HomeSingapore TravelPlanning my Niigata street journey: Tips about driving in Japan

Planning my Niigata street journey: Tips about driving in Japan

On this journey to Japan the place I used to be accompanied by my buddy Y, I lastly had an opportunity to do a Niigata street journey which turned out to be lots of enjoyable, and I believed I’d share a few of my expertise driving in Japan and extra of my ideas and suggestions in case you might be enthusiastic about doing your individual Japan street journey.

I don’t typically drive after I journey as a result of more often than not I journey solo and the price of renting a automobile for one individual is normally too costly to justify – it turns into way more reasonably priced the second you’ll be able to break up the prices between two or extra folks, however for a solo traveller it’s normally less expensive to take the bus or practice as an alternative (like how I navigated Jeju Island and not using a automobile).

This submit talks extra about planning for a Japan street journey and the nitty gritty/issues of renting and driving in Japan. I’ll produce other posts masking what I truly did and noticed in Niigata individually, or try my IG story highlights for snippets of my journey.

Tokamachi House of Light Car Me
Me and the little hatchback we rented in Tokamachi – posing in entrance of James Turrell Home of Gentle feeling like I’m a wealthy individual with a home and automobile lol

Why drive in Japan?

Japan exterior of the principle cities like Tokyo may be fairly rural. I’ve largely navigated Japan prior to now with its glorious practice community in addition to buses and ferries, however on this explicit journey, I used to be on the hunt for Niigata’s hidden gems for my collab with Earnings which meant I used to be positively going to go to some out of the way in which spots and up in opposition to time constraints.

Whereas Niigata is served by each the Shinkansen and smaller native railways, most of the sights to see round listed below are simply not simply accessible besides by street. Getting between the cities was additionally sophisticated by the completely different practice strains – the route I wanted to absorb explicit from Matsumoto to Niigata Metropolis was significantly convoluted – I needed to take 3 completely different trains!

On Sado Island which isn’t a very small island (not like Jeju’s Udo Island the place I may experience an e-bike as an alternative of driving for instance), the automobile was additionally important as a result of the one different various was the native bus which had fairly sparse timings.

All in all, I positively loved this Niigata street journey lots. Japan is a good place to drive and whereas I’d nonetheless keep away from driving anyplace too crowded like Tokyo or different fundamental cities, having the ability to head to offbeat spots alone time and never have to fret about lugging my baggage round was a pleasant change.

P/S: In case you’re not a driver however nonetheless need to journey Japan by street? Drop a notice to my buddy R at Wakuwaku excursions – she introduced us round on someday and may be very knowledgable about issues to do in Japan, and launched lots of the cool sights which you could see within the Niigata hidden gems submit just like the Yukimuro and Ponshukan (see some IG highlights). You possibly can drop her an e-mail at [email protected] for extra. She’s a buddy and introduced us round totally free however I extremely advocate her to anybody on the lookout for a great driver + tour information. After every week of driving, it was good to not have to consider navigation, have her clarify all of the Japanese indicators and drink all of the sake I wished to with out fear!

Sado Landscape Farm Car
Rural Niigata means plenty of street journey and never a lot public transport choices

My expertise driving in Japan

Planning the route

I flew out and in of Narita Airport and spent 7 days travelling round Matsumoto (Nagano), Sado Island and Tokamachi in Niigata.

I briefly thought-about driving as much as Matsumoto from Narita Airport, however we have been flying in on a crimson eye and I didn’t need to spend my first few sleep-deprived hours in Japan making an attempt to determine driving, so I took the practice to and from Narita/Tokyo.

The preliminary plan was to lease a automobile for the complete 7 days from Matsumoto and return in Tokamachi, but it surely seems the automobile ferry from Niigata to Sado Island was fairly costly – transporting the automobile alone was going so as to add one other $200-$300 which actually made no sense in any respect, so we ended up doing 3 automobile leases:

  • Matsumoto – Niigata Metropolis (2 days) – we visited Azumino, Asama after which drove to Niigata Metropolis to catch the ferry to Sado Island.
  • Sado Island (2 days) – we picked and returned the automobile at Ryotsu and drove largely across the west/southwest of the island.
  • Niigata Metropolis – Tokamachi (3 days) – we picked up the automobile in Niigata Metropolis and headed all the way down to Tokamachi and went artwork looking, exploring Tokamachi Metropolis, Matsunoyama, Matsudai and another spots earlier than returning the automobile in Tokamachi.

