People across the world love visiting Japan for the food, pop culture, and Mount Fuji. Majority of tourists choose to travel by rail, but oftentimes, we miss out on the amazing landscape of volcanic mountains, oceans, and forests that one can only experience when driving through the islands of Japan.
If you are planning a road trip in Japan but have no idea where to start, UCARS is here to take the wheels and steer you towards experiencing the most unforgettable drive through Japan.
Before You Set-Off
Make sure that you have an international driver’s license before setting off for Japan. You can obtain one from the Automobile Association of Singapore for a fee of $20.
Getting A Car In Japan
Rental car companies in Japan offer cars in varying sizes and, in some cases, even large vans, buses and RVs! These companies operate across hundreds of outlets across the country, and can usually be found near the airports.
If the thought of communicating in Japanese is daunting, or you would like to make arrangements in advance, you can visit sites such as Japan Experience, Rentalcars.com, or Tocoo!, which provide English online reservation systems.
Rest Stops in Japan
If you are worried about having to take a break from your long drive, rest assured that there are many roadside rest areas in Japan! The Michi No Eki system was launched by the Japanese government in 2010 to “create a safe, comfortable road traffic environment, and unique, lively spaces that showcased the individuality of a region”.
It has free 24-hour parking and restrooms, as well as road, tourist and emergency care information. Each Michi No Eki also has cultural centres that are region-specific for tourists to learn about Japan. There are over a thousand Michi No Eki across the four islands of Japan, so you can have an ease of mind when driving down the long, scenic roads.
Cost Considerations of Your Road Trip In Japan
Besides the daily cost of your preferred rental car, there are other important cost considerations to take note of while planning for your trip.
Tolls in Japan
Most of the highways in Japan require toll fees, and these costs get hefty when you drive through the major cities of Japan. Look out for this sign to pay by card or cash, since only locals are able to pay by their ETC card (sort of like a Tap-N-Go card). While most toll booths accept both payment methods, be sure to have sufficient cash on hand just in case you encounter a booth that does not.
Petrol in Japan
The cost of petrol in Japan is very affordable at around ¥120 per litre (SGD1.58). While pumping petrol in Japan can be confusing at first, the attendants are more than happy to assist you, so do not be shy to ask for help!
Parking in Japan
While it is easy to find parking in Japan (even in the major cities), the parking fees do not go easy on your wallet, especially if you are used to the parking rates in Singapore. Be prepared to pay around ¥300 – ¥500 (SGD3.94 – SGD6.96) per hour, and a maximum of ¥2000 (SGD26.25) per night.
When To Go On A Road Trip In Japan
Most visitors choose to go in Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to October) as the weather is not too humid (June to August) nor too cold (December to February). Try your best to avoid April as well, as it can get very crowded during the cherry blossom season.
Where To Go On A Road Trip In Japan
Now that the technicalities are settled, it is time to explore where to drive in Japan! Depending on what kinds of drive you like, your preferred road trip can be different from other travellers’ preferences – so we have prepared a list of road trips suited for those who want to experience a scenic view of Japan, as well as for the auto enthusiasts seeking to have a thrilling drive on the most exhilarating routes in Japan.
For The Scenics
Here are our top picks for the scenery-lovers who want to take a cruise while taking in the beauty of nature.
Tsunoshima Bridge, Yamaguchi
This 1,780 metre bridge connects the mainland and a mini remote island in Yamaguchi. Besides being an architectural marvel, the bridge is surrounded by serene, clear waters that are sure to capture the hearts of many. The journey does not end there, however. Tsunoshima island has pristine sandy beaches and tour experiences for you to enjoy.
Venus Line, Nagano
If you are looking for a longer drive to take in all the fresh air and mountainous scenery in the distance, the Venus Line in Nagano is for you. This 70 kilometre road allows you to travel from Chino to Utsukushigahara Highlands, and is filled with many sightseeing treasures along the way.
You can visit the Kirigamine Kogen Plateau, which is the highest altitude area on the Venus Line that overlooks a plain of beautiful Nikkoukisuge flowers.
Travellers can also opt to stop by Lake Megami. This is a must-visit because of its gorgeous view, and also a resting place for many in Tateshina. There is a complex called Megamiko Centre with restaurants and shops for you to take a rest from all the driving.
Mt Aso, Kumamoto
If you want to get up close to active volcanoes, then this trip is sure to be a stunning and exciting one that you might want to explore! The drive from the city centre to Mt Aso takes you through a lush scenery of greens and mountains in the distance. Since the volcano is still active, entry regulations change frequently along with the sporadic activity of the volcano. So be sure to check the entry restriction and maintenance schedule here before going to avoid disappointment.
Mikuni Pass, Shizuoka
Visiting Mt Fuji may be on your itinerary, so why not enjoy the picturesque view on the way there? The Mikuni Pass brings visitors one of the most breathtaking views of the mountain, and you can even admire the gorgeous Lake Yamanaka at the foot of the mountain along your drive.
Bandai Azuma Roadway, Fukushima
Surrounded by trees and mountains, this roadway provides you with gorgeous views at every turn. Besides the stunning scenery at the Azuma-Kofuji peak, travelling the Bandai Azuma Skyline takes you across the mountainside and is sure to leave you captivated.
For The Thrill-Seekers
You may be looking forward to a road trip in Japan for the winding roads along the mountains that you see in Initial D or Tokyo Drift. Buckle up, for UCARS has got you covered with these race courses rousing routes for you to have the most exhilarating drive of a lifetime!
Hakone Hill Climb, Kanagawa
This route is one that many auto enthusiasts have on their bucket list. This privately-owned toll road has illuminated the way for drifting, and has garnered the attention of drifters for its famous turnpike. The roads are paved like a speedway surface, so if you want to put your drifting techniques to the test, this is a must-visit for you.
Mt Haruna, Gunma
This is an iconic route that gained attention from the manga and anime Initial D. You are sure to be awed by the many gorgeously modified cars and bikes while taking a drive along this prestigious mountain route. Plus, who wouldn’t want to feel like ‘Drift King’ Keiichi Tsuchiya for once? Truly a win-win for all.
Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge, Shizuoka
This bridge is the hallmark of Japanese innovation and creativity. While a linear ramp was not feasible to be built on the steep mountainsides, architects and engineers decided to build a spiralling bridge that allows drivers to traverse the mountains. The Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge may tempt you to accelerate, but be sure to keep to the speed limit of 30 kph for your safety, especially along those turns.
Tateyama Snow Canyon Road, Toyama
Finally, if you are up for a challenge and ready to brave the cold, you can take a drive along Tateyama Snow Canyon Road. This 37-kilometre corridor is paved by seemingly gravity-defying snow walls that reach heights of up to 20 metres. This is a truly unique experience that you would not want to miss!
If you are planning to go on a solo road trip in Japan, take a look at our Beginner’s Guide To Taking A Road Trip Alone for some useful tips!