Driving in japan: helpful tips for a great road trip

What is it like to drive a car in japan? And what is important to keep in mind if you want to travel japan by road trip? We took an 11-day road trip through japan, which I’ll tell you more about soon. but today i want to tell you everything you should know if you want to explore japan by car or like us by campe van. Because one or two things are a bit different from here, even though we found driving in japan very comfortable.

How fast can you drive? Do the japanese drive decently? which ticket do you need? How expensive is driving in japan? And what not to do under any circumstances? I will tell you!

What to expect in this article:

  • 11 general tips about driving in japan
  • Japan travel: car vs. Train& why we chose the car
  • Japan’s expensive tolls
  • Japan road trip: our route

driving in japan: helpful tips for a great road trip

Driving in japan: 11 helpful tips you should know

Driving a car in japan isn’t witchcraft, but it’s still important to know a thing or two in advance. I’ll give you 11 helpful tips for your trip by car, which will help you to be well prepared for Japan’s roads.

1. driving in japan: driving on the left

Japan is one of the countries where you drive on the left side of the road. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car.

2. Driving in japan: expensive, great highways

The highways in japan are expensive, but also sensational! No wonder, they are among the safest and best in the world. to find a flaw in a road in terms of flooring, signage (if you could read it ;)), cleanliness or lighting, you probably have to search for a long time.

In addition, the rest stops in japan are a sight in themselves. every few kilometers there are bigger or smaller rest stops on the highway. There you can find everything a driver’s heart desires. restaurants, stores, convenience stores, playgrounds, often outdoor areas for a cozy picnic, sometimes even lookout towers and much more. And of course by far the most beautiful public restrooms I have ever seen in my life!

driving in japan highway

3. driving in japan: driving license translation

If you want to drive a car in japan, you need a translation of your ticket if you are swiss or german. but not if you come from austria! The international driver’s license is not valid for certain countries.

In tokyo (and many other big cities) you can get a translation of your driver’s license within 2 hours for about 30 CHF at the JAF in the district of minato, which is much cheaper than applying for it from Switzerland. (address: 〒105-85622-2-17 shiba minato-ku tokyo)

At a checkpoint you have to show both, the original driver’s license and the japanese translation.

Who z.B. Coming from austria, italy or spain, at the moment you can only drive with the international driving license and the right identification card. Countries that currently require translation are switzerland, germany, france, belgium, slovenia and taiwan. These tickets are not recognized in japan. Do not ask me why this is so!

4. driving in japan: speed

We found driving in Japan to be relatively comfortable. Also concerning the speed. On the highway you are allowed to drive 80-100 km/h, in the city 40 km/h and in the country 50-60 km/h. In many side streets there is also a speed limit of 30.

According to our car rental company, the tolerance for speed is 15 km/h, which can be observed everywhere on the road. Practically all of them drive a little faster than the signs indicate. Also we are from time to time ca. drove 15km/h faster than signalized and did not get a fine. &

5. driving in japan: parking

in the countryside parking is usually no problem. It gets more difficult within the cities. Although you can find parking garages in osaka, kyoto, nara or tokyo, there are many small parking lots everywhere, where you can usually find free spaces. Without knowledge of Japanese, however, deciphering the parking signs is not always easy. And as soon as you think you have understood them, it is different again.

Usually you pay a certain amount per 20 or 30 minutes, per hour or per day. A maxibal amount for 12 or 24 hours. It is not uncommon to pay 500 yen for 30 minutes or 2000 – 3000 yen for 24 hours in a city center. During the day it is often more expensive per hour than at night. The problem is that every parking lot charges differently. So it is worth to compare, because one parking place can be 3 times more expensive than the other one.

Parking lots at sights (if they are not in a city center) often cost a flat rate for the whole day around 1000 yen (9 CHF).

We have parked our car overnight in the city a few times and paid the fee for 24h, which was okay for us at a good location. But beware, when we already felt safe and thought we had seen through the parking signs, we paid at osaka castle for about 1.5 h surprisingly 36 francs.

By the way, parking spaces in parking garages can sometimes be reserved in advance. But we have no experience with this ourselves. Unfortunately! Because in japan there are many parking garages in the cities, where you drive over a turntable and a car lift to the upper floors. I mean, how cool is that? &

road trip in japan camper van fuji

6. driving in japan: expensive buses

obey the traffic rules! Parking fines, cashing in a towed car or other offenses are very expensive in japan and can quickly add up to a few hundred francs.

We didn’t see any speed cameras which is because they are pretty well camouflaged in Japan. Apparently there are often speed cameras disguised as cameras hanging over the streets. Mobile speed cameras are rather rare, but we have heard that they are mostly hidden in black paper bags at the roadside or in parked cars.

