Table of contents
To rent a car in Japan, you’ll need an international driving permit, and probationary license drivers will need to wait for a year4 Key Criteria for Comparing Car Rental Companies in Japan5 Recommended Japanese Car Rental CompaniesPopular Vehicle Models in Japanese Car Rental MarketCar Rental Insurance in JapanSelf-driving Car Rental Process in Japan - Pick-up and ReturnOverview of Japanese Driving Rules for TravelersFrequently Asked Questions
日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

Japan Self-Drive Travel and Insurance Guide 2024

With Japan finally reopening, many people from Hong Kong can finally travel 'back home'. If you want to explore hidden gems outside the cities or plan to visit multiple suburban attractions in a day, renting a car for self-drive travel is the most convenient option. Today, Kwiksure will look into the steps and important considerations when renting a car and self-driving in Japan!

To rent a car in Japan, you’ll need an international driving permit, and probationary license drivers will need to wait for a year

To rent a car in Japan, drivers must hold an international driving permit (IDP). An IDP is not a driving license. Therefore, even if you have obtained an IDP, you’ll still need to bring your original Hong Kong driving license for driving abroad. As for P-license drivers, they must wait for a year before they can apply for an IDP, so be patient…

本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

The steps for applying for an IDP are very simple and as follows:

  1. Make an appointment on the website of the Transport Department (TD) to apply for an IDP.
    1. Choose the IDP option, enter vehicle license and personal information, etc
    2. Select a licensing office, appointment date, and time
    3. After completing the appointment, you will receive a confirmation email

  2.  Bring the completed application form for an IDP (TD51), your Hong Kong identity card, two recent passport-sized photos (50mm x 40mm), and proof of address within the last three months to the licensing office for your application. The fee is HKD $80.
    本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023 - TD51
  3. The application for and collection of the permit can be completed on the same day.

The IDP is valid for one year from the date of issue and can be used multiple times during that time. After the IDP expires, you will need to apply for it again.

TIP: In addition to the IDP, you’ll also need your passport, credit card, and original driver's license to rent a car in Japan. Some car rental companies may further require drivers to have been licensed for at least one year.

4 Key Criteria for Comparing Car Rental Companies in Japan

Once you have decided on your destination, you can start planning your self-drive travel itinerary, including the duration of your car rental, pick-up and drop-off locations, and more. When considering which Japanese car rental company to use, you can take into account the following four key criteria:

1. Area Coverage of the Rental Company

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

The distribution of rental locations should be a primary consideration as it affects the convenience of pick-up and drop-off. More rental locations also mean better and more comprehensive support and assistance for drivers. Larger car rental companies typically have nationwide coverage in Japan, while smaller ones may only provide regional services.

2. Variety of Car Models

If it's a car rental company owned by a Japanese car manufacturer, naturally enough only models of their own brand will be available, but the selection will be more comprehensive. On the other hand, car rental companies specializing in rental services offer a wider range of brands to choose from.

3. Rental Fees and Other Charges

Rental fees are influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • Company size (larger manufacturers tend to be more expensive)
  • Whether it's a car rental company or an agent (agents tend to be slightly more expensive)
  • Whether the car model is high-end
  • Whether the rental company rents out on a daily or hourly basis (usually 6 hours, 12 hours, or 24 hours)

Below is an average price reference provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization for a 24-hour rental with no mileage limit:

Engine Capacity

JPY ¥ / Day

Subcompact (1,000-1,300cc)

¥5,000 – ¥11,100

Compact (1,500-1,800cc)

¥9,000 – ¥13,500

Mid-size (2,000cc)

¥14,000 – ¥30,000

Standard (3,000cc)

¥29,500 – ¥31,000

Beside rental fees, other common expenses for self-drive travel include:

  • Fuel costs (according to the latest data from Global Petrol Price, the approximate cost of gas in Japan is JPY ¥170 per liter)
    日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023
  • Highway tolls (depend on the distance and the specific road used; for example, the toll for a certain route from Tokyo to Kyoto is approximately JPY ¥10,070)
  • Car insurance
  • Parking fees (parking in cities is more expensive, with parking fees ranging from JPY ¥200 to JPY ¥700 per hour; parking in suburban areas is usually free)

4. Service Quality and Support

Larger car rental companies typically provide more comprehensive support, such as:

  • Online or phone reservations to avoid the hassle of on-the-spot booking
  • Some companies do not charge additional fees for late returns of up to one hour
  • Staff members who speak different languages such as Chinese or English

快而保提供不同程度的旅遊保險,全面涵蓋醫療、意外、行程取消及個人財物損失等保障,讓您安心暢遊。

5 Recommended Japanese Car Rental Companies

1. Toyota Rent-a-car: Most Branches and Vehicles

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

Toyota Rent-a-car is the largest car rental company in Japan, with over 1,300 branches. You can return the vehicle in a different location and they provide three levels of car insurance to choose from. You should become a member as renters automatically get an upgrade to Gold Card status after five rentals, which entitles them to a 20% discount and 5% rebates on future rentals. They also provide additional value-added services such as child seats and free Wi-Fi.

Their Hong Kong Chinese website categorizes vehicles into sedans, wagons, SUVs, etc., making it convenient to compare prices, fuel consumption, and vehicle performance. However, reservations typically take 72 hours to be confirmed, and it could take even longer during weekends and peak seasons. You are advised to book in advance. Additionally, Toyota Rent-a-car's prices are generally higher than other rental companies’.

 

2. ORIX Rent-a-car: You Can Accumulate Air Miles with Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

ORIX Rent-a-car is the second-largest car rental company in Japan, with over 1,200 branches. They often have time-limited promotional offers. If you enter your air mileage membership card number during reservation, you can accumulate air miles with airlines such as ANA and JAL.

>> Required documents for vehicle pick-up

3. Nissan Rent-a-car: Some Branches Are Open Round the Clock

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

Nissan Rent-a-car is another large car rental company with branches throughout Japan. They offer a wide range of vehicle types, including standard models, eco-friendly models, multipurpose vehicles, SUVs, and luxury models. Their Shinjuku branch in Tokyo and Shinkansen branch in Osaka are open round the clock, making them particularly convenient for vehicle pick-up and return. They also provide short-term rental services with a minimum of three hours.

>> Required documents for vehicle pick-up

4. OTS Rent-a-car: The Preferred Choice for Okinawa Car Rentals

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

As one of the best-known regional car rental companies, TS Rent-a-car is highly recommended for Okinawa and other areas such as Okayama, Shikoku, and Hokkaido. Although they have branches only in these specific regions, many staff members are fluent in Mandarin, and they offer free airport shuttle services.

5. NIPPON Rent-a-car: Super-long Opening Hours

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

With 800 branches, NIPPON Rent-a-car is the third-largest car rental company in Japan. Some city branches open from 7 am until 10 pm or even midnight, making them particularly convenient for certain types of travelers.

In addition to the car rental companies mentioned above, other popular choices include Times Car Rental and Sky Rent-a-car.

Popular Vehicle Models in Japanese Car Rental Market

Japanese car rental companies usually classify cars based on their engine displacement (cc). Details are as follows:

Number of passengers

Recommended vehicle type

Representative vehicle models

Remarks

2-4 people

Compact minivan

  • Honda Fit
  • Suzuki Solio
  • Toyota Roomy

Although they are fuel-efficient, they are not suitable for long drives or uphill roads. However, their cube-shaped trunk is convenient for storing luggage.

3-4 people

Hybrid/economical gasoline-powered vehicle

  • Toyota Aqua (Prius C)
  • Honda Freed Hybrid
  • Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Suitable for long trips or consecutive days of driving, and hybrid cars are more fuel-efficient.