I’m engaged on separate posts with particulars about what precisely I did on my journey, keep tuned. Learn my hidden gems in Niigata submit within the meantime.

Driving in Japan

Proper hand drive: First off, Japan’s driving is left hand drive, which is similar aspect as Singapore and the UK for reference (completely different from the U.S.), so no disorientation for me!

Well mannered drivers: Japan’s roads have been usually properly maintained, and their drivers are additionally as well mannered as their society usually is. Look, I’m a Singaporean driver and we’re fairly impatient and egocentric and never the best with street etiquette, so it’s good that whenever you sign in Japan, folks truly decelerate to allow you to in as an alternative of rushing up and blocking you.

Folks have been usually going fairly quick on the highways. The vehicles I drove weren’t that highly effective so I largely saved to the left aspect.

A notice for Niigata in case you are driving round at night time – the city areas are very a lot countryside so there are only a few road lights. This does take some getting used to should you’re from Singapore (we’ve got SO MANY road lights). Shout out to my buddy Y who was extra assured than me at midnight and did many of the night time drives.

Sado Island Road Dark Headlamps
Sado at night time, nation roads lit solely by the headlamps!

Whole value of street journey

Right here’s the breakdown of what it value to drive on this 7 Day Niigata Street Journey

  • Automotive rental: 20,394 JPY + 21,670 JPY + 30,580 JPY = 72,644 JPY (inclusive of full protection insurance coverage + ETC card rental)
  • Petrol + Parking + ETC charges: 12,701 JPY

This works out to a complete of 85,345 JPY and break up by 2 pax it was about 42,673 JPY per individual. Additional splitting this value throughout 7 days of journey works out to about 6,096 JPY per day (about S$55).

I labored out the price of driving vs taking trains round, and actually there wasn’t that a lot distinction in value, and the professionals of driving (flexibility, no time schedules) far outweighed trains + different transport.

Sado Rainbow Car Me
Chasing rainbows in Sado Island

Necessities for driving in Japan

Listed below are the issues that you’ll want to have in your Japan street journey.

Worldwide Drivers Allow (IDP)

This can be a MUST for many worldwide people driving in Japan. On my profession break leg in Japan, I didn’t have an IDP and there was completely no approach to lease a automobile in any respect as a result of they’re tremendous strict about it.

The place to get IDP

For Singaporeans, getting your IDP normally requires a fast journey all the way down to an AA outlet. Replenish a type on website, they’ll snap a photograph of you too, wait a short time and if there’s no queue you may get your IDP accomplished in 10 minutes. It prices S$20.

You too can get it accomplished on-line at AA’s web site however you’ll want to offer your self 5 days minimal for them to submit it to you – I feel it’s a lot simpler simply swinging by the AA outlet instantly.

Right here’s what the IDP from AA appears like (this one has all my private information redacted). I’ve a B license which is principally the one for many passengers vehicles (class 3 in Singapore)

Native Drivers License + Passport

Deliver alongside your native driver’s license and your passport – they normally made copies of my passport and my IDP as I used to be the principle one that booked the automobile.

You’ll have to have not less than the motive force’s licenses, however they might or might not require another drivers to point out their licenses too – only one of the three locations made a replica of my buddy’s licenses too since she was additionally driving. They don’t ask what number of drivers there are within the reserving anyway so it actually relies upon.

ETC Card

ETC Card is what Japanese use to pay the street tolls robotically alongside the expressways.

For Singaporeans, that is one thing akin to the brand new era ERP Cashcard that’s being launched however in a way more elegant arrange because the ETC card is normally inserted right into a slot someplace below the steering wheel. There ought to be a inexperienced mild should you put it in correctly, in any other case ask the service workers that will help you insert it in whenever you choose up the automobile.