6. driving in japan: the initial sticker

new drivers in japan get a green-yellow magnetic sticker on the back of their car. And also tourists. This is not obligatory, but recommended by the car rental companies. Which is not so bad if you are really confused in the middle of the road chaos… &

Also you can find several other official stickers on the back of the cars in japan z.B. For drivers with physical disabilities (cloverleaf), hearing disabilities (butterfly) or over 70-year-old drivers (a kind of green-yellow-orange flower).

7. driving in japan: car / camper van rental

Renting a car or camper in japan is easy via internet. It should be noted that most cars in Japan are automatic. Often a navi is included and often also a SIM card. We had a tablet with SIM card in our rental car and so we used google maps.

8. Driving in japan: zero alcohol tolerance!

do not drink alcohol when driving. In japan the allowed alcohol content is 0%.

9. Driving in japan: traffic signs

in japan there are VERY many signs on the roads! Many are in japanese and were a mystery to us until the end (probably they were warning signs for everything). The important signs with the towns are always written in english and you can easily find your way on the roads in japan.

Driving in Japan signs Kawaguchiko

10. driving in japan: traffic lights

At first we were a bit confused by the traffic lights, which can be in front of or behind the intersection. Below are arrows that point the direction. If you see one or more green arrows, you may drive in that direction.

11. driving in japan: highway crossings

You always have to stop in front of railroad crossings even if there is no barrier. The yellow crosses in front of the crossing are to be considered like a stop sign!

Japan highway rest area

Japan travel: car vs. train

so, now you are well prepared to drive your own car in japan! But why should you actually prefer the car to the train in japan?

First of all, although we did a road trip through Japan and I would do it again in a heartbeat, I don’t recommend you to discover the country by car in every case. because the train connections in japan are sensational! Especially between the cities.

With the train you are definitely faster on the way due to the high speed trains in japan. If you don’t have much time in japan, i recommend to travel by train. If you have a little more time, I highly recommend a japan road trip!

We decided to go on a road trip with a camper van through japan for three main reasons. First, because we love road trips and the feeling of freedom we associate with them! Second, because we were much more flexible, especially outside the cities and in the region around mount fuji, to get to the best photo spots quickly and easily. And third, because the camper van allowed us to wake up very early in the morning at the most beautiful sights and to be there in the best light and before the many tourists.

Traveling with a camper or. Camper van is also practical in japan because due to the many onsen baths you have the possibility to shower/bathe practically everywhere and so you get to know this important part of japanese culture better at the same time.

The great thing: driving in japan we found very comfortable. Most of the japanese drive decently, we were hardly in a traffic jam and were really fascinated how well the traffic flowed even in the big cities like osaka, kyoto or nara! But you should feel comfortable driving on the left side of the road. I personally have great respect here and have never driven. Adi was already half a year in australia by road trip on the way and has therefore mastered this without any problems.

Driving in Japan Tokyo intersection

Japan’s expensive tolls

It is also important to remember that traveling by car in Japan is not much cheaper than taking the train, IF you always take the fastest way. At least when you are alone or in pairs. because the tolls in japan are extremely expensive. If you drive the distance tokyo – osaka in one piece on the highway, it should cost up to 150 franken. One way mind you.

But if you have the time and the inclination, you can avoid this as well. We have heard of some who have made a Japan road trip without tolls, but this was out of the question for us. Either way, if you want to discover the country, you are automatically not always on the highway. So we took some roads with tolls and some roads without tolls and didn’t pay much attention to them. But you are a bit baffled when you have to pay 85 francs after a 3-4h drive on the highway. & especially because you never know in advance what you will have to pay. At least we didn’t find any reliable info about it anywhere, so we just let ourselves be surprised.

By the way, in april 2018, gasoline prices in japan were very slightly cheaper than in switzerland.

Japan road trip: our route

Basically, a road trip through japan is best suited for the more rural areas. Nevertheless, we also traveled to some big cities by car.

our route: tokyo – five lakes area at mount fuji – biwa lawe / hikone – nara – kyoto – osaka – kawaguchiko – tokyo

in a separate blogpost we will tell you all the details about our japan road trip and the most beautiful places and sights we visited in the 12 days and 11 nights in the camper van.

driving in japan shinjuku

We hope our tips for driving in japan were helpful for you! Did we forget anything? Then feel free to write it below in the comments!

And if you are interested in tokyo, i recommend our XXL post with our 17 best travel tips for tokyo, 7 sights& travel tips for kyoto or our detailed article about our japan road trip with all destinations! You can also see even more about our japan road trip in our video about it:

Or are you wondering what it is like to drive a car in taiwan?? Then check out our post with 12 tips for a road trip by camper van through taiwan!

more japan articles: japan in cherry blossom season, our travel tips for tokyo, kyoto and osaka.

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