japan driving guide

Japan Driving Guide

Japan is an outstanding country in Asia. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.

2023-12-15 · 9 mins,

Have you ever dreamt of navigating the bustling streets of Tokyo or cruising through Japan's serene countryside at your own pace? Driving in Japan is the perfect way to experience this culturally rich country beyond the usual tourist trails, immersing yourself in its unique lifestyle.

Imagine zipping through vibrant cityscapes or tranquil landscapes, enjoying the freedom to uncover hidden gems.

If it's your first time visiting, don't let the prospect of driving in a foreign country intimidate you. This guide will cover everything you need to know about driving in Japan.

How Can This Guide Help You?

Even though public transportation in this country is reliable, and its citizens are known for their discipline and courtesy, depending solely on it might restrict your exploration of the country's historical treasures, especially if your itinerary package has limitations. This could lead to a sense that your travel experience isn't worth the hefty investment.

We've crafted this comprehensive driving guide to assist foreign visitors like yourself in navigating the country with a rental car, ensuring that every penny you invest in your travel experience is well-spent.

Let's Take a Closer Look at Japan

Before you head off and start planning your road trip in the country with a rental car, let us first talk about many things you should know about in Japan. With how popular this country is, you may already know some of them. Read further to add more knowledge about the land of the rising sun!

Geographical Location

This country has four main islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. The country has a population of 127 million and is one of the world's most densely populated countries, living on a landmass of just 377,842 square kilometers.

Languages Spoken

Japanese is Japan's official and most spoken language, belonging to the Japonic family. Korean, too, is prevalent and learned by many as a second language. English, introduced to Japan in 1873, is widely taught and understood.

Land Area

Japan is an island in East Asia with a land area of 377,975 km². It comprises five main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, Okinawa, and countless remote islands.


Japan was first inhabited by the Jomon people, a community of hunter-gatherers who transitioned to an agriculture-based society with the advent of rice cultivation. This marked the beginning of the country's rich and complex history, with the earliest known records tracing back to the 4th century BC.

World War II was a pivotal period in its history, after which the Allied forces occupied the country, dividing it into two zones, namely the Southern and Northern zones, controlled by the United States and Russia, respectively. This occupation ended in 1952, setting the stage for the contemporary era of Japan.


Tourism is booming in Japan, ranking third worldwide with approximately 65 million international visitors. The industry, worth over $200 billion, significantly contributes to Japan's GDP and provides jobs for over 2 million people. Japan's diverse landscapes, rich culture, cuisine, world-class beaches, and ski resorts make it a top travel destination.


Japan's government, elected by the people, comprises three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial.

The legislative branch includes the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. The executive is led by the Prime Minister and his cabinet, appointed by the Emperor. The judicial branch comprises various levels of courts, including district, high, and supreme courts.

International Driver’s Permit FAQs

The land of the rising sun is a country that many would love to explore and visit. However, not all itineraries or tour packages can truly showcase the country's beauty.

That’s why we highly encourage renting a car, exploring the country yourself, and getting an International Driving Permit (IDP) for Japan if you're a foreign tourist.

Does Japan Accept IDP?

Yes, Japan accepts an International Driving Permit (IDP). It is considered a valid form of identification that will translate your driver’s license into 12 widely used languages worldwide.

So, whether or not your home country driver’s license is in English, this document would prove to local authorities that you are a driver knowledgeable about the rules of the road, whether in urban areas or rural areas. This IDP will provide a Japanese translation of all the information that is written on your driver’s license.

How Do I Get an International Driving Permit in Japan?

You can get an IDP from the Consulate of the country or your post office. However, if you want a more convenient option, you can get this in just a few clicks from our website.

Can I Get an International Driving Permit Online?

Certainly! You have the option to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) online, but it's crucial to ensure you use a trustworthy platform. We provide IDP processing services, and you can explore the benefits and uses on our license page.

To initiate the application process, simply click the "Start My Application" button located in the upper right corner of the page.

Can a Foreigner Get a Driver's License in Japan?

A foreigner can get a Japanese driver’s license in cities and rural areas. However, this is only required from people who intend to stay and drive in the country for more than three months and those with a residence permit.

Does Japan Use KpH or Mph As a Speed Limit Unit?

Japan uses the KpH as its speed limit unit. It’s the same unit of measurement for countries like Australia, China, and others.

What is it Like to Drive in Japan at Night?

Driving in Japan at night is a unique experience. The advanced infrastructure automatically lights up the roads, allowing you to drive without headlights. The government is also investing in making streets and highways safer by adding cameras and sensors to help drivers avoid accidents.

Renting a Car in Japan

Although the Japanese rail system is spectacular, using public transportation will only take up most of your time as you wait in line to hop on the train. Thus, renting a car in Japan is highly recommended to fully enjoy all the benefits and beautiful spots this country offers.

Car Rental Companies

There are so many of the best car rental in Japan, with the industry's roots tracing back to K.K. Rent-a-Car Co., Ltd in 1928. The sector experienced substantial growth during the economic boom of the 1960s.

