Explore on wheels – Self driving in Japan

Japan is covered with a vast network of rails. Trains and buses can get you anywhere. For most of our trips, public transport is our preferred choice. But, self drive trips are fun and easy too.

In one of our latest trip, we squeezed in a self driving experience covering areas in the Kansai region. Here is our route. More details on each of the destination in other post.


Driving in Japan will be very familiar for Singaporeans like us as it is on the right side. But first, you will need to apply for a International Driving Permit. I usually get mine at AAA. The IDP costs S$20 and last for a year.

Next, book your car in advance through websites like tocoo. I only used this website as it covers almost the whole of japan. The booking is also really simple and reliable. You choose the date/time and select a pick up location convenient to you.

Some tips

  • It is cheaper to pick up and return the car to the same location. You can choose to return at a different location (for example, pick up in tokyo and return in kyoto, hence saving the need for a return trip) but it will cost alot more.
  • Book your car in blocks of 24 hours (example, 8am to the next day 8am). Any additional hour is charge at around 1000Yen per hour. Illustration, 8am on monday to the 2pm on tuesday may cost same as 8am on monday to 8am on wednesday.
  • Some rental companies provide multilingual GPS navigation system with extra cost. I personally do need choose this option when I book. Because, I realised all japanese cars come equipped with English navi GPS, and english is all I need.
  • I seldom use the car navi GPS system and rely mostly on google map on my iPhone.
  • Highways/Expressways in Japan usually has toll charges. Paying in cash is recommended for tourists like us. There is an option known as ETC for automated payment (just like our ERP), but getting an ETC card can be quite troublesome and require extra costs

Roads in Japan are relatively well maintained (similar to Singapore roads). The speed limit on expressways are usually 70/80 km/h, and I find it hard to maintain at that. In more remote areas (like hokkaido), even expressways can be single lane, and good luck if you find yourself behind a slow moving truck.

Japanese drivers are mostly courteous and I seldom get horn at. Remember to observe the famous 3 blinks of the hazard lights when you give way to other drivers.

Parking rates in the city and urban areas are rather costly, around 100Yen every half hour. Most carparks are automated payment and below is a walkthrough of the most common type.

Parking_in_Japan_1 Parking_in_Japan_2 Parking_in_Japan_3

  • First, look for an empty lot (duh).
  • Next, drive into the lot, and over a small little hump. Once your car is properly parked, a barrier will raise from this hump and ‘lock’ down your vehicle. You car is now safely parked.
  • When you are ready to retrieve, go to the payment machine and enter your lot number. Pay and proceed to drive your car.

~~~

R.