Japan,  Travel Tips

Car rental in Japan, Ling?

Now that you’re sure you want to do a road trip in Japan for your next holiday, how do you go about car rental in Japan?


Topics covered in this post:
  • International Driving Permit
  • Where to rent a vehicle?
  • Car rental on small islands / rural locations
  • Car rental charges
  • Rental Car Add-ons
  • Rental Car Collection
  • Rental Car Return
  • Ling’s Tips


International Driving Permit

For car rental in Japan, you’ll need to:

  • be at least 18 years old, and
  • have an International Driving Permit (IDP) issued in your home country or country of residence.

The International Driving Permit (IDP) must be based on the 1949 Geneva Convention or authorised Japanese Translation of driver’s license issued in – Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Monaco, Taiwan or Switzerland.

Here’s a good guide on Driver’s License Requirements for renting a car in Japan.

Most Automobile Associations in your country of residence should be able to assist with the IDP. In Singapore, you can get the International Driving Permit at Automobile Association of Singapore (AAS).

Note: you need to have a local driving license first in order to apply for IDP. The IDP cannot be obtained in Japan.

Car Rental in Japan
My rental car at Oga Peninsula


Where to rent a vehicle?

I usually use these 2 platforms to check on Japan car rental rates.

Tocoo (https://www2.tocoo.jp/en/) – This was the first car rental platform I had used. Tocoo offers car rental with various plans – such as with Data Sim Card, or with ETC Card rental or even Expressway Toll Passes. They also provide English hotline assistance but comes at a fee that is added on to the car rental fee. Once awhile you’ll find promotions on Tocoo as well. For car rental with drop off in another prefecture, Tocoo may have more options available especially if the return prefecture is further away.

Tabirai (https://en.tabirai.net/car/) – I discovered this car rental platform a couple of years ago and I found the prices better than Tocco. Also, the car rental prices tend to come included with English GPS, CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), ETC equipment and consumption tax (sales and service tax). However, if you’re planning to rent a car from a prefecture and return in another prefecture, Tabirai may have a little restriction to how far away the return prefecture can be.

Both the above platforms tie up with various rental car companies to provide you with choices. Many of the rental car companies have their own websites. Rates may or may not be better than the rates on Tocoo or Tabirai. Brands like Hertz usually team up with a local Japan rental car company and rates are likely marked up. Check around to find one that fits your needs and budget.

Here are the main rental car companies in Japan with English websites:
Are rental rates cheaper on Japanese car rental sites?

A friend mentioned that car rental sites in Japanese have better rates. I’ve tried checking the rates in Japanese but found the rates about the same or slightly more expensive. At times, they seem to have less cars options available for rental.

I prefer to use the English sites where I understand what I’m signing up for and the terms and conditions I’m agreeing to. My communications with the rental car company will be in English and I don’t have to worry about miscommunication with google translating the Japanese.


Car rental on small islands / rural locations
Car Rental in Japan
The car I rented in Yakushima booked with assistance from a Yakushima travel site

Not all major rental car companies have branches in small islands or rural locations. In such cases, it’s best to check with the local tourism association for assistance.

When I was planning for Yakushima, an island in Kagoshima prefecture, I was unable to find car rental information on any of the major rental car companies. None of them had a branch in Yakushima. Instead, I reached out to a Yakushima information website and they assisted me with the car rental.

So reach out to the local tourism website/agency for information and assistance if you’re not able to locate a rental car company for the location you’ve visiting.


Car rental charges

Car rental charges are either on a time system basis or a day system basis.

Time System – Charges are levied by hours usually with a minimum of 6 hours. If you were to rent a car at 10am on Day 1 for 24 hours, you will only need to return the car the next day before 10am. On a time system basis, you will only pay for 1 day rental. If you extend the return to 11am or 12noon, an extra charge for the 2 hours will be levied. However, if you extend the return for 3-4 hours, a half day additional charge may apply even if you use less than the half day extension.

Day System – Charges are levied by days of rental. If you were to rent a car and return the same day regardless of hours used, it would be considered as 1 day rental. If you were to rent a car on Day 1 and return the next day, it would be considered as 2 days rental even if the total number of rental hours is less than 24 hours. With Day System, it’s best to get the car early in the morning and return as late as possible to max the usage on the same cost.

Most of the car rental charges are inclusive of English GPS, CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), ETC equipment and consumption tax (sales and service tax). Do check the pricing details to ensure you know what you’re paying for and what’s not covered.

Rental car company operating hours

Majority of the rental car companies are open from 8am and close at 8pm. However, some locations may close by 6pm. Book a time as close to their closing time to give yourself some buffer for returning the car just in case of traffic jams or detours. The rental car can always be returned earlier if no longer needed.

Car Rental in Japan
My rental car at Naha, Okinawa


Rental Car Add-ons

Below’s a quick view of add-ons that are offered free or chargeable by the car rental companies.

