Guide to Driving In Japan - Drive Safe in Japan

Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Japan?

Driving in Japan

Japan joins the group of only a few countries which drive on the left - it's often unexpected when travellers arrive there!

Major cities have a lot of one-way systems. Most junctions are T junctions and there are hardly any roundabouts. 

Japan Driving

Driving in rural areas is a much more pleasant experience than urban driving although the roads can be quite narrow. Take care driving through tunnels as some of them are not be well lit inside. In winter, mountain roads can become impassable due to snow.

Signs are only in Japanese outside of the cities and so if you do not speak the language it can be difficult. Make sure you have a good map with you at all times. Satellite navigation systems can also be invaluable and you can even plug the telephone numbers of the places that you want to get to as your coordinates. Many of the modern Japanese cars offered by rental companies will include GPS. This is because many streets do not have names and many houses are numbered in the order that they were built.

When driving watch out for pedestrians and cyclists, particularly at night or crossing at lights.

Driving Laws

Seat Belt Laws

All occupants of the car must wear seatbelts whilst the car is underway. You can be fined for breaking the law.

Drinking and Driving

There is zero tolerance to drink driving so absolutely no alcohol if intending to drive. Instead, appoint a nominated driver if you want to party or take public transport.

Must Have Documents

You must have an international drivers' licence to be able to drive in Japan and it will only allow you to drive there for up to a year. Drivers from some countries including Germany, Belgium, France and Switzerland cannot have international drivers' licences issued for use in Japan and instead need a Japanese translation of their licences 

Speed Limits

Japan generally has low speed limits but they vary greatly. Traffic normally travels faster than the speed limit and the limits are rarely enforced. Nevertheless you should exercise caution.

In towns the speed is between 30 and 50 km/h

The speed on open roads is 80 km/h

Motorway speeds can be a minimum of 40km/h usually though they have a minimum of 50 km/h and a maximum of 100 km/h.

Minimum Driving Age

To drive in Japan you need to be 18 years old but many rental companies will require you to be at least 21 years old with a minimum of one year's driving experience. There can also be young driver surcharges for motorists under the age of 25.

Safety Camera Warning Devices

Safety camera warning devices are not illegal in the land of consumer electronics but with limits low but tolerances high, you shouldn't need one and in any case, it's recommended to stick to speed limits anyway.

On the Spot Fines

In Japan, if you commit a traffic offence you will be given a ticket which must be paid at the location specified on it, usually a bank or the police station. More serious offences such as drink driving or excessive speeding result in a court case.

Child Safety Rules

Children cannot travel in the front of a car unless in a rear facing child seat, suitably restrained and with the airbag disabled. Older children can sit in the rear of the car but must have appropriate booster seats and belts. 


A minimum of third party insurance is required in Japan but motor organisations recommend you take out additional insurance as the mandatory level has gaps in cover. All our hire cars have fully comprehensive insurance so you needn't worry. 

Rules of the Road

Driving in Japan is fairly simple as long as you avoid rush hour in the big cities. The drivers are courteous and careful and there are no unusual rules you need to be aware of. 

In winter, roads can be dangerous because of snow and ice and your hire company will provide appropriate snow chains or winter tyres for your vehicle. 

Towing Regulations

There are no particular laws governing towing in Japan but common sense says to make sure other drivers are aware of your actions and that the towing attachment is secure.

Speed Cameras

Speed cameras are prevalent in Japan but many have high tolerances (at least 10%). This isn't a licence to speed though and although the Japanese are careful drivers, you should stick to the speed limits.

Using Mobile Phones when driving

If you want to use a mobile phone whilst driving in Japan you'll need a hands-free kit or you'll be illegal. 


Parking regulations
Parking costs depend on the size of city and the distance you are from the centre. Often parking is free in small town and cities. Tourists generally use hotel car parks as they are often free or charge a fixed fee.
Paid parking
Paid parking can be very expensive, especially in big cities. There are several types of parking with some very unusual ones including elevator parking where your car is stacked in a vertical pile and retrieved when you return and pay. Others have bars which block in your car and only lower once you've paid. 
There's a lot of automatic enforcement – if you don't pay, you don't get your car back.
Disabled parking
The Japanese are very helpful towards disabled people and whilst you won't be entitled to cost concessions, there are plenty of more accessible spaces available for disabled drivers.

Motor Way Signs

Motorways signs have a blue background and white writing.

Japan Road Signs


Sat nav system - Car Navi
Characters used on road signs – Kanjii
Compulsory insurance – Jibaisekihoken
Voluntary insurance - Nin’i no jidoshahoken
I have broken down - Watashi ga daun shite kowarete iru
Where is the police station? - Doko no keisatsusho ​​ ga aru?
I have a flat tyre - Watashi wa, panku shita taiya o motte iru
I have been in an accident - Watashi wa jiko ni atta
Where is? -  doko ni aru nodeshou ka?
Where can I buy petrol? - Watashi wa gasorin o dokode kōnyū dekimasu ka?

Traffic Lights

You'll often find that traffic lights are suspended above you and lights have a double amber system before turning to red. Traffic lights which control road works have a display which counts down from 10 before you can move.

Toll Roads

Toll roads are widespread and are known as expressways you can use cash or an electronic toll system collection car. The charges for using a toll road are around 25 yen per passenger but there is also a charge for using the booth.

Japan Toll Road


Emergency contact numbers in Japan are 110 for police and 119 for the Fire and Ambulance service. The Tokyo English Lifeline at +813 5774 0992 provides advice and counselling in English.

The British Embassy is at No 1 Ichiban-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8381 and can be contacted on +81352111100.
Their website is

The American Embassy is at 1-10-5 Akasaka Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420 and can be contacted on +81332245000.
Their website is

What to do in an emergency

If you're involved in an accident , do not move the vehicle unless it is causing a danger to others. If you have a reflective jacket and warning triangle in your car (not compulsory) then you should use them. Call the police on 110 and inform your rental company. Whilst waiting for the emergency services to arrive, swap insurance details with the other driver and collect details of witnesses. If you need help with the language then you can contact +813 5774 0992, the Tokyo English Lifeline.

Fuel Costs

As of June 2014, the price of 95 octane unleaded petrol in Japan is 88p a litre, diesel is around 6p dearer. 


  Dan Templeton
At nite, turn off headlights when turning on to road to avoid blinding other drivers
11/8/2016 7:26:21 PM
I Am very impress the system in japan hi Tec and easy way to right approach for everyone.
8/20/2017 8:32:08 PM
You must stop at railroad crossings and turn your lights on when entering a tunnel. On country roads you have to stop sometimes to let others through. Many bridges in the countryside are one-lane. Be careful of "foreigner traps" aka drainage ditches on the sides of country roads. They are perfectly sized for a tire and you will need to call a tow truck to get out.
9/14/2017 10:57:08 AM

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Hiring a Car

With our Drive Smart guide you're fully prepared to hire a car in Japan and stay safe on unfamiliar roads.