The place to get ETC card

This card may be rented from the automobile rental firm – you’ll need to embrace this in your on-line reserving to ensure you have got one in your automobile in case there are various different bookings.

You technically don’t want an ETC card as you’ll be able to pay tolls by money whenever you exit the expressway, however this makes it a lot quicker to get by the toll gates – you don’t have to hitch a selected queue and also you don’t need to spend time making fee as you solely pay the collected quantity on the finish of the rental whenever you return the automobile to the rental firm. Additionally the toll charges for ETC are discounted as in comparison with paying in money, so that you’ll save a bit as properly.

Sado Island didn’t have any highways so no ETC card was wanted there, however I did use the ETC whereas in Matsumoto and Niigata.

Limitless knowledge plan + Google Maps

All of the vehicles we rented got here outfitted with GPS programs – Toyota even helps you to specify what language you need the GPS system in and English is an choice.

Nevertheless, we discovered it simpler to make use of our telephones and simply use Google maps as an alternative, which was pretty correct more often than not. The GPS was helpful nevertheless in making an attempt to determine which street precisely to show into which may be complicated in a scenario the place there are a number of small turnoffs shut collectively.

The place to get limitless knowledge eSIM for Japan

I used this eSIM from Softbank [Klook affiliate link] with limitless knowledge + no throttling for my journey, and my buddy used this different Japan eSIM [Klook affiliate link] which was cheaper however had a 1GB per day throttle restrict.

Each playing cards labored very properly even out within the countryside of Niigata. In fact there have been a couple of events the place there was simply no sign in any way, however neither of the playing cards had ‘unhealthy’ sign or choose up. Would advocate to anybody who wants a Japan eSIM.

lease a automobile in Japan

I used Toyota Lease a Automotive in 3 completely different cities, and whereas the overall automobile rental process was principally related, every workplace has barely completely different guidelines. For instance, one wished me to make fee upfront, however one other required fee solely upon return. However usually right here’s what you’ll be able to anticipate when renting a automobile in Japan.

1. Make a web-based reservation

Ebook early: I extremely advocate making a reservation on-line as early as you’ll be able to as a result of there’s a good probability they are going to be totally booked nearer so far and on weekends, and gained’t have any room to take walk-ins. You don’t make any funds till you truly go to the workplace and choose up the automobile, so the net reservation ensures you should have a automobile in your journey.

The place to ebook: My go-to website to lease a automobile was Toyota Lease a Automotive トヨタレンタカー. I like their website as a result of it was all in English and I personally discovered it the best to make use of and perceive. I may additionally make modifications to my bookings by way of choose up and return areas and occasions fairly simply as much as 7 days earlier than my journey.

There are numerous automobile rental corporations you’ll be able to try as properly like Nippon Lease a Automotive, Nissan Lease a Automotive, Tabirai… should you can learn Japanese there are a number of different automobile rental choices which is perhaps cheaper, however might require you to be a Japanese native to make use of.

Toyota Rent A Car Website
Toyota’s Lease a Automotive web site

What automobile to ebook: Because it was simply 2 of us, I normally picked the smallest automobile accessible for the most affordable value. In Toyota’s case, this was normally the Mini/Compact C0 or C1 class (1,000 cc) which is what we jokingly referred to as the ‘obasan automobile’ (Japanese for grandma) as a result of they have been actually about getting you round and never the ability/glossy look. I swear one in every of our vehicles was positively geared for older people as a result of the buttons and interface was lots easier and bigger than your common high-tech look – it was very snug although.

The vehicles we received have been properly maintained, clear and fairly good drives throughout, although positively not that highly effective. I may hit 120KMH+ on the highways (like, everybody was driving at that velocity) but it surely was full-on pedal to the ground. Dimension sensible as a result of these small Japanese vehicles have been largely hatchback, there’s not lots of boot house however we may nearly squeeze 2 baggage baggage in among the boots, in any other case we used the backseat as properly.

