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The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for a Self-Driving Tour in Japan

Self-driving tours in Japan have become increasingly popular among tourists who want to explore the country at their own pace. With its stunning landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and well-maintained road infrastructure, Japan offers a unique and rewarding experience for those who choose to embark on a self-driving adventure. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene countryside of Hokkaido, there is something for everyone to discover on a self-driving tour in Japan.

Understanding Self-Driving Regulations in Japan

Before embarking on a self-driving tour in Japan, it is important to familiarize yourself with the country’s driving laws and regulations. In Japan, driving is done on the left side of the road, similar to countries like the United Kingdom and Australia. It is also mandatory to have a valid driver’s license from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP) in order to drive in Japan.

Obtaining an IDP is relatively straightforward and can be done through your local automobile association or motor vehicle department. The IDP serves as a translation of your driver’s license and must be carried along with your original license while driving in Japan. It is important to note that the IDP is only valid if accompanied by your original driver’s license.

Choosing the Right Car Rental Company

When planning a self-driving tour in Japan, choosing the right car rental company is crucial. Factors to consider include the company’s reputation, availability of English-speaking staff, range of vehicle options, and pricing. Some popular car rental companies in Japan include Toyota Rent a Car, Nissan Rent a Car, and Times Car Rental.

It is recommended to book your rental car in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, as availability may be limited. When renting a car in Japan, it is important to carefully read and understand the terms and conditions of the rental agreement. This includes information about insurance coverage, fuel policy, and any additional fees that may apply. However, if you want to take a very long trip to Japan, you better use your own car. Car shipping is not complex and annoying if you find a reliable freight forwarding company.

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Planning Your Route and Itinerary

One of the most exciting aspects of a self-driving tour in Japan is the freedom to plan your own route and itinerary. There are several popular self-driving routes in Japan that offer a variety of landscapes and attractions. Some of these include the Golden Route, which takes you from Tokyo to Kyoto via Mount Fuji, and the Hokkaido Scenic Byway, which allows you to explore the beautiful countryside of Hokkaido.

When planning your itinerary, it is important to consider the driving distances between destinations and allocate enough time for sightseeing and rest stops. It is also recommended to research and include popular attractions along your route, such as historic temples, picturesque gardens, and local markets. Additionally, be sure to check for any road closures or construction that may affect your planned route.

Navigating Japanese Roads and Signage

Navigating Japanese roads can be a bit challenging for first-time visitors due to the language barrier and unfamiliar road signs. However, with some preparation and understanding of Japanese road signage, it can be easily managed.

Japanese road signs use a combination of symbols and kanji characters. Some common symbols include a red circle with a white horizontal line through it, which indicates a prohibition or restriction, and a blue square with a white arrow, which indicates a mandatory direction.

To navigate Japanese roads effectively, it is recommended to use a GPS navigation system or smartphone app that supports English language instructions. This will help you stay on track and avoid getting lost. It is also important to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road in Japan, such as speed limits and right-of-way.

Essential Items to Pack for Your Self-Driving Tour

When embarking on a self-driving tour in Japan, it is important to pack essential items that will enhance your comfort and convenience during the trip. Some recommended items to pack include a portable Wi-Fi device or SIM card for internet connectivity, a GPS navigation system or smartphone with a reliable navigation app, a paper map as a backup, and a portable phone charger.

Other essential items include a first aid kit, a flashlight, a roadside emergency kit, and a portable umbrella. It is also recommended to pack comfortable clothing and footwear, as well as snacks and drinks for the journey. Additionally, be sure to pack any necessary documents, such as your driver’s license, IDP, and rental car agreement.

Preparing for Toll Roads and Parking

In Japan, toll roads are common and can be quite expensive, especially for long-distance travel. It is important to be prepared for tolls and plan your budget accordingly. Most toll roads in Japan accept cash or electronic payment methods such as ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) cards.

If you plan on using toll roads frequently during your self-driving tour, it may be worth considering renting a car equipped with an ETC card. This will allow you to pass through toll gates without having to stop and pay manually. ETC cards can be obtained from car rental companies or purchased at convenience stores.

Finding parking in Japan can also be challenging, especially in crowded cities like Tokyo. It is recommended to research parking options in advance and consider using paid parking lots or garages. Some hotels and attractions may offer parking facilities for guests, but it is important to check availability and pricing beforehand.

Tips for Driving in Different Weather Conditions

Japan experiences a wide range of weather conditions throughout the year, from hot summers to cold winters and everything in between. When driving in different weather conditions, it is important to take extra precautions to ensure your safety on the road.

During rainy weather, it is important to drive at a slower speed and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. Wet roads can be slippery, so it is important to avoid sudden braking or acceleration. It is also recommended to use your headlights and windshield wipers for better visibility.

In snowy or icy conditions, it is crucial to drive slowly and cautiously. It is recommended to equip your rental car with snow tires or chains, especially if you plan on driving in mountainous areas. It is also important to keep a safe distance from other vehicles and avoid sudden manoeuvres.

Finding the Best Places to Eat and Stay

One of the highlights of a self-driving tour in Japan is the opportunity to discover and indulge in the country’s renowned cuisine. From sushi and ramen to tempura and yakitori, there is something for every palate. When planning your itinerary, be sure to research popular restaurants and local specialties along your route.

In terms of accommodations, Japan offers a wide range of options to suit every budget and preference. From luxury hotels and traditional ryokans to budget-friendly guesthouses and capsule hotels, there is something for everyone. It is recommended to book your accommodations in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.

Exploring Japan’s Hidden Gems

While popular tourist destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are must-visit places in Japan, there are also many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. These lesser-known attractions offer a unique and authentic experience away from the crowds.

Some hidden gems in Japan include the historic town of Kanazawa, known for its well-preserved samurai and geisha districts, the picturesque village of Shirakawa-go with its traditional thatched-roof houses, and the remote island of Yakushima, home to ancient cedar forests and natural hot springs.

When planning your self-driving tour, be sure to include some of these hidden gems in your itinerary for a truly memorable experience.

Staying Safe on the Road

Safety should always be a top priority when embarking on a self-driving tour in Japan. It is important to follow traffic rules and regulations, drive defensively, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Some safety tips for driving in Japan include wearing seat belts at all times, avoiding distractions such as using mobile phones while driving, and refraining from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is also important to be mindful of pedestrians and cyclists, especially in crowded urban areas.

In case of an emergency or breakdown, it is recommended to have the contact information of your car rental company and insurance provider readily available. It is also important to have a basic understanding of Japanese phrases related to emergencies and roadside assistance.

Making the Most of Your Self-Driving Tour Experience

To make the most of your self-driving tour experience in Japan, it is important to embrace the freedom and flexibility that comes with it. Take the time to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations, interact with locals, and immerse yourself in the rich culture and traditions of Japan.

Be open to trying new foods, visiting lesser-known attractions, and taking detours along the way. Remember to take breaks and rest when needed, as driving long distances can be tiring. Finally, cherish the memories and experiences gained during your self-driving tour in Japan, as they will surely last a lifetime.

In conclusion, a self-driving tour in Japan offers a unique and rewarding way to explore the country’s diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and hidden gems. By understanding the driving regulations, choosing the right car rental company, planning your route and itinerary, navigating Japanese roads and signage, packing essential items, preparing for toll roads and parking, driving in different weather conditions, finding the best places to eat and stay, exploring hidden gems, staying safe on the road, and making the most of your self-driving tour experience, you can ensure a memorable and enjoyable trip. So buckle up, hit the road, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Japan.