Our car rental plan pretty much came up a couple of days before our trip and the decision was based purely on the weather. Why, you asked? Well, the only reason we wanted to rent a car in Tokyo was because we thought it will be nice to drive to Lake Kawaguchikgo to see Mt. Fuji and have a pretty carefree day, not stressing about getting on the bus on time, chasing time and not being able to enjoy and relax etc etc etc. I’ve done quite a bit of research with regards to Mt. Fuji and had learnt that Mt. Fuji was notorious for being a very very shy mountain. In order to see the mountain, you have to go on a very clear day.
We’ve checked the weather forecast a couple of days before our trip and decided pretty much to rent a car on our first full day in Japan because the weather after that was actually pretty crappy. Although no rain forecasted, most days seems to be very cloudy and gloomy. We tried booking for a car online but probably due to a certain cut off days there weren’t any cars left to be booked online. We’ve looked through probably 4-5 different compnies and they are all the same. What made it even more difficult was that most of the car rental websites are in Japanese. So… what do we do?? 😦 Our last option was to take the bus which cost about 24USD per person for a return ticket from Shinjuku to Lake Kawaguchigo. There were 5 of us and quite frankly, renting a car would have been a cheaper option too.
So the day came, having only reached Tokyo the night before, we woke up pretty early and checked out of our hotels. I rechecked the weather for the week and yep, it HAS to be today or we won’t see Mt.Fuji at all. Took the train to Shinjuku and were considering our options. 1. to leave all of our luggages in the lockers in the train station and quickly buy us a ticket to Mt.Fuji OR, 2. To quickly try our luck again with a car rental company nearby. Three stayed back in the train station, trying to look for lockers while the other two of us went to look for car rentals. Luckily, the Toyota car rentals were only 5 minutes walk away! The day has been pretty challenging as we haven’t gotten our pocket wifi from our airbnb host either and none of us have international roaming. We quickly loaded our map in the train station and walked to the car rental with very limited information.
There’s a small que when we reached the car rentals. From their gestures and body language, I figured most of them had booked their cars online. We took a leap of faith anyway and waited in the line. 30 minutes or so later, it was our turn. When we told him that we haven’t booked a car beforehand, he gave a somewhat neutral look to us and asked us to step aside so that he can serve the customer behind us who had a booking first. Well, the fact that he didn’t reject us was a sign of hope! After about 10 minutes or so, he invited us back to the counter and asked us ever so politely what car we would like to rent. *YES!*
If you’re afraid that you can’t converse with them because of your limited Japanese, do not fear. They are actually pretty good with english. They may have trouble expressing what they wanted to say from time to time but their hand gestures are pretty good and I actually understood him completely without any hiccups. The only problem for us though, is that there aren’t anymore cars left with an english GPS and so we had to rely on a Japanese one. While my husband was busy with all the registrations, I quickly walked back to the station to get the other 3, luggages in tow. We were really lucky to get the car because they couldn’t find any large lockers that are empty. So, taking the bus would have been a bad option.
After getting the car, with the help of one of the staffs from the car rental, we got the Japanese GPS going. I kinda get a gist too on how the GPS work after watching her. There’s many ways to enter your locations. If you are going to a known business/home and have a registered telephone number, you can actually search the location with the phone number. This is probably the easiest way for ppl who do not read Japanese. However, if you do not have a number, you can also search the area with Hiragana. Of course, this will need some basic Japanese to maneuver around but if you have a cell phone with internet, finding the names in Japanese first and then selecting the words from the screen really isn’t that hard. As Lake Kawaguchigo isn’t really a business address, she was kind enough to search for free parking area for us on the GPS. Japanese GPS are also very detailed. When you are about to reach a fork road, part of the map would zoom in to show you the road you’re supposed to take. There wasn’t any problem at all and it was very easily understood.
So what do you need to rent a car and drive in Japan? You will definitely need an international driver’s licence. We’ve got ours done while we were back in KL just in case we did rent a car. Japan is pretty strict with their driving laws so make sure you do your research and double confirm that your country’s international driving licence is recognised in Japan. You will also need to rent an ETC card from the car rental. It’s basically an electronic card that you insert into your car and allows you to pass through tolls without the need to stop. It’ll charge the card and when you return your car, the car rental will then charge whatever amount that you have used. Very handy in my opinion.Which side of the road do Japanese drive? Well, luckily for us they drive on the left side of the road with the steering wheels on the ride side of your car. This is the same side in Malaysia and Australia. And lastly, if you’re planning to rent a car in Japan during winter, you might want to rent a snow chain for your wheels as well. The staff did asked us if we needed one as we were there in late winter but we didn’t think we would see snow. We did see snow actually but luckily for us, it wasn’t thick ones and they were mostly on the sides of the roads.
Returning the car was easily done. Even though we’ve rented ours for 24 hours, we had decided to return it earlier because we were back in Shinjuku by 7ish and the car rental closes only at 8:30PM that night. Saves us from looking for a parking space overnight. But what’s great about them is they actually gave us back some money for returnng it earlier, something that we didn’t even expect. All in all, it was a really good experience and I highly recommend renting a car in Japan if you’re planning to travel further than the metropolitan areas. Here is a link to the Toyota car rental website. We did try to book from here online but couldn’t. Otherwise, just rock up and try your luck!
Hope this post gave an insight on driving and renting a car in Japan. Good luck! Till the next post, Keep Experimenting~!
PS: Sorry for rather crappy photos. Taking photos in a car was quite a challenge.