Know your route: You’ll want a tough concept of your itinerary should you plan to return the automobile in a special place from the place you begin. Be aware that there might be extra expenses on prime of the automobile rental cost for returning to a special location.

Reserving tip: the price of the automobile rental is normally calculated in x-hour blocks. Toyota’s pricing is calculated in 3-hour blocks so typically enjoying round with the precise choose up and return timing might prevent a bit of cash.

Choose up the automobile + automobile inspection

Paperwork: After you’re in Japan, head to the workplace to select up your automobile. I usually rocked up and confirmed the workers my e-mail affirmation with the reserving quantity, and they might pull up the small print of my reserving and examine + make copies of my license.

Inspection: After settling the paperwork, they might take me out to see the automobile and we might do a fast inspection. That is the time that you just level out any defects you see regardless of how massive or small – that is simply in case they resolve to slap you with a harm restore charge on the finish whenever you return the automobile which was an present defect. All that is marked on a paper by the workers. I normally snap an image or two myself simply in case.

Ask questions: While you get the important thing, take the possibility to attempt beginning and switching off the engine. In case you run into any issues, you’ll be able to ask the workers the way to remedy it there after which, even for small issues like determining the place your fuel tank is, the place the ETC card slot is and the place your wipers and lights are.

Location: Another excuse I went with Toyota Lease a Automotive was as a result of they’d lots of areas, and those we went to in Matsumoto, Niigata Metropolis and Tokamachi have been all very near the JR Prepare Station. In Sado Island the choose up sales space was on the bottom flooring of the ferry terminal constructing.

Matsumota Car Me
Capturing the primary second of me driving in Japan! We’d simply picked up our automobile in Matsumoto and have been going to move out to the wasabi farm in Azumino

Returning the rental automobile

After you’ve had an superior time driving in your Japan street journey, it’s time to return your automobile! It’s finest to swing by the closest petrol station and prime as much as full tank earlier than returning your automobile. The corporate might ask so that you can produce a letter/proof that you just’ve crammed the tank – simply present them your receipt from the petrol station.

While you return the automobile, they’ll normally do a cursory inspection to ensure there aren’t any damages and settle any expenses that you just haven’t already made fee for just like the ETC card.

Tokamachi Toyota Rent a Car
The Toyota Lease a Automotive outlet in Tokamachi is conveniently subsequent to the practice station (to the best of this image)

Planning for a street journey vs taking public transport

A few of my private ideas now that I’ve accomplished this Japan street journey and what I’d do completely different in future.


My typical model of travelling is basing myself in a spot for not less than 2-3 nights, after which exploring across the space earlier than shifting on, which is what I did on this journey as properly, however on hindsight I feel

In case you plan to cowl a large space, map out your route and plan to discover areas in a day with out backtracking and spend single nights in lodging. This fashion you save on making the lengthy return journeys to and out of your base lodging.

Sado Island Map Wanderlog Pins
Right here’s the place I went on Sado Island as reference. With simply 2 nights right here this was all we managed to cowl! We stayed within the central half (purple icon) for two nights, however maybe if I had 2 completely different areas for lodging, I may need been in a position to cowl extra.


As a result of we have been driving in rural areas of Niigata more often than not, we by no means needed to pay for parking apart from the one time we picked up the automobile in Matsumoto Metropolis and parked it in a single day for an early morning drive out the following day.

Some lodges/guesthouses do present free parking which is one thing to think about in your bookings. My Matsumoto resort didn’t have free parking however had an association with a parking storage 10 minutes stroll away with a flat fee for twenty-four hours, whereas I had free parking in all my different guesthouses.


You’ll need to prime up gasoline earlier than returning the automobile to the rental firm. Some locations requested us for a letter certifying that the tank is full – simply present them the receipt from the final fuel station you pumped at and that ought to be adequate.

Niigata City Toyota Rent a Car
Selecting up our ‘obasan’ automobile in Niigata Metropolis! I feel this was my favorite automobile of the three that we drove 🙂

Have any questions on driving in Japan? Drop me a notice within the feedback and I’ll see how I can assist! If not try a few of my different Japan posts for extra:

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