Further expansion and heightened competition characterized the 1980s. Fast forward to 2009, and the landscape was dotted with over 4,000 car-sharing companies, boasting a remarkable 10 million memberships and an annual rental count surpassing 1 billion.

Documents Required

As you've arrived at this section of our driving guide, you've likely begun outlining the necessary steps for renting a car in this country. To proceed, please make a note of the following requirements.

  • Your passport
  • A driver's license (even if you don't own a car) from your home country if you are only driving for less than three months
  • An International Driving Permit (IDP)
  • A Japanese driver's license for the duration of your stay

Vehicle Types

Being home to the best world-renowned Japanese cars like Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Nissan, car rental companies will offer the best and the most upgraded models of these brands and more.

So whether you are traveling with your family via SUV, as a couple via minivan, or solo traveling via sedan while on a business trip in this country, there are vehicles open for you to rent.

Car Rental Cost

Despite Japan's reputation for high car rental fees, many companies offer affordable services. Rental costs vary depending on the company, location, and season, with peak periods seeing higher rates. However, daily rentals can be as low as $20, providing cost-effective options for travelers.

Age Requirements

Japan's driving culture involves strict rules, including an age requirement. To drive, you must be at least 18 and pass both written and practical exams. Those under 18 or over 80 can only take the written test.

Foreigners driving in Japan should carry:

  • Passport
  • Driver's license
  • International Driving Permit (IDP) issued by their embassy/consulate or a trusted online provider

Car Insurance Cost

The cost of car insurance varies from country to country. The best car insurance in Japan costs range from $1,000 to $2,000 per year.

This country ranks among the most expensive globally when it comes to car insurance. This is primarily attributed to the high volume of cars in the country and the numerous regulations mandating drivers to maintain a specific level of insurance coverage.

Car Insurance Policy

Insurance in the country goes beyond protection. It forms a social security net and serves as the foundation of the pension system.

Japan has a distinct car insurance policy. It covers all car accidents, including fire, theft, and damage from natural disasters, for cars with Japanese registration plates.

The coverage allows unlimited claims if premiums are paid on time, and you are not involved in any criminal activity.

Road Rules in Japan

Whether in another country like Belgium, Switzerland, France, Australia, Taiwan, Monaco, etc., there will always be a set of road traffic rules for locals and visitors. The Japanese are known worldwide for their discipline, and this attitude is also set to be applied on the Japanese road.


Japan has stringent drunk-driving laws, making it illegal to operate a vehicle after consuming at least three drinks over a specified period. The country aims to reduce drunk driving through increased penalties and stricter enforcement.

Left Driving

Similar to pedestrian guidance, drivers, cyclists, and motorists must stick to the left side of the road. This practice, established after World War II, ensures uniformity and safety.

Honking Policies

Contrary to some countries, honking is considered illegal in Japan. This restriction aims to maintain a peaceful driving environment, especially in bustling cities like Tokyo and Shibuya.

Parking Policies

In major cities such as Nagoya and Kyoto, on-street parking is strictly prohibited. Designated parking lots are available, and parking on the street may result in fines and towing.

No Driving While Distracted

Driving while using a mobile phone or being distracted by the car's navigation system is illegal in Japan, with fines imposed for violations.

General Standards of Driving

The land of the rising sun is a unique country with specific driving standards. For you to know more about it, here are the general standards of driving in Japan:

  • Age Requirement: Drivers must be at least 20 years old to apply for a driver's license.
  • Examinations: Prospective drivers must pass both written and practical exams relevant to their license level.
  • License Validity: A driver's license is initially valid for three years. Upon expiration, drivers must retake both exams before renewing their license.

Aside from the requisites above, the primary responsibility of drivers in Japan is to adhere to traffic laws and prioritize the safety of pedestrians and other vehicles on the road.

Speed Limit

Foreign drivers must adhere to speed limits in Japan, which include a general limit of 60 km/h (37 mph), 100 km/h on highways, and 40 km/h in urban areas.

Seatbelt Laws

Front seat occupants must wear seatbelts at all times, and rear passengers should use available seatbelts. Children under 12 are required to use car seats in the rear.

Driving Directions

Japan has specific driving directions, with unique signs, rules, and traffic lights to facilitate smooth navigation.

Traffic Road Signs

With over 60,000 traffic signs, Japan enforces strict traffic rules, ensuring safety for both drivers and pedestrians.

Right of Way

In Japan, vehicles turning left have the right of way, and pedestrians hold the right of way at all times.

The legal driving age in Japan is 18, with three types of licenses available: L-2 and L-3 for learners and L-4 for professional drivers.

Law on Overtaking

Overtaking laws require drivers to slow down and wait for a safe opportunity when passing on the right side without a clear way out.

Driving Side

Japan follows the left-side driving system, with the direction of traffic determining the driving side. Drivers should turn their steering wheel to face left for safe navigation.

