Japan offers a unique blend of modern cities, historical landmarks, and breathtaking natural landscapes. For many tourists, renting a car and driving is an excellent way to explore the country at their own pace. However, driving in Japan comes with its own set of rules, practices, and cultural nuances. This guide aims to equip tourists with essential information to ensure a safe and enjoyable driving experience in Japan.
Before hitting the road, ensure you have the proper licensing. Foreign drivers in Japan need an International Driving Permit (IDP), obtained in their home country before arrival. The IDP must be based on the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. Additionally, always carry your passport and home country's driver's license along with the IDP when driving.
Understanding Japanese Road Signs and Rules
Japanese road signs and rules follow international standards closely, but there are unique aspects to be aware of:
- Driving Side: In Japan, driving is on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle.
- Speed Limits: Speed limits are generally lower in Japan compared to many Western countries. Residential areas have a limit of 30 km/h, while most expressways allow up to 100 km/h.
- Toll Roads: Many expressways in Japan are toll roads. Be prepared to pay toll fees, which can be done with cash or an electronic toll collection (ETC) system.
- Pedestrian Crossings: Pedestrians have the right of way. Even at red lights, watch for pedestrians crossing.
Navigating and Parking
- GPS and Maps: Modern GPS systems offer English language options and are invaluable for navigating Japan’s roads. Ensure your rental car is equipped with a GPS system.
- Parking: In cities and popular tourist destinations, parking can be scarce and expensive. Many places use automated parking towers. Always check parking availability and rates ahead of time.
Etiquette and Safety Tips
- Etiquette: Politeness and consideration for others are paramount in Japanese culture, including on the road. Queueing and giving way are practiced diligently.
- No Drinking and Driving: Japan has strict laws against drinking and driving, with a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol consumption.
- Rest Stops: Michi-no-Eki (roadside stations) are located across Japan, providing restrooms, food, and sometimes even hot springs. They are great places to take a break during long drives.
In case of an emergency, dial 110 for police or 119 for ambulance and fire services. It's also advisable to have a basic understanding of Japanese or an emergency phrasebook handy, as English proficiency may vary.
Renting a Car
Car rental agencies are plentiful in Japan, especially at airports and major train stations. Foreign credit cards are generally accepted, but some form of insurance is highly recommended. Make sure to inspect the rental car for any existing damage and familiarize yourself with its features before leaving the lot.
Can I use my home country's driver's license in Japan?
No, you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your home country's driver's license to drive legally in Japan.
Is it difficult to drive in Japan for someone used to driving on the right?
While it may take some adjustment, many tourists find driving in Japan manageable thanks to clear road signs, orderly traffic, and polite drivers. Practice extra caution at intersections and when making turns.
Are there English GPS/navigation systems available?
Yes, many car rental companies offer vehicles equipped with GPS systems that have an English language option.
Driving in Japan can be a rewarding experience, offering the freedom to explore the country's diverse regions at your own pace. By understanding and respecting the local driving laws, customs, and etiquette, tourists can ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Whether navigating the bustling streets of Tokyo or cruising the scenic coastlines, driving in Japan is an adventure worth experiencing.