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How to rent a car in Sendai

January 05, 2015



The minimum age for driving in Japan is 18 years, and you will need a Japanese driver’s license or an International Driving Permit (IDP) in order to rent and drive a car.

International driving permits are not issued in Japan and should be obtained in your home country in advance. They are usually issued through your country’s national automobile association for a small fee. Foreigners can drive in Japan with a recognized international driving permit for a maximum of one year, even if the IDP is valid for a longer period. Japan only recognizes permits based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, which are issued by a large number of countries.

Belgium, France, Germany, Monaco, Slovenia, Switzerland and Taiwan do not issue permits based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, but instead have a separate agreement that allows drivers from these countries to drive in Japan for up to one year with an official Japanese translation of their driver’s license. A translation can be obtained from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), through Japan Experience or from some of the respective countries’ embassies or consulates in Japan.

People from other countries whose international driving permits are not recognized by Japan, must obtain a Japanese driver’s license in order to drive in Japan.

Rental Companies

Japan’s leading car rental companies are Toyota Rentacar, Nippon Rentacar, Orix Rentacar, Times Car Rental (formerly known as Mazda Rentacar), Nissan Rentacar and Ekiren. Each operates hundreds of outlets across Japan, offering cars in all sizes and, in some cases, large vans, buses and RVs. While most car rental companies do not have English reservation systems, a few of the major ones have begun to offer online English reservations systems or at least provide a phone number for reservations in English.

There are also a few English online reservation websites for foreign tourists that contract with the above rental companies. These include Japan Experience which provides an English online reservation form, English GPS with all cars and English roadside telephone support; and ToCoo! Travel which provides an English online reservation form and discount rates.

International car rental companies such as Budget, Avis and Hertz also offer car rental in Japan; however, they typically cooperate with one of the leading Japanese car rental companies rather than operating outlets themselves. As a result, their rates are not usually very competitive.

Typical rental fees are around 5000 yen per 24-hour period for a sub-compact car, 7500 yen for compact cars, 10,000 yen for mid sized cars, 15,000 yen for full sized cars and 20,000 yen for vans. Rates are sometimes increased during peak seasons, especially in Hokkaido. Many companies also offer rates for short rentals of up to 6 or 12 hours. In rare cases, fees are calculated based on calendar days (midnight to midnight) rather than 24-hour periods.

Above prices usually include unlimited mileage, taxes and a mandatory minimum insurance fee of 1000 yen per day that covers damage, injury and liability, but does not cover non-operation fees resulting from damage to the car. Cars are supposed to be returned with a full tank of gasoline, however, some outlets offer reasonable rates for re-tanking cars at the outlet. Payment can be made by credit card or sometimes by cash.

Most rental car outlets allow cars to be dropped off in a different location. If the drop-off location is relatively close, some companies will not charge any additional fee, but if the location is further away, a drop-off fee will be charged. Details depend on each company, but the fees tend to be quite high for large distances, e.g. they can be several 10,000 yen for a Tokyo car to be dropped off in Kyoto. Note that most companies do not allow cars rented inside of Hokkaido to be dropped off outside of Hokkaido and vice versa.

A variety of supplemental options can be rented with your car such as child seats and snow tires, although snow tires are free of charge in snowy regions of Japan during winter.

Car Ferries

Car ferries are numerous in the island country of Japan. While it is relatively inexpensive to bring cars onto short-distance ferries (e.g. to Sakurajima or between Kumamoto and the Shimabara Peninsula); they can be very expensive on medium to long distances (e.g. to Rishiri, Rebun, Sado or Yakushima). In such cases it can be more economical to rent a separate car on the other side.

Winter Driving

Many regions of central and northern Japan get covered in large amounts of snow during the winter months, which can result in roads being covered by snow or ice. Snow tires are provided by default when renting a car in snowy regions. Foreign tourists without winter driving experience should avoid renting a car in areas where there is a risk of encountering winter driving conditions.

GPS Navigation

Most rental cars come with a GPS navigation system built into the dash. The systems in some vehicles can be set to display the map and menus and to read directions in English, however English capable systems are not available from every rental company or outlet. Whether the GPS system is in English or not, most users will find it easiest to input destinations by their phone number.

Gas Stations

Gas stations are found all across Japan. They traditionally provide full service, although self service stations have greatly increased over recent years. Many gas stations close during the night, while others are open 24 hours. A liter of regular gasoline costs roughly 150 yen (as of March 2014). High octane gas and diesel are also widely available. Payment is possible by credit card or cash.

