Car Rental in Japan
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When renting a car in Japan you will first have to choose what type of vehicle you want for example: Mini, Economy, Compact, Intermediate, Standard, Full-Size, Premium, Luxury, Minivans / MPVs or other vehicles such as trucks and special vehicles.
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Rental cars and driving in Japan are rare in or around the major cities, as public transport is generally excellent and gets you almost everywhere. However many rural areas can really only be explored with your own transport, so driving should certainly not be dismissed out of hand, especially on the vast, sparsely populated island of Hokkaido.
A international driver's license (or Japanese license) will be required if you wish to rent a car or drive in Japan, and must be carried at all times. Driving is on the left as normally found in UK/Australia/Singapore/NZ/Cyprus, opposite to Europe/USA/Canada. There is no "right turn on red" (or left turn, rather) rule in Japan. Driving while drunk can result in fines of up to 500,000 yen and instant loss of licence, at above the official "drunk driving" blood-alcohol limit of 0.25mg. It's also an offence to "drive under the influence" with no set minimum that can be fined up to 300,000 yen, with a suspension of license. Using a cell phone while driving without a hands-free kit can result in fines of up to 50,000.
Tolls for the expressways are generally significantly higher than the cost of a train ride, even on the bullet train. So for one or two people it's not cost-effective for direct long distance travel between cities. Both rental costs and fuel are more expensive than those in USA, but fuel is generally cheaper than found in Europe. Rental car companies generally offer smaller cars from 5000 yen/day, and a full size sedan will cost around 10000 yen/day. Most rental cars have some kind satellite navigation ("navi") thus you can ask the rental car company to set your destination before your first trip. However unless you read Japanese you may need to ask for assistance to make full use of the navigation computer. On the highways and around major cities English signage is very good; however in more remote locales it may be spotty. Japanese driving habits are generally as good as anywhere else, and usually better than other Asian and southern European countries. Japanese roads are generally of good quality, with smooth bitumen surfaces. Gravel roads are very limited, usually forest roads, and unlikely to be on the itinerary of too many tourists. Roadworks are frequent however, and can cause annoying delays. Certain mountain passes are shut over winter.
Navigating within cities can be confusing and parking in them costs ¥300-400/hour. Larger hotels in the cities and regional hotels normally offer car parking, but it would be wise to check car parking however before you book. The best car to use in Tokyo is a taxi.
Japan has horizontal traffic lights, with any arrows appearing beneath the main lights. The color-blind should note that the red (stop) is on the right and the green (go) is on the left. There are usually only one or two traffic lights per intersection pointing the same way, which can make it hard to see when the signals change. However some prefectures, such as Toyama and Niigata, have vertical lights (this is supposedly due to the amount of snow they get).
Warning hazards for repair, breakdown and construction are always well illuminated at night and tend to also appear at least once before the main obstacle on higher speed roads such as expressways. Other road hazards to be aware of are taxis, who feel they have a god-given right to stop wherever and whenever they like, long-distance truckers (especially late at night) who may often be hepped up on pep pills and tend to ride the bumper of any slower car in front, and country farmers in their ubiquitous white mini-trucks, who never seem to go above a crawl and may pop out of rural side roads unexpectedly.
Road speed limits are marked in kilometres per hour. They are 40km/h in towns (with varying areas: some at 30, roads by schools usually at 20), 50 to 60 in the countryside (if unmarked, the limit is 60), and 100 on the expressways. There is usually a fair bit of leeway in terms of speeding - about 10km/h on normal roads, for example. If you go with the flow you should not have any problems, as the Japanese often pay speed limits no more attention than they have to.