Posts Tagged ‘driving’

Hiring a car in Japan

Friday, July 8th, 2011

During my holiday to Okinawa I hired three cars; one in Naha, one on Tokashiki Island, and one on Ishigaki Island. This is an account of how I hired the cars, and what it is like to drive in Japan.

japan rental cars

Booking a car at a Japanese travel agent

Two of the cars (for Naha and Ishigaki) were booked in advance at a Japanese travel agents in Takamatsu. The travel agency was called KNT and I went there because a Japanese friend told me they were cheap.

japan rent a car brochure

If you want to book anything at a travel agent in Japan you will probably need to speak a reasonable amount of Japanese. There’s a lot of scope for things to go wrong if you aren’t fully understood, or if they don’t fully understand you. If you don’t speak Japanese you might be best off with trying to hire via one of the major car rental companies directly as they may have more English help available.

I wanted the cheapest, smallest car available, each for 24 hours. I decided to hire the cars from Orix Rent-A-Car.

I also wanted to have the cars delivered to myhotel and picked up from the hotel again. The lady in the travel agents was very nice and even phoned up both of my hotels to find out what parking facilities they had for collecting and leaving the car. One hotel had its own free car park. The other had a car park nearby which we’d have to pay to use overnight.

I paid ¥7000 for each of the cars. I was told that in Naha the car would be brought to the hotel, but that at Ishigaki I’d be collected from the hotel by the car hire company.

Naha rental car

In Naha at the agreed time I went to the reception of my hotel. The man from the car hire company appeared, but instead of bringing the car to us, told us that he’d drive us to the car. Maybe we’d misunderstood something the travel agency lady had said.

He drove me to the car hire company and in the office checked my international driving licences (this was before I got full Japanese driving licences), and alien registration cards.

international driving licence

Even though the ¥7000 charge included some kind of insurance, I agreed to pay another ¥525 for some add-on insurance. Not entirely sure what it was for, and if I’d been in an English speaking country I might not have bothered, but here I thought it was best to get all the insurance I could get.

japan rental car insurance agreement

He also gave me a brochure which had some reasonable road maps of Naha in it, and a ¥1000 petrol voucher which could be used at certain petrol stations.

I was told I had to fill the tank just before I finished with the car (Japanese for full tank is ‘mantan’). This car needed ‘regular’ petrol.

And I re-confirmed that I would be leaving it in the hotels car park overnight for them to collect in the morning.

Driving in Naha

The car was an automatic and it took a little while to get used to. If you are used to a manual then the main difference is that you don’t need to worry about the clutch. There is still a gear selector, but all you have to do is move it from ‘park’ to ‘drive’ to get going. There was a third pedal in the car which was for the ‘hand brake’. If you try to drive with the hand brake on then the car starts beeping.

The car had a GPS installed which was very useful as I drove to the North part of Naha to go to the Ocean Expo Park.

Driving on the express way

There is an express way that connects the North and South parts of Naha. Usually you would have to pay to use it, but when I went they were allowing it to be used for free. I still had to get a ticket though.

When you go to join an express way in Japan there are several different lanes you can use. There are ones that will allow you to collect a ticket, and there are ones for cars which have a smartcard payment box installed. These automatic lanes are labelled as ‘ETC’. Do not try to go through one of these lanes unless you have an ‘ETC’ card plugged into the ‘ETC’ unit in the car. The barriers will not open for you!

japan toll gate etc

If you are hiring a car you will probably have to go through the normal ticket barrier.

japan express way toll

The express way in Naha is modern and fast. There aren’t too many cars on it so you get a pleasant clear drive.

At the express way exit (remember don’t use the ‘ETC’ exit unless you have the card) I had to give the ticket to a lady who was on the toll booth. Normally you’d have to pay depending on the distance traveled, but as they were letting everyone use the express way for free there was nothing to pay.

Petrol stations

You will probably have to visit a petrol station at some point. With most car rental companies it is a condition of hire that just before you return the car you have to fill the tank back up. Occasionally (as happened to me on the small island of Tokashiki) I was charged an amount for the mileage I drove instead.

There are two main types of petrol station. Self service ones, and attendant operated ones.

japan petrol station

Before pulling in you should probably know where the petrol cap is and how to open it. The position of the handle isn’t always obvious. On one of my cars the handle could only be accessed by opening the driver’s door!

If it is a self service place just make sure you fill up with the right kind of petrol. Most cars are filled with ‘regular’ (レギュラー) petrol. If it is an attendant operated place then you should ask for a ‘mantan’ (まんタン), which means a full tank.

Keep your receipt. You might need to give it to the car rental company to prove that you filled it right up.

Japan car parking

There are three main types of car park system in Japan.