GPSFreeAll cars come fixed with GPS. At car booking, we should indicate multilingual GPS required and ensure that it is set to your language at time of car collection.
ETC Card ReaderFreeAll cars come fixed with an ETC Card Reader.
If you have an ETC Card or a Expressway Toll Pass, ensure the car rental company assist to place the card into the ETC Card Reader.
ETC CardChargeable - per itemETC stands for Electronic Toll Collection. If you’re planning to drive on tolled expressways but not getting an Expressway Toll Pass, consider renting an ETC Card. That way, you can drive through ETC toll gates and need not pay cash at each toll gate.
Upon return of rental car, the car rental company will check the ETC Card and charge any toll fee to your credit card.
It’s a hassle-free way of paying toll fee without rambling for cash or collecting change.
Do note that the rental car company will require a deposit of up to JPY15,000 on your credit card. This will be refunded after the ETC Card is returned and any toll charges incurred are paid up.
Baby/Child SeatChargeable - per itemIf you need a baby/child seat, do remember to request for the seat at point of booking. There may not be any baby/child seat available if you request at time of car collection.
Snow tires/chainsChargeable – one time charge
May be free depending on location and season
Whether it is chargeable, depends on season and where the car rental company is located. During winter season in Hokkaido, all rental cars come equipped with snow tires/chains. In other prefectures where snow is less common, a fee is required for rental of snow tires.
Remember to request for snow tires/chains at point of booking.
NOC coverageChargeable – one time chargeNon-Operation Charge coverage requires additional fee. Even if you have CDW, the car rental companies have a minimum sum you’ll need to compensate them with in the event the rental car is damage and if the car can still be operated or not.
Having NOC coverage gives peace of mind as it also covers any scratches and if towing is required.
Drop Off feeChargeableThis fee is usually required when you return the rental car to another location in a different city or prefecture. The further away the return location, the higher the fee.
If return is to another branch not too far away in the same city, a drop off fee may not be required.
Other Add-onsChargeableSome of the rental companies have other add-on offers such as 4WD upgrade, Map Code Information Service, etc.
Car Rental in Japan
My rental car at Notsuke Peninsula, Hokkaido


Rental Car Collection

When collecting your rental car, do note the following:

  • Ensure you bring along your International Driver’s License as without it, the rental car company will not let you rent their car.
  • Do bring along your local driving license as well as some rental car companies may request to see it.
    • So far, I’ve not come across any asking to see my Singapore Driver’s License. It’s good to have it on hand as it’s stated as a requirement on the rental car company T&Cs.
  • Credit Card information and payment are collected at point of car collection. No cash payment accepted.
  • Purchase additional insurance (NOC) if require.
  • The rental car company will give you information in a folder or pouch on the following:
    • Roads signs and traffic rules. PLEASE READ IT CAREFULLY before you drive.
    • Map codes for location to return car and nearby petrol/gas station so you know where to fill up the tank before returning the car. Sometimes they may provide map codes for places of interests too.
    • Documents on the car insurance and emergency numbers. Take a photo with your mobile phone just in case you get locked out of the car.
    • Keep this folder/pouch carefully as you will need to return to the rental car company.
  • The staff will perform a car inspection with you, highlighting any damage areas and indicating them on the form, before asking you to acknowledge.
    • If you spot any other damages, highlight to the staff. This is to limit your liabilities and not be responsible for damages already on the car before you drive it off.
  • The staff will show you how to use some of the car features. Do ask questions to ensure you know how to operate the GPS.
Car Rental in Japan
My rental car at Notsuke Peninsula, Hokkaido


Rental Car Return

Before you return the car, you’ll need to:

  • Fill up the petrol/gas tank. Check the map codes provided for the gas station nearest to the rental car company.
    • Remember to get a receipt when you’re making the last petrol/gas top up as they will need that as evidence.
  • Return the whole pouch that contain the car and insurance documents.
  • The staff will conduct an inspection of the car to ensure no additional damages before asking you to acknowledge.
    • If there are damages and you don’t have the relevant insurance, you will be asked to compensate the rental car company.
    • If you had bought additional insurance (NOC), you will not need to worry about compensation.


Ling’s Tips
  1. Car Rental Japan
    The MPV we rented in Nagoya for our family trip

    Tweak the start and/or return timings as sometimes just 15mins can make a difference in pricing.

  2. Recheck car rental rates closer to the date as you may be able to get prices 10-15% lower than the booking made a few months ago.
    • Most of the car rentals allow for booking and payment at car collection. I will book a car first and as it gets closer to rental dates I will recheck to see if there were better deals. Just like hotels, car rental companies want to get all their cars rented out. Thus, they may lower prices to encourage rentals and not have any cars left stationary at their garage.
  3. Do note that during peak period and for certain car categories, there may not be any cars available if you book too late. Prices are unlikely to drop for peak period.
  4. If you’re going to be driving on a lot of tolled expressways, consider getting an Expressway Toll Pass. It may help to limit the toll fees you pay.
    • I once paid enough toll charges to cover my 2 day car rental. An Expressway Toll Pass would have saved us a lot of money then.
  5. Use your mobile phone and take photos of your car showing the car plate number and important telephone numbers such as the car rental company, hotlines for assistance and towing etc.
    • I dropped my car keys at a tourist spot in Okinawa and sought help from the staff. They found the keys, but I couldn’t tell them my car number to verify it was my rental car. Luckily, they believed me and didn’t make things difficult. I couldn’t contact the car rental company for a new set of keys as all the information was locked up in the car.


Read Should I drive in Japan, Ling? or get Ling’s Travel Tips.

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