Japan Driving Advice and Car Hire Info

Driving in Japan –

Japanese law requires that all drivers who do not hold a Japanese driver’s license must hold an International Driving Permit issued under the 1949 Convention. Make sure you get the correct IDP! This rule is strictly applied in Japan. A few countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Taiwan, however, issue international driving permits which are based on different conventions. Those permits are not valid in Japan.
Instead, holders of a driver’s license from one of the above mentioned six countries can drive in Japan for up to one year with an official Japanese translation of their driver’s license from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) or their respective country’s embassy or consulate in Japan. People from other countries, whose international driving permits are not recognized by Japan, must obtain a Japanese driver’s license in order to drive in Japan. Those holding a licence from the following countries don’t need to take a test to obtain a Japanese licence – Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom, as well as the US states of Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

In Japan, cars are driven on the left side of the road and have the driver’s seat and steering wheel on their right . Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. The typical speed limits are 80 to 100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 30 km/h in side streets and 50 to 60 km/h elsewhere. Drivers usually exceed the speed limits by about 10 km/h.

Japan’s four main island and Okinawa are covered by an efficient and well maintained system of expressways which run from the North of Honshu to the South of Kyushu . All expressways are toll roads and toll booths accept both cash and credit cards. Charges are quite high – for a standard car its 39.36 yen per mile/ 24.60 per km. (Thats around $0.50/0.40 Euros per mile) . Tolls are also rounded to the nearest 50 yen.

Most other roads in Japan are toll free with the exception of expressways and some scenic driving routes. Road conditions tend to be good, although side streets in the cities can be rather narrow. Traffic congestion is a frequent problem in and around urban centers as is availability of parking. Japanese drivers generally tend to be well mannered and considerate however they do have a tendency to run red lights so approach junctions with caution. Also watch for cyclists who may ride up the wrong side of the road.

Away from major attractions and Cities, Signs are unlikely to be in Roman Alphabet so it may be wise to invest in a sat nav from the rental company or try and locate a map with both Roman and Japanese alphabet place names before you depart for Japan. Most traffic regulation signs are self explanatory , though a ‘Stop’ sign has Japanese lettering –its an upturned red triangle so watch out for this.

Some driving times, distances and approx toll road charges –

Tokyo to Osaka – 514km, 7 hrs, 12250 JPY
Tokyo to Nagoya -360km, 5hrs, 9050 JPY
Osaka to Nagoya – 175km, 2hrs 30, 5550 JPY
Osaka to Hiroshima – 341km, 4hrs 30, 8300 JPY
Hiroshima to Fukuoka -288km, 4hrs, 7550JPY
Fukuoka to Kagoshima, 280km, 4hrs, 6450 JPY
Tokyo to Sendai, 370km, 5hrs, 7900 JPY
Sendai to Sapporo, 770km, 18hrs,12,800 JPY
Tokyo to Sapporo – 1140km, 23 hrs, 19,900JPY

Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.

Japan Car Rental –
Hertz, Europcar , National ,Budget, have branches here. Also usually features on Car rental broker sites and Web discount sites such as LastMinute.com

We currently have no local car rental partners in Japan. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on DriverAbroad.com please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on ADriverAbroad@Outlook.com.




    Love to take slow drive around countryside of Japan, can you some route. We have two weeks on the road.



  2. Bernd

    Hi Linus,
    driving in Japan is fun. Take a good map (there are some with english and japanese text from Shobunsha) or try to get a multilingual navi unless you have someone with good japanese language capabilities with you. You may get a japanese Gramin navi which also speaks english. Usually navis in japanese rental cars read and speak only japanese…
    Nice places for driving are (and you can basically do this as a two weeks trip if you do not stop overnight everywhere):
    Mount Fuji (drive up to 5th station at 2350m)
    Continue to Nagano and cross the japanese Alps via Matsumoto – Takayama
    Go to Shirakawa/Shirakawa-go (they have nice ancient houses)
    From there go up to Wajima (Noto peninsula) or alternati´vely Komatsu
    Then down the Japanese Sea coast to Tsuruga and Maizuru (visit Amanohashidate)
    Go to Kyoto and Nara
    Then cross Kii peninsula, visit the little onsens (hot springs) e.g. Dorogawa Onsen
    From Kyoto you also may take a Ferry or bridge over to Awaji shima (bridge is the Akashi Kaikyo Ohashi, longest suspension bridge in the word, approx 2km free hangin, but toll is not cheap)
    Cross Awaji shima into Shikoku island. This is really sleepy Japan, countryside
    You may then drive back to main land via Seto-Ohashi bridge
    Continue to Hiroshima and Itsukujima / Miyajima

    If you want to do this in two weeks you best start from Nagoya or Osaka and leave out Tokyo (as you probably want to return the car in the same place, otherwise expect high one-way fees).
    Some more hints:
    1) Highways in Japan are really expensive (30 USD per 100km) but you can reach approx 80 km/hr in average. Getting off the highways reduces your speed to 30-40 km/hr due to many traffic lights, trucks, city areas and the speed limit of 50 km /hr. So don’t plan countryside trips of more than 300km for one day, it won’t work.
    2) In the mountains, even numbered country roads may suddenly get one-laned for several kilometers (i.e. really only one lane, 3m wide, with passing points every 500m). So do not trust on the “number” buit be suspicious if the road has many serpentines.
    3) Roads in Japan are very safe, you do not have to worry about missing safety fences or similar dangers, just truck drivers may be a little bit rude
    Have fun, Bernd

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