Driving Tips, Rules & Regulations in Japan

Because most of Japan’s metro cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya are fully serviced by efficient and good quality public transport, most of the residents don’t have cars. A lot of them don’t even have their own driver’s license. But public transport can only go so far, and you’ll eventually need a car to get around more, which is true for most motorists from abroad. So it’s important to take note of a couple of things when driving in Japan.

In Japan, people drive on the left side, and their steering wheels and driver’s seats are on the right side of their cars. A person must at least be 18 years of age to be able to drive, and most traffic regulations are indicated by road signs, which are mostly in Japanese AND English.

Speed limits are 80-100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 30 km/h on the side streets, and approximately 50-60 km/h everywhere else. Drive safely and defensively, however, as most local drivers don’t always adhere to these rules. While the drivers in Japan are generally considerate, you’ll want to watch out for cyclists and other vehicles that drive on the wrong side of the road.

Foreigners who intend on driving in Japan can use their IDP or international driver’s permits for as long as one year. You’ll only be able to use your IDP again if you stay in your home country for three consecutive months after that. Also, take note that Japan doesn’t issue IDPs, so make sure you get one elsewhere.

Thanks to Japan’s bilateral agreements with a long list of countries, it’s likely that having a local driver’s permit – while you can’t use it there – makes it easier for you to apply for a local permit within the country. You won’t have to take an exam anymore compared to applicants without the local license.

If you plan on staying in Japan longer than most foreigners, you’ll find it cheaper to just buy a car rather than renting one. Both new and used models of Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, and Honda are usually affordable because their manufacturers are based there. Some documents and payment of taxes are required for new cars, while on top of that, used cars require a transfer of ownership. There is also a compulsory motor vehicle insurance as required by law.

Gas stations are everywhere in Japan. A lot, if not all, provide full servicing, but you’ll get by with self-service stations as well (some stations have their self-service machines in Japanese, so look for an attendant who can help you, or be familiar with the symbols at least). As of 2012, gas costs around 145 yen per liter in Japan. Credit and cash payments are accepted throughout many gas stations.

Parking, on the other hand, can be very expensive, especially if you decided to park in city centers of large cities. Parking in national parks will cost you at least 500 yen per use, and hotels will charge guests as much as 1000 yen for use of their parking lots. Smaller cities charge less and some towns in the countryside don’t charge parking fees at all.

Summary

Drive on the left side.
A person must at least be 18 years of age to be able to drive.
Most road signs are in Japanese and English.
Speed limits: 80-100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 30 km/h on the side streets, and approx 50-60 km/h everywhere else.
Foreigners who intend on driving in Japan require a international driver’s permit (IDP).
As of 2012, gas costs around 145 yen per liter in Japan.
Parking can be very expensive, especially in large cities.

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