5-6 people or more

Multi-purpose van

  • Toyota Sienta
  • Nissan Serena
  • Nissan Kicks
  • Honda Stepwgn

When carrying luggage, these vehicles may only have room for 5 people.

5-6 people or more

 

For carrying large luggage

SUV station wagon

  • Toyota Corolla Fielder
  • Mazda Mazda6 Wagon
  • Mazda CX-8

Compared to multi-purpose vans, these cars provide more space. However, due to their larger size, they are not suitable for new drivers.

 

Toyota Corolla Fielder

Toyota Corolla Fielder

Mazda Mazda6 Wagon

Mazda Mazda6 Wagon

Mazda CX-8

Mazda CX-8

Car Rental Insurance in Japan

Compulsory Insurance

Under Japanese law, all cars driven on the roads need to have compulsory insurance to cover liability for injuries or deaths caused to third parties. Car rental companies typically provide this type of compulsory insurance, which includes compensation for third-party injuries or deaths, third-party property damage, compensation for damage to the vehicle itself, and compensation for passenger injury or death.

However, it's important to note that even if the rental company has purchased this insurance for you, in the event of an accident, the driver is still responsible for paying the insurance deductible. This deductible covers third-party property damage and damage to the rental vehicle, with each deductible set at JPY ¥50,000, for a total of up to JPY ¥100,000.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

To cover the deductibles mentioned above, drivers have the option of purchasing Collision Damage Waiver insurance when renting a car. By adding CDW insurance at the time of rental, the maximum deductible of up to JPY ¥100,000 can be waived.

It is worth mentioning that some travel insurance policies in Hong Kong already cover the deductible for rental car accidents. Therefore, you should check if your travel insurance already includes this coverage, and if it does there will be no need to purchase CDW separately.

Non-Operation Charges (NOC)

In the event of an accident, the driver may also be required to compensate the rental company for the business loss incurred due to the vehicle being unavailable for renting out. Drivers have the option of purchasing Non-Operation Charges insurance when renting a car, which will waive the compensation for this loss. Typically, if the driver can drive the vehicle to the designated rental shop after an accident, they would only need to pay JPY ¥20,000 in compensation. If the car cannot be driven to the rental shop and a tow truck is needed, the compensation would be JPY ¥50,000. 

Self-driving Car Rental Process in Japan - Pick-up and Return

  1. The car rental process
  • Decide on your destination and driving route.
  • Choose a car rental company, and the pick-up and return location, dates, and times.
  • Select the right car model.
  • Select insurance and additional services.
  • Provide driver information, contact phone number, payment method, etc.
  • Confirm the reservation and make payment.
  1. The vehicle pick-up process
  • Remember to bring the following documents when picking up your rental car:
    • Email confirmation of the car reservation
    • Passport (original)
    • Hong Kong driver's license (original)
    • International driving permit (original)
    • Credit card
    • Rental company membership card (if applicable)
  • The staff will confirm that car insurance has been purchased and its type
  • Carefully read and understand the contents and terms of the rental agreement, which usually include:
    • Return requirements, such as whether the car needs to be returned with a full tank of fuel
    • Fuel type: The type of fuel for the car (usually "Regular") and instructions on using the fuel tank
    • If necessary, ask if there are staff members who can explain in Chinese before signing the agreement
  • Pay the rental fees which comprise:
    • The car rental fee
    • The insurance premium: If you choose additional insurance like CDW or NOC
    • The cost of renting an ETC card (Electronic Toll Collection System): Similar to Hong Kong's HKeToll system). Most Japanese highways use ETC cards for toll collection. By inserting the ETC card into the car's onboard device, tolls will be automatically deducted when passing through toll gates, and highway fees may even be discounted
      日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023
  • Rent a GPS: If traveling to remote areas, a GPS may operate more smoothly than your phone for navigation. You can also request a GPS with Chinese language support
  • Pick up the vehicle
    • Inspect the condition of the vehicle, check for any dents or scratches, see that the tires are properly inflated, and verify that the headlights, wipers, and locks are in good working order. Take photos for record and sign the "Vehicle Damage Confirmation Form" after confirming the vehicle's condition
    • Declare additional drivers if there are
    • Understand how to use the equipment inside the car, especially the language settings of the navigation system, operation of power doors, trunk, etc. If you are not sure how something works, ask the staff for a demonstration
    • Obtain contact information for the rental company in case of emergencies. By the way, in case of emergencies, the emergency hotline for the police is 110, and for the fire department and ambulance, it is 119
    • Request a special driving sticker for foreigners: Some rental companies provide driving stickers specifically for foreigners to alert Japanese drivers that the driver of the vehicle is a foreigner and may not be familiar with Japanese traffic rules, thus reducing the risk of accidents
  1. Returning the vehicle
  • Be punctual! We cannot stress this point enough. Even for hourly rentals, once you are late for more than a certain time, it will be considered as a full day

