There are many methods of getting around in Tokyo. The city has some of the most convenient public transportation around, with a regular schedule of buses and trains that will get you anywhere you want to go.
Most people forget about their Tokyo car rental options. I mean, who wouldn’t? You don’t have a Japanese driver’s license. One wrong move, and you’re going to have a highway police encounter with a very serious patrolman who is going to cite you for…well, who knows? And if you make a wrong turn, how are you supposed to find your way back? If you don’t speak Japanese, good luck.
(Editor’s Note: And if you’re an American, the steering wheel is on the other side of the car! Also, there is no such thing as a “left turn on red” here. And although I tell my relatives the contrary, you cannot fire blue shells out of the hood at the guy on his Sunday Drive in the middle of the week.)
Yes, most people will tell you that using a car within Tokyo is a bad idea. However, it can be a speedy and economical alternative to public transportation if you have to get to several places quickly. Rental cars are handy especially when you want to travel around the rural areas of Japan, where public transportation may be underdeveloped or inefficient. Using rental cars allows people to access areas that public transport can’t get to.
Actually owning a car in Tokyo is a burden. But when headed out on a road trip beyond the city, a Tokyo car rental is a good option, especially if you’re a large group and have a lot of baggage. Also, driving is Japan is enjoyable–the roads are in good repair, and there are special yellow trucks with lights that keep the highways and byways of Japan clear of debris. Service areas appear every 50 km or so, and they have food courts, restaurants, coffee shops, bathrooms and even souvenir stores. A Tokyo rental car allows you to control your experience and allows you to see the sights and enjoy the beauty that is Japan.
Rules of the Road
If you intend to a Tokyo car rental service, you are going to need to know the rules of the road. The Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF) has translated the Japanese Rules of the Road into several languages, both in print and digital formats. You can find them at this link.
A Couple of Warnings
WARNING #1: In mountainous areas (such as around Mount Fuji), you’re going to have a problem if you miss something or have to turn back. Service areas in these parts only let you return to the highway going in the same direction–you cannot use them to turn around and go the other way. You may have to drive an hour or so before you can turn around. If your car rental agency offers a navigator in English, get it!
WARNING #2: DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT, GET “GAS” FROM A GREEN PUMP! In Japan there is no central heating in most homes, and kerosene room heaters are common. At service stations, kerosene pumps are green and might be on the same pump “island” as automotive gas, and often has the exact same kind of pump handle. Worse, kerosene is cheaper than automotive gas. I’ve had to rescue people several times after they pulled up to the pump, made an economic decision based on gas station signs they couldn’t read, and filled their car’s gas tank with kerosene. If you do this, your car will not go very far afterwards and you will liable for a very large repair bill with the Tokyo car rental company.
WARNING #3 (Especially for Americans): The police in Japan sometimes use lights and sirens to pull people over. Other times, they just use lights. Either way, pull off to the side of the road. If they follow behind you, come to a stop.
Also, if you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the police will take you from their car and put you in the back of theirs. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO JAIL (that is what this means in America). This is for the safety of both the officer and the person who has been pulled over. If you were Japanese, they would make you write your own ticket. You know, just like when you were in school and had to write apology notes! But here, they’ll write it for you. If you get a ticket, be sure to take it to a post office to pay the fine before you leave. I hear some nasty extra charges could be incurred if you think you’ll just leave the country and not come back. Remember, the Tokyo car rental place has your information and your credit card.
WARNING #4: If you get into an accident or have trouble with your vehicle, light flares and place warning triangles 100 meters and 50 meters behind your car. This helps other motorists see and avoid you. Do your part to prevent further accidents!
Tokyo Car Rental Basics
In order to rent a car, you would need a valid international driver’s permit (IDP). You can obtain one in your home country (in the US, you can get one through AAA) or at any one of Tokyo’s many Drivers’ License Centers. In order to obtain an IDP you must be at least 18 years old and have an existing license from your home country. The permit is only valid for one year.
Here’s an approximate range of rental fees for certain cars:
- Sub – Compact Cars = 5,000
- Compact = 7,000
- Medium Size = 12,500
- Regular Size = 15,000
- Vans = 20,000
Here’s a list of reliable Rental Car Agencies you can access in Tokyo…
…and you can possibly snag cheaper deals through intermediaries…
Have fun and drive safely!
Check out the links below for other options on getting around in Tokyo–