Touring by car or public transportation. Which is better in Japan?

by Coelho - TripleLights travel specialist

It is no secret that Japan has an impressive and extensive railway network that connects each of its prefectures. Contrary to the Japanese style, many countries around the world make use of roads instead of railways as its main means of transportation for people, including tourists.It is safe to say that the access to the main tourist destinations around the world is done by bus, taxi or cars.

For those reasons, it is natural that the first thought you may have when planning a trip to Japan is "we need a car for our tours".

In this article, I want to demystify this idea and show that if you are traveling to the main cities of Japan, your best option is to actually use public transportation, being it mainly trains and subway.

 Touring by car or public transportation. Which is better in Japan?

You should use public transportation in the main cities of Japan

Tokyo is an example of a city with a super convenient public transportation system. In its most popular regions, you can find a station every 300 or 400 meters.
However, it is not only Tokyo that has this feat. All major cities of Japan have done great investments in creating a dense railway network in order to always provide its citizens a convenient train or subway station near where they need to go. The most famous areas of the biggest cities in Japan such as Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Hiroshima are usually connected several different train lines, so you can have many options for routes and destinations to choose from.

This very fact makes it very convenient to tour by using the public transportation because no matter where your starting point is, there's always a way of reaching the place you want to go. Consequently, many residents do not own a car or do not even possess a driver's license. Outside the big cities, however, public transportation tends to be inconvenient or infrequent, and most people rely on cars to get around.

Still, many would argue that touring by car, even in the big cities, is more convenient because you do not need to change stations or walk much. Although it's true that for everything you do in Japan you will need to walk a lot, this is not an exclusive characteristic of traveling by public transportation.

Due to its lack of space, Japan does not have as many parking lots as other countries, and the result of this is that you will not be able to park your car in a convenient place every time, and you will still need to walk or take public transportation depending on where you want to go. Not to mention the traffic jams that may delay the enjoyment of your trip.

 Touring by car or public transportation. Which is better in Japan?

In which cases touring by car is recommended?

In Japan's main cities, a car tour or bus tour is mostly recommended for people with disabilities or people who can't walk only want to visit the main spots where cars can park near to.
Although most train stations have elevators and escalators, some smaller stations may leave you in the hand, having only regular stairs available or requiring you to walk long distances to reach its elevator exit.

But in the Japanese countryside and rural areas, cars are the most convenient transportation method. Those areas have much lower railway access if at all, making the access difficult if you don't have a car.

 

Issues of touring by car in Japan

There are a few more inconveniences about touring with a car in Japan, which I feel are important to inform and inspired me to write this article.
Currently, it is prohibited by the Japanese law, for tour guides to drive their customers in their own cars. They need a special taxi license which takes a long and difficult process to acquire.
For that reason, it has become quite pricey to ride taxis and hire private guiding services with a car.

But if you need to tour by car, the most recommended way is to hire and drive a car by yourself, then you can drive your family, friend and your tour guide anywhere with no problem.

 

Touring by car or public transportation. Which is better in Japan?

What do I need to drive a car in Japan?

You will need a special permit to drive in Japan. Foreigners can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for a maximum of one year, even if the permit is valid for a longer period.

International driving permits are not issued in Japan and you should obtain yours from your home country in advance. The permits are usually issued through your country's National Automobile Association for a small fee.

It is important to note that Japan only accepts the International Driving Permit based on the 1949 Geneva Convention. Please check if your country is in the list of the countries that are parties to the convention through this link.

Although it may seem complicated, it is quite simple to make your IDP and it is recommended for people who want to drive in Japan. Also, driving in Japan is not as difficult as one would imagine due to the English hand and the language. The roads are friendly, organized and simple to navigate.

In the USA, the IDP is issued by the American Automobile Association and the National Automobile Club, please check their websites to learn how to take your permit.

 

Cost of touring by public transportation - Cheapest option

Within Tokyo or the largest cities of Japan, assuming you aren't going on day trips, you typically don't spend more than 1000 to 1500 Yen daily on transport. If you travel more than that as a visitor to the city, you are likely trying to hit too many places in one day.
Keep in mind that you will need to bring extra cash for your guide's transportation fee as well, which makes using public transportation even more interesting.

 Touring by car or public transportation. Which is better in Japan?

Cost of renting a car

The average rental fees are around 5000 yen for a 24-hour period if you are hiring a sub-compact car. For a compact car, it would be 7500 yen. Mid-sized cars 10,000 yen, 15,000 yen for full-sized cars and 20,000 yen for vans.
Keep in mind that rates are sometimes increased during peak seasons.