  • Before returning the car, make sure it has a full tank of gas: In Japan, most vehicles use "regular gasoline". The staff may give you information about nearby gas stations. Remember to keep the receipt as proof for the staff to confirm

  • Inspect the vehicle's condition: Check for any scratches or damages and take photos as evidence to avoid future disputes

  • Settle the payment for toll roads (ETC): If you rented an ETC card, the highway tolls will be calculated when you return the vehicle

Overview of Japanese Driving Rules for Travelers

日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

Just like in Hong Kong, Japan uses right-hand drive vehicles and people drive on the left side of the road. Other driving rules are similar to those found in most countries, including:

  • Drunk driving and speeding are strictly prohibited

  • Both drivers and passengers must wear seat belts

  • Using a mobile phone while driving is strictly prohibited, and this covers hands-free devices

  • Traffic lights work the same way as in other countries, with green meaning go and red meaning stop

  • White dashed lines indicate lane changes are allowed, while solid yellow lines indicate no lane changes

Some specific rules to note are as follows:

  • Children under 6 years of age must be seated in child safety seats

  • The speed limit is generally 60 km/hr in most areas, and 100 km/hr on highways

  • When approaching a railway crossing, you must first stop at the stop line and check for approaching trains both from the left and from the right before proceeding日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

  • The traffic sign "止まれ" (Tomare) means the driver must come to a complete stop before the stop line, check for oncoming vehicles from both sides, and then proceed if clear

    日本自駕遊懶人包 - 租車、車牌、車款、車保及注意事項 2023

  • The term "徐行" (Jokyō) indicates you must drive slowly and is a common traffic sign in Japan

快而保提供不同程度的旅遊保險,全面涵蓋醫療、意外、行程取消及個人財物損失等保障,讓您安心暢遊。

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to rent a car in Japan for a day?

According to information from the Japan National Tourism Organization, the daily rental fee for a typical compact car (1,500-1,800cc) is around JPY ¥9,000 - ¥13,500, equivalent to HKD $495 - $740 per day.

What do I need for self-driving in Japan?

  • International driving permit (IDP): Only drivers with a valid driving license can apply for an IDP, which costs HKD $80 and is valid for one year

  • Official driver's license: The IDP is just a permit, and you still need to present your Hong Kong driving license when driving or renting a car. Some car rental companies further require the driver to have held a valid license for at least one year

  • Passport: It's common sense to carry your passport when traveling, and remember to bring it when renting a car as well

  • Credit card: You will need a credit card to pay to the car rental company

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Author Anthony Chan

Anthony is the Content Marketing Director for Kwiksure and its parent company Pacific Prime. He is responsible for supervising and developing content marketing strategies, search engine optimization, data analysis, e-communications, and video production. With over 10 years of experience in marketing, Anthony is adept at analyzing insurance market trends to ensure the content is engaging and easy to digest.

His English articles can be found on Pacific Prime's blogs for their Hong Kong, Singapore, UK, Dubai, and Thailand branches. He also studied English writing during his exchange program at West Virginia University in the United States.