Driving Etiquette in Japan

Accidents can happen anywhere, emphasizing the importance of being prepared to handle unforeseen situations, particularly on the road.

Given that road fatalities rank among the leading global causes of death, readiness is key to avoiding unfortunate circumstances.

Car Breakdown

In the event of a car breakdown, the Japanese government provides valuable assistance through the "Road Emergency Assistance Network" (ROAN) website.

Adherence to specific rules is essential; if your car stalls on a highway, promptly pull to the nearest service station or parking lot. On graded roads or expressways, maneuver your vehicle close to the nearest service station or parking facility.

Police Stops

Encounters with law enforcement are not uncommon, and maintaining composure is crucial when stopped by the police. Actions like placing your hands on your head and declaring, "I don't have anything," may escalate the situation.

There is no universal reaction protocol during a police stop, necessitating a calm response and compliance with instructions.

Asking Directions

When seeking directions from locals in Japan, a simple bow and a smile are effective gestures. Japanese culture values courtesy, and people are generally polite and welcoming. While many locals are proficient in English, some may feel less confident speaking it.

Utilize keywords to ensure clear communication and understanding of your inquiries. Some of them are the following:

  • Konnichiwa! - Hi or Good afternoon
  • Moshi Moshi - Hello (on the phone)
  • Ogenki desu ka? - How are you or Are you fine?
  • Tasukete! - Help me or Save me! (in case of emergencies)
  • Arigato (gozaimasu) - Thank you! (note: Use “gozaimasu” to be more formal)
  • Kikoemasu ka? - Can you hear me?
  • Toire wa doku desu ka? - Where is the toilet?


The country has established checkpoints, typically located at tunnel and bridge entrances. When interacting with local traffic authorities at these checkpoints, it's essential to maintain politeness and courtesy.

Additional Tips

While the country may exude friendliness, it's crucial not to underestimate the strict enforcement of punishments and penalties. Adhering to rules and regulations is imperative in this country.

Driving Road Conditions in Japan

Navigating Japanese roads presents a distinct experience compared to international road conditions. Renowned for their prompt repair of damaged roads and dedication to maintaining excellent road conditions, Japan stands out for its absence of unpaved roads—a testament to the nation's industrious work ethic.

Accident Statistics

Japan boasts lower road fatalities compared to many countries. In 2020, the recorded number of road traffic accidents exceeded 2,000, reflecting a notably lower figure compared to the 4,000+ accidents recorded elsewhere.

Common Vehicles

A nation enamored with automobiles, Japan exhibits a particular affinity for the color red. The common vehicles on Japanese roads include motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses.

Three-wheeled vehicles, produced by various car companies, also enjoy popularity. Japan's extensive rail network facilitates nationwide travel for both private and public transportation providers.

Toll Roads

Toll roads, where users pay for specific routes to fund public infrastructure projects, have been integral to Japan's transportation system since 1891. Toll gates were introduced by private companies in 1956, contributing to over 200,000 kilometers of toll roads in the country today.

Road Situation

The majority of roads in Japan boast well-paved surfaces, reflecting the nation's responsiveness to road damage. While most roads are toll-free, expressways and routes leading to top destinations may have tolls.

Driving Culture

With a reputation for advanced AI and robotics stemming from its high-tech culture and innovation focus, Japan exhibits a unique driving culture fueled by a profound passion for cars and motorcycles. An interesting facet of this culture is the immediate activation of hazard lights by Japanese drivers to express gratitude when yielding to another driver on the road.

The Top Destinations in Japan

It’s finally the section which you are probably to read about. Japan’s top destinations are popular worldwide, and many of them exist! So, if you are eager to go on a road trip to all these destinations, start reading more about how you can get there and your activities in these locations. The best time to visit Japan is during spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November).

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is the country's highest mountain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Japan. It has been a symbol of Japan since ancient times, inspiring poets, artists, and travelers like Marco Polo. Today, it remains a popular tourist destination and significant in Japanese culture.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Top destinations exist in nature and manmade wonders! This road trip gem is the imperial residence of the country's emperor and family. Located at the former Edo castle site, it boasts 17th-century parks. Some areas are closed to the public as the imperial family resides there.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was created to honor the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Designed by architect Kenzō Tange, the park blends traditional Japanese temple and garden elements, providing visitors with an open, barrier-free space to explore. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Shibuya Crossing

The Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, Japan, is a major and congested intersection. Its appearance in films, TV shows, and anime has gained fame. Originally designed as a small pedestrian street, it was expanded to four lanes in 1966 to handle increased traffic.


Kyoto, a city rich in cultural heritage, is another top destination in Japan that beckons travelers with its historic charm. Renowned for its well-preserved temples, traditional tea houses, and picturesque gardens, Kyoto offers a glimpse into Japan's storied past.

Experience Japan to the Fullest with an IDP

Are you prepared to dive into your Japanese driving adventure? Arm yourself with an International Driver's Permit from us. It's your passport to a worry-free and confident driving journey in Japan.

Don't delay; begin your application today! Obtain your International Driving Permit here.

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