Japan is well-known around the world for its fast, safe, and modern public transportation. However, using crowded trains may not always be the best idea for travelers to the Land of the Rising Sun. If you are traveling with your children or people with special needs, you may want to consider renting a car for transportation while on your vacation! I’d like to introduce you to three of the most convenient and affordable car rental (or “rent-a-car” as they are called in Japan) agencies that have branches located in Kanto (関東 – Tokyo area) and that are happy to work with tourists.
Before you start looking for a vehicle that suits your travel plans, you need to make sure that you are legally allowed to rent a vehicle in Japan. The first thing you will need is a valid driver’s license, which can be an International Driving Permit, a Japanese driver’s license, or an authorized Japanese translation of a valid driver’s license from Taiwan, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, and Slovenia. Note that both the authorized translation and the permit are only valid for one year from the date of issue. The permit will also list the types of vehicles you are allowed to use. To rent a vehicle with over 9 seats, you will be required to have a stamp in the D category box. If you are going with a verified translation, it should be done through the embassy or the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation).
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NICONICO Rent a Car is a nationwide company with an extensive number of cars in stock. Their branches are located not only in Narita (成田), but also at Shin-Yokohama Station (新横浜駅), New Chitose Airport (新千歳空港), as well as near Fukuoka (福岡空港), Nagasaki (長崎空港), and Kagoshima Airports (鹿児島空港).
Their prices range from 5,720 yen to 12,620 yen per 24 hours, with every additional hour costing you from 2,820 yen to 5,220 yen. All the cars come with a free navigation system and are non-smoking which ensures that you will get a nice smelling car with no burns. If you are traveling with a child, you can also reserve an additional child seat for 540 yen.
A collision damage waiver (CDW) will cost you 1,080 yen per up to 24 hours. ETC cards (which you simply should have to be able to roam Japanese roads comfortably) are also available for rent in chosen branches for a small separate fee. NICONICO also offers free pick-up shuttle bus services running from the Nagasaki and Kagoshima Airports so you can get to their shop straight off your flight.
The whole renting process is fairly simple. You start off by making an online reservation, then arrive in Japan, go to their shop and sign a few documents, as well as complete the payments (their website warns that only credit cards will be accepted). And that’s it! You’re good to go.
When you return the vehicle, make sure to do so at a decided time as their extra hourly charge is not exactly the lowest. NICONICO also asks their customers to refuel the vehicle before returning and showing them the fuel receipt.
Nippon Rent-A-Car is arguably the largest car rental company in Japan. Much like NICONICO Rent a Car, it originally catered to Japanese residents but has lately expanded its services and now has a multilingual website and support for those coming to visit.
Their shops are open for 24 hours and are available near almost all the major airports, and even the airports of distant southern islands like Ishigaki (石垣島). Nippon Rent-A-Car also has a very large variety of vehicles to choose from, including luxury, hybrid, and truck types. The average charge per 24 hours also varies from around 6,000 yen to 25,000 yen, with every additional hour being 1,200 yen to 3,000 yen.
CDW is also available at the price of 1,080 yen per day. ETC cards are also available for rent at a low cost. There are plenty other additional options to choose from, although you will have to pay extra for them. These include child safety seats, snow tires, 4WD equipment, and ski racks (only in winter and in chosen areas).
Their renting process is similar to NICONICO’s, make a reservation online, go to their shop, and present them your license, passport, and credit card (the company does not offer pick-up services). Nippon Rent-A-Car strongly advertises its convenient one-way rental, where you can pick a car on one side of Japan and return it to almost any other. Upon return, please make sure that the car is refueled and give the gas receipt to the staff.
Although a rather small service, SAMURAI RENTAL CAR caters specifically to foreign tourists in Japan. Their shops are located near the Narita and New Chitose Airports and offer both airport pick-up and drop-off services.
With SAMURAI RENTAL CAR, you can also try one of their traditional Japanese costumes on and take a picture. Seeing that they primarily work with tourists, they also offer pocket Wi-Fi rentals for 1,080 yen a day, as well as English maps for popular tourist locations. ETC cards (in specific branches), child seats, and GPS are free of charge. The vehicle fees per 24 hours range from 7,000 yen to 22,000 yen and are all-inclusive, with every additional hour ranging from 1,080 yen to 2,160 yen.
The rental process starts with you making an online reservation and payment. You then arrive in Japan and the shuttle bus will pick you up at the location decided beforehand and bring you to the nearest SAMURAI RENTAL CAR shop. Once you sign a few documents and take your ninja pictures, you are all set to go.
You can return the car at either the New Chitose or Narita shop and ask for a free ride to the airport. There is no need to refuel the car upon return. Before you depart, you can also try signing your own Japanese lantern with calligraphy and taking it home as a gift from the shop.
As mentioned above, Japan has a great public transportation system, but it may just not be for everyone. If you are holding an International Driving Permit or a license that you can use in Japan and are traveling with family, renting a car will be a convenient thing to think of. There are plenty of other car rental services that you will discover upon your arrival in Japan, but some of them might not have an English-speaking staff or the options that you need, so it’s always better to plan ahead. So fasten your seatbelts, look around before you depart, and have a safe travel on the Japanese roads!