Driving in Japan
DRIVING IN JAPAN
- All our rental cars offer English speaking GPS as standard.
- All hire centre staff speak English.
- Major road signs are in Japanese and English.
- They drive on the same side as the British.
- The cars are often the same models as found in the UK.
Japan's large metropolitan areas around Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are served by highly efficient public transportation systems. Consequently, many residents do not own a car or do not even possess a driver's license. Outside the big cities, however, public transportation tends to be inconvenient or infrequent, and most people rely on cars to get around.
Roads and rules
Cars drive on the left side of the road and have the driver's seat and steering wheel on their right side. The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. Road signs and rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English. Vehicles have to come to a full stop before crossing any railway tracks.
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.
Most roads in Japan are toll free with the exception of expressways, some scenic driving routes and a small number of toll tunnels. Road conditions tend to be good, although side streets in the cities can be rather narrow or even impassable to larger vehicles. Traffic congestion is a frequent problem in and around urban centers.
Drivers generally tend to be well mannered and considerate.
Gas stations are found all across Japan. They traditionally provide full service, although self service stations have greatly increased over recent years. Many gas stations close during the night, while others are open 24 hours. A litre of regular gasoline costs roughly 150 yen (as of June 2018). High octane gas and diesel are also widely available. Payment is possible by credit card or cash.
When you pull into the station, an attendant may direct you to a stall. Park, open your window and shut off your car. Tell the attendant what kind of gas (e.g. "regular"), how much (e.g. "mantan" for full tank) and how you will pay (e.g. "credit card"). He may give you a wet towel to clean your dash or ask to take your garbage. When finished he may ask which direction you wish to leave and then direct you out into traffic.
Self service stations only provide Japanese language menus. If in trouble, an attendant should be present and able to help you. Note that when paying by cash, the change machine is often a separate machine or inside the gas station building.
Road Tolls & GPS
Road tolls on Japanese Expressways are quite expensive. They can be paid in cash or by credit card. As on European roads you take a ticket on starting your journey and pay the toll on exiting. Petrol stations on Expressways are numerous but tend not to have cafes/shops/etc attached. Service Areas (SA) and Parking Areas (PA) feature small cafes service predominantly Japanese food. GPS have an English voice but often the display is in Japanese. Your car rental person will be willing to help. You will need a phone number or Map Code for each destination.
Parking in the centre of large cities is very expensive, costing several hundreds of yen per hour. Fees decrease with the size of the city and the distance to the city centre. In small towns and in the countryside, parking is often free. Parking lots in national parks or near tourist attractions sometimes charge a flat fee (typically 200 to 500 yen per use). Urban hotels usually provide parking for their guests at a flat rate (typically 1000 yen per night), while hotels outside the large cities usually offer free parking.
Besides standard parking lots, you may encounter a few unique types of parking lots in Japan. The first are elevator parking lots in which cars are stored in towers. Drivers are directed to park their car onto a lift, which will automatically store the car in the tower. When coming back, the car will be fetched by the lift and returned to you.
The second unique type of parking lot uses low barriers underneath the cars which raise up to physically block in each individual vehicle. Once you have paid your parking fee (either at a central payment machine or at the parking space), the barrier lowers and you can safely drive away. This type of parking lot is usually seen around small urban lots.
International Driving Permits
Foreigners can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for a maximum of one year, even if the IDP is valid for a longer period. It is not possible to drive on an International Driving Permit again after a year has passed unless you return to your home country for at least three consecutive months in between.
International driving permits are not issued in Japan and should be obtained in your home country in advance. In the UK they can be obtained from The Post Office or RAC/AA. Japan only recognizes international driving permits based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, which are issued by a large number of countries.
Japan has bilateral agreements with more than twenty countries, including 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, to ease the process of acquiring a Japanese license. If you hold a valid driver's license from one of these countries you can get a Japanese license without taking a written or practical exam.
Instead, go to your local license center with an official translation of your license (obtainable from the Japan Automobile Federation), your passport, and proof that you held your license for at least three months in the issuing country before coming to Japan. Then, take a basic eye and physical test and you will be issued a new license on the same day.
If you have a driver's license from a country which does not have an agreement with Japan, such as the United States, China or Brazil, you will have to take a written and practical exam in order to obtain a Japanese driver's license. This process typically takes several attempts, even for experienced drivers.