The first type has car parking spaces with a ‘lock’ that rises between the front and back wheels after the car is parked. The ‘lock’ will rise a minute or two after you park the car to give you a small amount of time to make any adjustments to the car’s position.

japan car parks 1

Usually each space is numbered and there is a main paying station for when you want to collect your car. Sometimes each space will have its own machine. When you want to collect your car you type in the number of your parking space and put in the required amount of money. The ‘lock’ will then lower and you can drive your car away. You may only have a limited time to do this so don’t wait too long! Do check the prices before parking – some can be very expensive. They often have different prices for peak and off-peak hours.

japan car parks 2

The second type is the barrier car park where you collect a ticket on the way in. On the way out you put the ticket in a machine and it tells you how much to pay. When you pay the barrier will open.

The third type is found in built up city areas where there is limited space. You will see tall windowless metal towers dotted about. There are the roulette car parks. You drive you car in through the door and when you leave the car will be rotated inside so that another space becomes free.

japan car parks 3

To get the car back there may be an attendant, or there may be a fully automated paying machine. You will then need to reverse your car onto the circular turning table which will spin your car around so you can drive straight out onto the road.

Returning the car

At the end of my Naha driving day I parked in the hotel car park. It was one of those car parking spaces where once you’ve parked the car a barrier rises between the front and back wheels.

As I wasn’t going to be around when the rental company man collected the car I left the keys at the hotel reception, and I also paid the overnight parking charge in advance. All this had been pre-arranged with the car rental company.

The next day when I came back from my day out the car was gone (collected – not stolen!).

Ishigaki rental car

An account of driving around Ishigaki is on this separate post.

Tokashiki rental car

The account of my Tokashiki car rental experience is on this page.

Full Japanese driving licence

I have some information about getting a full Japanese driving licence here.

Getting a Japanese driving licence

Friday, March 11th, 2011

I recently got my full Japanese driving licence. I already had a UK driving licence; so much of the information here will be specific for people who have UK driving licences. For example with a UK licence you don’t have to do a physical driving test, whereas I know that if you have an American driving licence you do.

get japan driving licence 1

Also I got my licence in Takamatsu – the procedure will vary in other parts of the country.

Translation of my British driving licence

To start with I needed a translation of my British driving licence. You can get one of these for ¥3000 from your local JAF (Japan automobile federation) office.

The procedure is pretty simple; you turn up – no appointment was necessary, fill in a simple form (name, address, telephone number), and give them your driving licence. They only needed my photocard, they didn’t need the paper counterpart. They then took about 30 minutes to copy the relevant information from the photocard to a standard form on one or two pieces of A4 paper.

get japan driving licence 2

After that you should just check the details on the translation form are correct. One thing I noticed is that the licence expiry date they put on the translation form is the photocard expiry date, which is usually very different from the expiry date of your driving licence.

There is more detailed information on the JAF website.

Japan driving licence interview

This is the stage which could vary a lot depending on where you are from. With my UK driving licence I was only required to be interviewed – I didn’t need to take a driving test.

I had to get the appointment booked in advance at the Kagawa driving licence centre which is a 25 minute walk North of Kozai station (one stop to the West of Takamatsu main station).

The interview was going to be in Japanese so I took a friend along to translate for me. Once at the driving licence centre I was seen by a lady who spent over an hour asking me many question about how I learnt to drive and my driving experience. Here is a selection of questions that my friend and I were asked at both of our interviews.

  • How did you apply for your provisional licence?
  • Where did you apply for your provisional licence?
  • How much did it cost?
  • When did you apply?
  • Did you need to do a test to get the provisional licence?
  • Did you need an eye test?
  • Did you have to see a doctor to get the provisional licence? (They seemed very suspicious about the fact that we can just get a provisional licence with no kind of testing!)
  • How did you learn to drive?
  • Who taught you?
  • Were they qualified instructors?
  • How many lessons did you do? How long were the lessons?
  • What cars did you drive?
  • Did you learn on a manual or automatic?
  • Have you driven an automatic? (in Japan they mainly seem to drive automatics)
  • What side of the road did you drive on?
  • What manouvers did you learn?
  • How did you learn the rules of the road? (theory)
  • Was there a test?
  • How many questions?
  • What was the pass mark? What did you score?
  • When did you do your driving test?
  • When / how did you apply for your driving test?
  • Who tested you?
  • What car did you drive for the test?
  • What did you do on the test?
  • How long was the test?
  • Did you pass? (if not expect similar questioning on your other test attempts)
  • Have you ever been caught speeding?
  • Have you driven in Japan?

I’d left my paper counter part back in the UK, and she did ask about it, but she seemed to accept that the photocard was sufficient. To be safe it is probably best if you bring your paper counterpart along with you as well, in case they insist on it.

And even more questions which I don’t remember! But hopefully this gives you an idea of the style. Once it was finished I was told that they’d phone within a week to tell me if I’d passed. If so I’d have to go back to the driving licence centre for an eye test and to pay. There was no charge to be interviewed.

