Hitting the Tougu or Driving on the Wangan… sounds like awesome experiencea. This isn’t that type of guide. Nor is this the guide on how to pass the driver’s license test in Japan (by the way there is a manga out there for this: Car Graffiti). In any-case the main purpose of this guide is to help tourist drive in Japan. Especially those who are coming from locations that drive on the right side of the road with the driver on the left side.
Why Drive in Japan?
Japan has a well efficient public transport system that some will question even the need to get a rental car. The upmost reason to get a rental car, and this is also what I found why some Japanese families would rent a rental car is because to have trips outside of the city where public transportation is not available. There are several car rental places in Japan, and the biggest advertisement they have is more driving outside of the city to visit the wonderful nature that is Japan. So families could rent a car for the weekend, to travel to the country side or in the mountains for camping or adventures and then return them. Aside from that, I don’t often see a reason to use a car, especially for a tourist. (This is the reason why we used a rental car: Nikko Circuit)
The usual rental car in Japan will have the steering wheel on the right hand side with the gear stick (shifter <– why is this a misspell word?) on the center console. Another thing that threw me off regarding driving was that the turn signal lever is on the right hand side along with the high beams. Sometimes you may find that the windshield wiper on the opposite side.
PRO TIP#1: Always get situated with the rental car.
This is an obvious tip and this is with anything you drive (even when you start driving). Get associated with the car your driving. Don’t leave anything missing and ask questions if you are missing something or don’t know a feature.
I felt this might be needed when talking about travels because majority of the electronics will be in Japanese. From my experience , GPS on the car will be most likely be in Japanese, and navigating to get an English on there still might because locations will be in Kanji/Hiragana (Japanese written language). You are not a lost though because you can input that into the GPS on your phone if you have internet connection. (See Pocket Wifi) I’ll talk about the rules on using your phone while driving.
Another thing that you might have in a car is a Electronic Toll Connection system (ETC). Littered through out Japan’s express ways are toll booths. These toll booths help to maintain the roads. (Hardly did I hit a pot hole through out Japan – it’s bloody amazing). I’ll explain toll booths later in this section, but some rentals might allow you to buy car that will be inputted in to the car’s ETC. This is so you don’t have to stop at the toll booth to pay. Additionally the device will communicate to the driver whenever it is near a toll both. What it communicate I don’t know but I assuming it notifies the driver they are approach a toll both, or that they have or don’t have enough money to pay the toll booth (Big assumption and please correct me if I am wrong.)
Car is driven on the left side of the road, and speeds are in km/h. A simple ideal how fast you are going is that 100 km/h is roughly 62 mph. (Curse you imperial system) I come from Hawaii, and driving in around Japan felt considerably slow. At the current moment of this post I’ve driven in Continental United States (Washington, Portland, Las Vegas, Texas, D.C.) Japan, and Philippines. I figured if Japanese people could drive in Hawaii, then I could drive in Japan. My friend, who is a born and raised in Japan, said that a lot of drivers from Japan get in a car accidents in Hawaii and vice versa. She advised me to use public transport.
There are several sites already posted about roads signs, but I like this site (Nigata JET is the Japanese Exchange and Teaching). Most of the signs are self explanatory but be acquainted with the important road signs: Stop, No Parking, No Parking or Stopping, No Entry, One Way.
Stoplights and Crossings:
Japan follows the international driving crossing signals, with green on top as go, yellow in the middle as caution, and red at the bottom as stop. If the light is red, you may not turn at all, even if your turning on the left lane and there is no passing cars. Remember that since the car is on the left side of the road, with turning on the road, you’ll be on the left side (if that makes sense). With that being said, to help me remember this was telling my self “tight left wide right”. Just remember to reverse this back when you return to your country with the car on the ride of the road. You must yield at the cross walk to pedestrians and cyclist as they will always have the right of way.
If you ever get involved in a accident and require emergency medical services, call 119. You always must call the police, especially if it with another vehicle. The number for the police is 011. Obvious, you must call your rental services about the damages.
PRO TIP# 2: Drive slow, within your limits, and carefully. You can’t go wrong driving with in the speed limit, but please don’t be inconvenience by driving really slow. If you have a scenic place, please find a parking space to take pictures. Additionally adjust to the weather conditions.
I have not much experience with parking lots in Japan and there are several videos on YouTube such as this that explains how to park in Japan at the coin operate lots. You can only park at designated areas that are allowed it. Most places within a city will not have a public parking lot, aside from certain hotels.
Cell Phones/Electronic Devices
Cell Phones or Electronic Devices are not allowed while driving. I believe that if you are caught with it in your hands, you are charged and fined.
PRO TIP# 3: Don’t drive alone, in other words have a navigator that can help handle your phone to GPS the location. The other option is to get a device that will hold your phone, so once you input your location into the phone, you don’t have it in your hand. Ignore all calls, and continue to drive.
I kinda wished I have DJI Osmo Car Mobile when we were traveling. It is a gimbal and a holder for your Phone.
As you can read you must enter the general toll booth or one that has both. Usually the ETC will be in blue while the General is green. Regardless the case maybe, always slow down when approaching these toll booths. The picture was taken from the Nissan Renta Car Guide Book. Even if you have the ETC, approach the toll booth, as it will take a while before the ETC registers allowing you to go.
One behavior that I noticed is that when you suddenly slow down, it is a good custom to put your hazards on.
That’s it. Please help with this guide by commenting below what else I could add, edit, or delete.