 

Cost of Hiring a car with a driver

If you decide to hire a car with a driver for Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka the price will vary between around $300 ~ $400 dollars, or ¥30.000 yen ~ ¥40.000.
You can see car tours in Tokyo here: https://triplelights.com/japan/tokyo/cars

If you are going to other far away areas, the price of hiring a car with a driver could be higher, around $700 ~ 900 dollars.

 

That is all you need to know to decide if you need to hire a private car or if you should use public transportation while traveling to Japan. I hope this article was useful, and please do not hesitate to contact Triplelights for anything you may need regarding your trip to Japan.

Need help planning your trip to Japan ?

If you are interested to know more and save your time during your trip to Japan, You can send a message to our local guides to get a customized itinerary and quotation for an unforgettable experience.

In the TripleLights website you can find the best professional guides all over Japan to help you plan your trip. Check our local guides for Japan


15 Sep 2017

Plan your trip to Japan

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started

Recent Tour Reviews

“ Great highlight of the best of what Kyoto has to offer ”

Excellent
14 minutes ago Traveler: Leo -   Tour Guide: TOMOE

Tomoe-san is a seasoned tour guide who is fluent in English and knows how to bring the best of what Kyoto has to offer. She was very flexible and accommodating to our needs and suggested ideas that made the trip even better.
read more

“ Truly a Gift, a Rare Experience ”

Excellent
41 minutes ago Traveler: Megan -   Tour Guide: Tomomi

There are not enough words to describe how much we enjoyed our time with Tomomi-san in Aokigahara Forest and around Mount Fuji. She is incredibly knowledgeable (literally anything we asked her, she had anecdotes, information, and pictures ready to go), and most notable - she is so KIND. She is so WARM and welcoming and a complete joy to spend time with. We learned so much from Tomomi - it truly wa...
read more

“ Amazing tour ”

Excellent
5 hours ago Traveler: Amy -   Tour Guide: Masaki

I can’t say enough good things! Extremely knowledgeable, amazing with kids (held their interest). All around the perfect day!!!!
read more

“ Knowledgeable and pleasant! ”

Excellent
6 hours ago Traveler: Thomas -   Tour Guide: Junko

We are very glad we booked our tour with Junko, she was an excellent guide on our first day in Tokyo. She created a customized itinerary based on our interests, and her recommendations turned out to be great. She helped us pack a lot into our day, but not “too much” – really the perfect pace for us. She clearly knew her stuff and had done her research on the sites we visited. The extra informa...
read more

“ Visited Hiroshima and Miyajima ”

Excellent
7 hours ago Traveler: Shelley -   Tour Guide: Michiru

Excellent service, very helpful! She answered us every question and gave us a lot of information needed, such as transportation and foods ... Definitely I will recommend her.
read more

“ Perfect introduction to Tokyo and Japan ”

Excellent
8 hours ago Traveler: Dietmar -   Tour Guide: Shizuko

We are a family of three, and we are spending a two-week vacation in Japan. On our first day, Shizuko gave us a perfect introductory tour to Tokyo and Japan. We started at Hamarikyu garden, continued with Asakusa and the Senso-Ji temple, saw the Shibuya crossing, experienced Harajuku, and finished the day at the Meiji Jingu shrine. We had a wonderful tea ceremony in a tea house at Hamarikyu and en...
read more

“ Great time! ”

Excellent
12 hours ago Traveler: Cindy -   Tour Guide: MAYUMI

It was great having Mayumi as our guide through Shibuya and Tokyo. She took us to see so many places and we are so thankful for her. We would not be able to navigate the crowd or the subway with out her.
read more

“ Best Tokyo tour guide! ”

Excellent
16 hours ago Traveler: Frank -   Tour Guide: Arnold

My family has just completed a whole day’s amazing tour in Tokyo thanks to Arnold. He is punctual, courteous, and knows a lot about local attractions and all sorts of different restaurants. He took us to Tsukiji Outer Market and to the very unique and cute Cat Cafe that kids liked so much! When we had to change our itinerary later in the day as my wife and kids wanted to try kimonos, Arnold waited...
read more

“ Great guide, great weather, great experience ”

Excellent
17 hours ago Traveler: Karen -   Tour Guide: Tomomi

I would recommend this Mount Fuji tour. Tomomi was a great tour guide. She presented the information very clearly and we found all the information really interesting. Tomomi really knows the area and has a real understanding of Mount Fuji, the sea of trees, and the entire area. Lots of areas/opportunities to take scenic photos. Tomomi is a great hiker, and took us into the cave and on a h...
read more

Related cities

Plan your trip to Japan

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started