Getting gas at a full service (full) station requires some simple Japanese. When you pull into the station, an attendant may direct you to a stall. Park, open your window and shut off your car. Tell the attendant what kind of gas (e.g. “regular”), how much (e.g. “mantan” for full tank) and how you will pay (e.g. “credit card”). He may give you a wet towel to clean your dash or ask to take your garbage. When finished he may ask which direction you wish to leave and then direct you out into traffic.

Self service (self) stations only provide Japanese language menus. If in trouble, an attendant should be present and able to help you. Note that when paying by cash, the change machine is often a separate machine or inside the gas station building.

Rental cars are supposed to be returned with a full tank of gasoline, however, some outlets offer reasonable rates for re-tanking cars at the outlet. When returning a car with full tank, some outlets may ask you to provide the receipt from the gas station as proof.


Parking in the center of large cities is very expensive, costing several hundreds of yen per hour. Fees decrease with the size of the city and the distance to the city center. In small towns and in the countryside, parking is often free. Parking lots in national parks or near tourist attractions sometimes charge a flat fee (typically 200 to 500 yen per use). Urban hotels usually provide parking for their guests at a flat rate (typically 1000 yen per night), while hotels outside the large cities usually offer free parking.

Besides standard parking lots, you may encounter a few unique types of parking lots in Japan. The first are elevator parking lots in which cars are stored in towers. Drivers are directed to park their car onto a lift, which will automatically store the car in the tower. When coming back, the car will be fetched by the lift and returned to you.

The second unique type of parking lot uses low barriers underneath the cars which raise up to physically block in each individual vehicle. Once you have paid your parking fee (either at a central payment machine or at the parking space), the barrier lowers and you can safely drive away. This type of parking lot is usually seen around small urban lots.

International driving permit

International driving permit issued in one of the signatory countries/territories(not including Japan) of the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic(1949).
Must be able to simultaneously present passport.
List of signatories to the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic(external link to official webpage of Metropolitan Police Department)

• International driver’s permit are valid for one (1) year from the date of issue (be sure to confirm the date of issue) and their validity for driving in Japan is one (1) year from the date of landing in Japan (confirmed by the immigration stamp in the passport showing the date of landing in Japan).
However, persons on the basic resident register who leave Japan and subsequently re-enter the country within less than three (3) months, will not have their re-entry date considered as their date of landing (the start date for driving eligibility in Japan).
• International driving permit acquired from signatory countries to the Paris Convention (1926), the Washington Convention (1943) or the Vienna Convention (1968) are not recognized.
• For operating vehicles comprising, in addition to the driver’s seat, more than eight (8) seats, a stamp in the category D (large-sized passenger car) box is required.

Foreign driver’s licenses

Driver’s licenses issued by Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Slovenia, Monaco or Taiwan must be able to simultaneously present passport and Japanese translation of driver’s license.

• Japanese translation of the driver’s license must be issued by the respective country’s embassy or consulate in Japan or by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF).
• For Taiwanese licenses, a Japanese translation of the driver’s license must be issued by the JAF or the East Asia Relations Commission.
• Foreign driver’s licenses are valid for driving in Japan for one (1) year from the date of landing in Japan (confirmed by the immigration stamp in the passport showing the date of landing in Japan) or until the expiration date of the foreign license, whichever is earlier.
However, persons on the basic resident register who leave Japan and subsequently re-enter the country within less than three (3) months, will not have their re-entry date considered as their date of landing (the start date for driving eligibility in Japan).


Before Departure

Rental Terms and Conditions will be prepared. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask the shop staff. After confirming the contents of the Rental Terms and Conditions, please sign it and pay the estimated rental charges.
Check if there are any scratches or dents on the car with the shop staff before departure.
Adjust the seat and mirror, and remember to fasten both your front and rear seatbelts.

How to Return

Fill the tank when you return the car. Fill the tank at the nearest gas station before you return the car. (If you do not, the prescribed fuel charge depending on mileage will be charged.)
Please contact the shop you rented the car from in advance if you decide to rent it longer. (Please note that a prescribed penalty will be charged if you overrun your scheduled rental hours without prior notice.)
Recommended for hybrid cars is the HV Fuel Charging option, which means that the car does not need to be returned with a full tank.
Charges vary from shop to shop. Please contact the individual shop for details.
After arriving at the returning shop, the shop staff will check the car if there are any scratches or dents. Any excess or deficit will then be adjusted.

Be sure to take all of your belongings out of the car.

Insurance/Compensation system

Non-Operation Charges (NOC)

In the event of a car accident, car theft, car trouble or stain/damage on a car, if the car needs to be repaired and/or cleaned, the following fee will be charged as a part of compensation for business during the time of repairing/cleaning: (Please note that this charge is different from the compensation system below.)


