Public Transport in Japan is an amazing thing.
In general, most of the trains come exactly when they are supposed to and, when combined with buses, you can get almost anywhere reliably. However, there are many situations where–despite the convenience of trains–a car would be far more useful. For instance, if you want to buy food in bulk from Costco, or you need furniture that is not deliverable, or you have friends or family coming with suitcases, you do not want to take your kids on a many-train transfer trip. In those cases you will find yourself fantasizing about a car and the simplicity of throwing a bunch of stuff in a vehicle and driving it exactly where you need to go.
Buying a car in Japan can be very tempting because of the extremely cheap used cars available.
Unfortunately, these cars come with yearly or biannual legally-required maintenance checks which cost 100,000 yen or more. Additionally, if you do not have a parking space in the city center, the parking fee may cost more than 20,000 yen per month. Finally, good car insurance ranges from 5,000-20,000 yen per month. So owning a car in Japan could saddle you with enough expenses to negate whatever benefit is achieved by getting a car. Thankfully, Japan has a wide variety of short and long-term rental cars that could be just what you are looking for, from one-day rentals to monthly car share plans, to yearly rentals.
For pretty much all rentals you will need to show your driver’s license and occasionally foreigners will need to submit their passports as well. Usually, international driver’s licenses are accepted, but it is always easier to have a Japanese driver’s license. Some countries can easily transfer your driver’s license to a Japanese one. Other countries will require you to take a test and sometimes require driving school. Hopefully, you either already have or can easily acquire the necessary license so all you would need to do is pick which car service works for you!
One Day Rentals:
For one-day rentals you can use the standard method, like going directly to Toyota, Nissan, or Nippon-Rent-A-Car, but there are websites like Kyak and TOCOO!. that help you compare deals among different rental car groups. Another option is Budget Rent a Car, which tries to offer affordable short-term rentals.
Is partnered with Times and other car rental companies which can help you find exactly the car you are looking for. It is similar to Expedia and could help you find the best deal among all the rental services. They have deals for as cheap as 3,000 yen per day, however, there is no guarantee the location will be convenient for pick up and drop off.
Works pretty much the same way as Kyak. They look for the cheapest options and also have special deals that you can only get with their website. Like Kyak the exact location will vary and you will have to go to whatever location and fill out a rental contract.
Budget Rent a Car Japan
Its name is trying to find cheap rental cars, but it has very limited locations and does not work with as many companies as the others. If you happen to be near one of its few locations this might be helpful, but if you are not it would be best to use one of the other two.
Car Share Plans:
The trinity of easy car share or rental apps are Times Car Plus, Careco, and Orix. These three are very popular car-sharing businesses in Japan. The difference between travel rentals and these companies is that these apps are designed for city life. People who want to use a car for a certain time, but do not want to have to find permanent parking for it in front of their apartment. Also, the price is not based on a daily lump sum, it is calculated by a month, time, and distance fees. Each company has a different breakdown of exactly how much they charge for each of those components of the price, but first, it would be worth checking if any of their locations are close to you. The minor difference in plans might not be worth a significant trip to your rental car. Now we can check the differences between the three.
Has two main membership plans A and B. A plan has bronze, gold, and platinum stages which offer progressive discounts the more you use the car per month. Plan A comes with an additional 880 yen fee every month if you do not use the car for a certain amount of time. Plan B has higher rental prices but no monthly fee if you do not use the car, so it is a good option if you do not think you will regularly use the service. They also have a student plan that is exactly like Plan A but has no monthly fee. So it would definitely be a good deal for students. The rest of the price will vary depending on the car chosen and the time spent with the car.
Has a very similar plan to Orix, but the monthly fee is 980 yen if the service is not used for one month. They also do not charge for distance if the car reservation is used within 6 hours so it is possible to pay just the cost of renting the car. However, the membership is not as useful if there are months when you are not planning on using the car. The rest of the price would be determined by which car you pick. They have options that range from basic to premium plus.
Times Car Plus
You have probably seen Times parking all over Japan, so it makes logical sense that a parking company started a car share system that allows you to borrow a car and park it in convenient locations even in Tokyo. Similar to Orix and Careco, Times Car Plus has a monthly fee of 880 yen, like the others, Times has monthly plan options of basic, middle, and premium which depend on your car of choice. They also have a student, business, and family plan. The student plan does not include a monthly fee.
If you are planning to use the car share apps often and it starts to go over 10,000 yen per month, you might want to look at Carmo. Carmo is great if you are living in Japan and want a car, but do not want to have to deal with it breaking down or selling it in a few years when you are leaving Japan. Carmo basically allows you to rent a new car starting at 10,000 yen per month and increasing based on the car you want. The company also allows you to swap cars at any time, if you want a bigger or smaller vehicle. When you cancel they will take the car back and you are free to live your life. So it is a very handy choice.
There are a few drawbacks to this solution, especially if you are living in Tokyo. They usually make contracts for 1 year or 2, so if you are not planning on using it that long it might not be worth the money. The other main drawback is if you do not have a parking spot. In Tokyo, there might be no parking anywhere nearby for rent. Even if there is parking close by, it could cost 10,000 yen or more per month to rent which brings up the total cost of using Carmo by leaps and bounds. However, if you are living on the outskirts of Tokyo or anywhere with a lot of land there might be 3,000 yen parking spots or apartments that include parking, this would make Carmo a very easy solution to your transportation needs. They will deliver the car to your home making it a very easy process.
So, depending on where you are, what you need, and how long you want a car at least one of the three options will probably work for you! If you just want a car for a day, get a cheap one-day rental. If you want to use a car a couple of times a week or month then any car share app would be an immediate solution to your problem. Lastly, if you are feeling the pull away from public transportation and car sharing, long-term renting could be perfect for you. Have fun driving in Japan!