Getting my Japanese driving licence

A week later I was told that I passed the interview so I was asked to go back to the centre the next week before 2pm.

After I got there and checked in at reception a man collected me. I had to verify my details on another form. And I had to choose two 4 digit pin codes (both could be the same). I’m guessing you might need them one day to prove you are the licence holder so note them down. He also checked my foreigner registration card and UK driving licence. And he took my UK driving licence translation (I didn’t get to keep it).

Then I given two A4 forms and had to go to a counter to buy revenue stamps for them at a cost of ¥5000. The lady behind the counter put the correct stamps on the correct forms. I also had to put my name and address on both of these pieces of paper.

get japan driving licence 3

Next I had to get photos from a photo booth. It printed out a sheet with two large photos and two small photos.

The man found me and we went back into the office. He put one of the small photos on a form, and the other three photos were mine to keep.

Then he took me upstairs for the quickest eye test I’ve ever done. In a small room was an eye testing machine and an operator. There were two types of test. The first was a Landolt C test where you are shown circles with a bit missing. I had to look through a window in the machine at a grid of these circles which were different sizes. The operator would light up one of the circles and I had to say whether the missing bit is on the top, left, bottom, or right. He let me say the answers in English. There were about 5 or 6 of these circles that he lit up. Some are quite small.

The next test was a colour blindness test. Using the same machine he would light up two colours. I had to say what the colours were. E.g. red and green. Orange and red. Again he let me give the answers in English.

The whole sequence of boths test can only have taken about 30 seconds. I got what I believe is a very good score!

The the man who had been acomponying me took me to another counter where I had to hand in the form which my mini-photo on it. He then left me while they processed the form.

About 10 minutes later they gave me a print out which I had to check. The Katakana version of my name was spelt wrong so they had to make a correction (I think the man’s handwriting hadn’t been very clear).

With the corrected form I then had to go to another area where another man took a photo of me using a fixed digital camera.

After this it was back downstairs to the waiting area.

Another 5 minutes later the man who had been making sure I went to the right places came out with my licence. I just had to sign for it and then I could leave with my brand new laminated Japanese driving licence.

get japan driving licence 4

Total time taken – about 3 hours (45mins for translation, 1.25 hours for interview, 1 hour for photos, eye test and getting licence).
Total cost – ¥8000 (¥3000 for translation and ¥5000 for licence application).

Changing the address on your Japanese driving licence

If you move then you have to get the address on your driving licence changed. You have to do this within two weeks. In order to change your driving licence address you will first have to change the address on your alien registration card at your local government office.

Then you will need to go to the driving licence centre at a main police station to change the driving licence address. You may also be able to change the address at a standalone driving license centre (but I’m not certain about this).

You need to go to a proper police station – they can’t change the address at the police koban boxes that you see all over the country. At my local police station there was a separate entrance for the driving licence centre. It was open during office hours 9:30-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. You have to fill in a simple form and show your alien registration card.

get japan driving licence 5

Then they print your new address on the back of your driving licence in the box above (the photo was taken before I changed my address) and your licence is now up to date again.

Driving around Ishigaki

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Ishigaki, Okinawa is reachable from Naha Airport via a one hour flight. The island is small and very drivable. Public transport outside the main city is limited so the best way to see the island is to rent a car. You can do a loop of the whole island in a few hours, but if you make stops along the way you can spend a day going round the island.

ishigaki okinawa 07

Near to the city centre is a botanical gardens (left) and a peace bell (right).

ishigaki okinawa 01

In most places the roads are wide, and flat, with very little other traffic. The other people on the road are polite, and don’t get angry if you drive slow, or hold them up by doing a three point turn.

ishigaki okinawa 02

We chose to go around the island clockwise, and follow whichever road was closest to the sea.

ishigaki okinawa 06

ishigaki okinawa 03

You will get great views from the car, but for some of the famous views such as Kabira Bay can only be seen if you get out of the car, and walk a few minutes.

ishigaki okinawa 08

Some of the beaches are designated as swimming beaches, and have marked out areas for swimming and snorkelling. These beaches do tend to have showers, but don’t tend to have coin lockers, so you’ll need someone to stay on the beach to look after your clothes and valuables. Or you could just risk leaving your clothes on the beach. Japan is very safe compared to other Western countries.

ishigaki okinawa 09

Here is the lighthouse at the very North of Ishigaki. You can climb up the small hill to get a great view of the sea and the nearby coast line.

ishigaki okinawa 10

ishigaki okinawa 11

Our Ishigaki rental car cost ¥7000 for 24 hours. We paid an extra ¥525 for insurance, and filling the car back up with petrol (‘Mantan’) when we had finished with it cost another ¥2100.