Fee (excluding tax)

When the car is returned to the shop as planned by its own ability: JPY 20,000
When the car is not returned to the shop as planned by its own ability: JPY 50,000
In the event that car is not returned to the shop, for example the car is left on the street, even if the car is drivable, JPY 50,000 will be charged.
In the event an accident or car trouble occurs, please follow the procedure below.

Amount of Insurance Compensation

The following amount will be paid as compensation for an unexpected accident.

Bodily Injury:
Unlimited per person (including automobile liability insurance)

Property Damage:
Unlimited (a charge of JPY 50,000 will be incurred for exclusion of liability)

Car Damage:
Up to the actual value per accident (a charge of JPY 50,000 will be incurred for exclusion of liability; JPY 100,000 for buses and large size trucks)

Physical Disability:
Up to the actual value per accident (a charge of JPY 50,000 will be incurred for exclusion of liability; JPY 100,000 for buses and large size trucks)

Compensation will be paid for injuries to passengers (including death and residual disability) regardless of the degree of the driver’s responsibility (Up to JPY 30,000,000:
The amount of damage will be calculated by the insurance company based on the insurance clause).
The amount of damage that is not covered or paid for by compensation shall be covered by the customer.
Insurance does not cover any accidents specified by the disclaimers in the insurance agreement.
Insurance may also not cover accidents that do not have an accident report issued by a police office.

Exclusion of Liability Compensation System

Exclusion of Liability Compensation Fee: JPY 1,080 (JPY 1,000 excluding tax) /Day (24 hours)
Cars with the first number of 1 or 2 on the license plate are JPY 2,160 (JPY 2,000 excluding tax)
By joining this system, the exclusion of liability fee mentioned above will be exempted for the applicable accidents.

Damages that Insurance does not cover

The amount of damage that insurance does not cover or exceeds the insurance limitation shall be covered by the customer.

Examples of Cases that Insurance was not Paid

The accident was not reported to the police (an accident report was not obtained)
The accident was caused by a driver different from the one who applied as a driver at departure.
The accident was caused by a driver without a driver’s license.
The accident was caused by drink driving.
The accident occurred after the original rental period but TOYOTA Rent a Car was not notified of a rental extension in advance.
Other facts that violate the Rental Agreement of TOYOTA Rental & Leasing.
ex.) In the event of a car theft when the key was left in the car.

Traffic Rules in Japan

Basic Rules

Keep Left
All vehicles must drive on the left side of the road.

Safety Seat for Children
Children under the age of six years old must be seated on child safety seats.

Height/Width of the Vehicle
The vehicle’s height and width may be different between a rental car and a car you drive everyday.

Fasten seat belt for all seats
It is obligated under government law to use the safety belt for all the seats of the vehicle on highway.

No Cell Phone while driving
When using cell phone, please stop the vehicle at secure location.

Speed Limit
Typical speed limits are 80km/h to 100km/h on expressways and 30km/h to 60km/h on local roads.

The expressway (Kosoku-doro or Jidoushado, in Japanese) is probably a much quicker option for long distance travel. For the most part, you will have to pay to use them. Charges are either flat-rate or distance-based. For flat-rates, you will have to pay frequently at toll booths along the way, while for distance-based fares you will receive a ticket as you enter, and present this at the toll booth as you leave, alongside the fare. Toll booths are manned or unmanned (ETC), with manned toll booths allowing you to pay by credit card.

To use ETC, first have the ETC system mounted on your car, then use the ETC lanes when entering and exiting the expressways. As a general rule, it is not possible to create an ETC card without a credit card issued in Japan, but for those without one, you can create an ETC card by putting down a deposit and paying an annual fee.

The toll changes depending upon the road and the size of the car. For example, Shuto Expressway (“Shuto-ko”) in an average-sized car will cost you 500 Yen for the first 6km and 100 Yen for each subsequent 6km. On long-distance expressways, such as Tomei, from Tokyo to Gotemba (approx. 84km) will cost 2,500 Yen, while Tokyo to Nagoya (approx. 315km) will cost 6,900 Yen.

Tolls are displayed on the websites for each individual company, and are searchable. Discounts are also available, for example, for traveling at certain times of the day and for using ETC.

Another distinctive feature of Japan’s expressways are its rest stops, known as parking areas (PA) and service areas (SA), with the latter being generally much larger than the former. In the past these areas had toilets, light meals, kiosks, gas stations and information desks, but recently they have come to include places to bathe and sleep, numerous restaurants, shops, cafes and dog runs. The amount of service areas conscious of architectural, interior decorating and hygiene is on the rise, and service areas themselves are becoming something to see while traveling.

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