a total of 22920 yen (USD 206.50) for the tolls bill. Please note Shikoku Island has a lot of bridges linking all the small islands so it cost a little more this time. My Kyushu self-drive and Japan Central Region self-drive did not cost this much.
Our Rental Car – Toyota Prius Hybrid
This is the first time we used the Hybrid car. What I like about the Toyota Prius Hybrid is, it is so fuel saving.
The total cost of petrol for 8 days in Hiroshima, Kansai & Shikoku
- 1st fill up cost 5700 yen (USD 51.40).
- 2nd fill up cost less than 1300 yen (USD 11.70) – 2nd fill up is the last fill up in order to make sure the petrol is full when returning the car, else, you will get a penalty from the car rental.
The total mileage for 8 days
Our total mileage was over 1000 km which include cities in Hiroshima, Shikoku, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara & back to Hiroshima.
How Big is Toyota Prius?
It is 1.8 sedan which can sit up to 5 people. Very spacious at the back and front. The trunk can fit 2 large suitcases (size 28-30 inches)
Ask for Briefing of the car before you drive away
Before you drive away the rental car, please ask the staff to brief you about the car. Ask them how to open the trunk. We have problem figuring it out where is the button and took us quite a while.
Driving in Japan – You see many bridges & tunnels
Driving away from Hiroshima Airport and Car Rental Office. See what I mean by using Hiroshima airport, there aren’t many cars and you could enjoy the autumn maple leaves. Really great for the first timer to drive in Japan.
GPS – How to navigate in Japan?
Most rental car has GPS and it is important to make sure to have one in your car. You can also use google map on your phone as a backup. The GPS will allow you to choose the language you want to use. Most of the GPS in the car rental company offers an English menu. Do not worry if you are not familiar with the Japanese address.
Another way to key in your destination is :
- Enter the place’s phone number. (Check all the phone number for the hotels you are staying in Japan before your departure). Please do not key in the international code but include area code.
- or you can choose to Enter zip code/postcode
Analyze which route to use before you select “Go”
There are many ways to arrive on your destination so it is really important to analyze which route to use.
Before you select go, please go to “5 routes” and check the details of each route. Each route will tell you the following :
- total km to arrive at your destination
- Toll road – some routes do not have any toll, meaning you may need to go through some mountain ride and could take longer time.
- The toll to pay – Toll road does not mean the fastest
- Time of arrival – I think this is one of the key factors to look at.
Tunnel in Japan
You will encounter many tunnels in Japan as Japan has so many mountains. Tunnels after tunnels.
Japan highway signboard
The signboard in Japan highway usually is listed in English (Romaji) and Kanji (Chinese character).
Choose the lane with ETC Toll Gate
Please go to ETC Toll Gate to exit. The ETC toll gate usually is light up with blue-purple neon light. I highly recommend you to use this exclusive toll system for highways that makes you possible to pass the toll gate without stopping. It really saves time and money (as it has discounts by 20-30%).
How much does it cost to rent a car in Japan
Well, it depends on what car you are renting. I can share my rental bill for your reference.
- 1.8 Toyota Sedan USD 723.00 for 9 days 8 nights.
- Car Insurance – 12700 yen (USD 114.40)
- ETC card only with no value – 340 yen (USD 2.20)
- My tolls covering Hiroshima, Shikoku Island bridges & Kansai toll – 22, 920yen (USD 206.50) Please note there tolls bill cost more in Shikoku due to the famous long bridges in this region such as Shimanami Kaido.
Traffic on Highway
Driving in Japan is really easy, look at the cars on the highway (below). Any place that is outside Tokyo is good to drive. We drove into Osaka city (Umeda Sky Building area), the second largest city in Japan. It wasn’t that bad at all. The traffic is pretty smooth and the parking is not that expensive at all.
Rest areas in Japan highway can be very interesting to visit, not just toilets and restaurants, it also has some entertainment such as ferries wheels, onsen bath, and shopping. Some rest area even has a theme and look like a theme park. Please remember to go in and check it out.
There are various types of parking you may encounter during your road trip to Japan. There are abundant of parking lots in Japan, not sure why but I notice many of the spaces are converted to parking space. I guess it is easier to make money. So the price is quite competitive.
Parking at city center – This can be expensive especially in some hot spot attractions.
I have a few examples for your reference:
- Prices start at 100 yen (USD 0.90) per 15 or 30 minute period
- Parking near Kyomizu Dera temple Kyoto – 4000 -5000 yen (USD 36-45) for half a day.
- Parking at Umeda Tower Osaka – 500 yen (USD 4.50) for slight over an hours
- Parking at Nara Deer Park – 800 yen (USD 7.20) for whole day.
- Parking at hotel – Hotel in city cost around 1000 yen per night and hotel in a rural area usually is free of charge
- Elevator parking lots – This is a unique one. The cars are stored in towers and you have to drive the car onto a lift, which will automatically store the car into the tower. When coming back, the car will be picked by the lift and returned to you. Quite complicated but need not worry, there is a parking staff to help you out.
Go to “gasorin sutando” aka Gas Station
Before you return your rental car, please make sure the petrol is in full tank. You do not want to get penalized by not filling it up.
Hiroshima Airport Gas Station
There is a petrol station near the Hiroshima Airport & the Car rental office. Just 5 mins. Usually, the petrol station in Japan has their friendly staff to help you fill the gas but this one near Hiroshima airport do not have anyone to help you out. It is self serve and you need to insert the cash to fill in.
I have inserted 2000 yen for the petrol to fill up before I return the car, there are some changes dropped back to me.
Please remember to get the receipt printed out and show it to the rental car staff. They need the last receipt from the petrol station to make sure the fuel tank is full. (Anway, the staff will remind you that when you get your car on the first day).
The staff will check the car to see if there is any scratches or damage to the car. After the checks, you can settle the final bill – the ETC tolls that you have used. You will be given the itemized print out of toll used. After settling everything, the minibus will drive you to the airport. There is no timetable for the minibus, the driver will send you to the airport immediately after you settle the bill.
If you planning a trip outside of Tokyo, it is highly recommended to rent a car. Japan transportation is really good and efficient but if you have a pax of 4 to 5, it is actually more cost-saving and time-saving to rent a car. It brings you from one point to another without any hassles from chasing the bus & train timetable. You do it with your own pace, especially if you have 3 generations in your trip, the grandparents and young children.