Renting a Car as a Solo Female Traveller in Japan

There is a saying that we have heard since time immemorial: when in Rome, do as Romans do. While it might hold true in some aspects, it fails to do so at times. Let me explain. When you visit a country on your solo female trip, the best way to travel from one place to another is by using the mode of transportation most used by the residents of the country. It will be cheaper, more convenient, and easier to travel to.

If you have chosen Japan as the country to explore as a solo female traveller, you will invariably choose to travel in trains. And why not? Trains in Japan are not only one of the fastest modes of transportation but is extremely safe for women. The fact that it is extremely punctual helps too.

But what is life without thinking taken a step out off the beaten road? If you want to enjoy the beauty of Japan with your hand on the steering wheel and wind blowing in your hair, you need to rent a car as a solo female traveller. But, how to rent a car in Japan? Read on to have all your queries answered here.

What are the requirements? 

Before we delve into how to rent a car in Japan in great detail, let us first look at the requirements you need to meet before you think about renting a car. The first is that the minimum age for driving in Japan is 18, and to drive in Japan, you must either have a Japanese driver’s license or an International Driving Permit (IDP). Without these two very basic necessities, there’s no point in knowing how to rent a car in Japan because clearly, you can’t rent one. But if you think you will go to Japan and get an IDP for yourself, you are grossly mistaken.

Japan does not issue an IDP, and if you want to know how to rent a car in Japan, you have to acquire the international permit from your home country for a small fee. 

Foreigners can drive on Japanese roads with a proper permit for a year, and even if the permit is valid longer than a year, the Japanese authority deems it null and void. So if you have planned to visit Japan twice in a year and use the same IDP twice, you won’t be able to.

But if it so happens that the international driver permit of your country is not recognised by Japan, you need to obtain a Japanese driver’s license after arriving in Japan.

But there is some good news. Japan has a tie-up with over 20 major countries around the world, and if you have a driver’s license in any one of the said countries, you can easily obtain a Japanese license without taking a driving portion of the test. 

Where and how to rent a car in Japan?

Now that we have established what driver’s license one should possess to rent a car in Japan, let us take a look at some of the car options that will be best for a solo female traveller. As we all know, Japan is a haven for new and innovative cars, and most cars you will have the pleasure of driving on Japanese roads will not be available in any other country. You have options to choose from some of the best cars in the world and better not let go of the opportunity. 

The most common car rentals you will find in Japan are Nippon Rent-a-car and Orix rent-a-car. Even car manufacturing companies like Nissan and Toyota have their own rental agencies. Out of the four, my personal recommendation would be Toyota. It is the one I always use, and they have never let me down.

As a woman solo traveller, some people may think it’s easy to fleece us, and in a foreign country, we are left with no option but to comply. But Toyota services are pretty transparent, and even though almost all Japanese people are lovely, I found the employees at this rent-a-car extremely helpful, and as a solo female traveller, that’s an added benefit. You can also try out Klook for a more user-friendly website and make your own choice. 

Rates for renting cars in Japan

If you are looking to travel from one city to another and not for your entire duration of stay in the country, I would suggest that you take cars for short rentals. The rates of cars on rent are mostly 5000 yen for 24 hours for a sub-compact car, 7500 yen for compact cars and 10,000 yen for mid-sized cars, and around 15000 yen for big cars. But for a solo female traveller, a sub-compact car will happily serve your purpose. These cars are usually rented out for 6-12 hours and cost much less than usual. So if you are in Japan on a budget, this is perfect for you.  

The prices of the rental cars usually include unlimited mileage, taxes, and the minimum insurance fee of 1000 yen that every rental company charges. This is taken in case of any damage to the car, but it does not cover non-operation fees. Also, when the cars are handed over to you, they will have a full tank of gasoline, and you need to hand it over after filling up the car again. Some outlets may fine you for failing to comply with these rules.

Where to drop off the car after use?

Now that we have seen how to rent a car in Japan, what to do after you have used the car? There is plenty of drop-off zones in different cities but not all rent-a-car drop-offs are at the same place. So make sure you know where to drop off the car, or you will be levied a huge fine. Not to mention the problem of looking for the address in a country where you don’t know the language.

Some tips you should know before learning how to rent a car in Japan

how to rent a car in Japan
  1. While Japan has some of the best sights for you to behold along the highways between cities, most of it will be slow because of unending traffic. So plan your day accordingly.
  2. Tolls in Japan are on the steeper side, but the innumerable stops that you will make along the way to capture beautiful sceneries both on film and in your memories will make up for it.
  3. Not just tolls, parking is also expensive in Japan. So, you are warned!
  4. Most importantly, get familiarised with Japanese road signs. If you are not familiar with the language, it might prove to be a problem on the road. Look up videos about road signs in Japanese so that you are ready to take on the road. 
  5. In Japan, you are required to drive on the left side of the road.

Scenic drives you can take

The sole reason one should drive in Japan is to capture its beauty. Japan is a country of complexities and contrasts. On the one hand, you will find modern cities like Tokyo brimming with people, and on the other, you will come across a slice of history in cities like Kyoto, which looks like it has been frozen in time. Travelling in a car means you can stop wherever you want to and spend as much time as you want. But here are some scenic drives recommended for you.

Roller coaster road, Hokkaido

This northernmost island of Japan is a beauty unto itself. From blooming lavender fields during summer to ice skating during winter, there is something for every season in Hokkaido. But this island also houses some bizarre roads that you have to drive on to experience it. The roller-coaster road in Furano city is a 2.5 km long road with several steep slopes that go up and down just like a roller coaster. It is around a 2-hour drive from Sapporo, and it promises a world of fun. 

Metasequoia tree road, Shiga

how to rent a car in Japan

Who doesn’t love driving down a road with trees forming a canopy overhead? I am sure you do. In Japan, if you are travelling to the Shiga prefecture, you will come across Metasequoia road, which is lined with 500 Sequoia trees. The trees are 35-metres long and give the entire road shade and serenity. You can stop your car here and even spend a few minutes with yourself in the cool shade of the beautiful trees. If you travel to Japan during spring and summer, you will see these leaves in full bloom and lush green while it turns spectacularly golden during autumn and winter. So no matter what time in the year you travel, a beautiful road awaits you.

Tsunoshima Bridge, Yamaguchi

This bridge, located just off the northwest coast of Yamaguchi prefecture, is one of Japan’s technological wonders, and you will understand what an experience it is driving on it only after you have driven along the bridge. If you are lucky and it is sunny, you can catch the azure expanse of the sea and the green mountains at a distance. Driving along this 1780 m bridge is an experience for sure, but the fun doesn’t end there at all. On the other side of the bridge, the idyllic Tsunoshima islands await you and some of the most beautiful beaches in Japan.

Chirihama Nagisa Driveway, Ishikawa

As we have already seen before, when you think you have experienced everything there is in Japan, the country surprises you with something new. The best example would be the Chirihama Nagisa Driveway. This driveway is only one of the three places in the world that allows a public driveway on a beach! And this is not just a small stretch of land but rather eight long kilometers. Imagine driving along the beach with waves splashing around you. How cool is that experience? 

Venus Line, Nagano

Remember the romcom P.S. I love You? I am sure everyone has watched the sapping drama. One of the scenes that have been etched in everyone’s brains is when the protagonists meet in the beautiful valley in Ireland. Now imagine driving along such a scenic route with flowers blossoming on the roadside. Well, if you are in Japan, it isn’t just a dream anymore. The 70km long Venus Line runs through the Highlands of Nagano Prefecture and offers one of the best views you can ask for while driving. 

Izu Skyline, Shizuoka

Japan and Mount Fuji are synonymous, and a long drive where you can see the peak standing tall is ethereal! The Izu Skyline is an odd 40 km winding road that cuts through the Shizuoka prefecture from north to south. It provides one of the best skylines you could ever imagine, and driving along the road while taking a peek at the majestic peak is what dreams are made of!

Patchwork Road, Biei

Another Hokkaido beauty located in the heart of the prefecture, this tiny town is beautiful, and a lot of Japanese movies and shows are shot here. So you never know you might run into a star while driving on the road surrounded by lush and beautiful green hills. And why such a bizarre name for a road, you ask? Well, it derives its name from the different patches of crop seen along the side of the road. 

Aso, Kumamoto

how to rent a car in Japan

The drive through the city of Aso in Kumamoto prefecture is definitely one of the most scenic routes you can find in the whole of Japan. The mindblowing landscapes and lush greenery, the volcanic mountains, and the world’s largest caldera make for a sight to behold! What makes this place so unique is that its beauty is rustic, undisturbed, and untouched. 

Now that we have spoken extensively about how to rent a car in Japan, what to do after you rent the car and which scenic routes you absolutely cannot miss—what are you waiting for? Arrange for the driver’s license, book the tickets and unearth the beauty that is Japan.    


An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.

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