Renting a Car (Nissan or Toyota)
In 2013, during my first trip to Japan, I rented my car from Nissan because 1) its rates were good, 2) it offered “English GPS” and 3)its websites had an English option.
In 2015, on my 2nd trip to Japan (Hokkaido) I rented a Nissan again because after comparing several big car rental companies, Nissan Rent a Car still gave be the best rate.
In 2016, on my 3rd trip to Japan I ended up renting a from Toyota Rent a Car as now Toyota gave me a best rate and this happened because I am renting the car for more than 15 days. Toyota offers free daily rental charges after the 15th day. So if you need a car for 20 days you pay for only 15 days.
I definitely say that a car GPS is a must have for self drive trip in Japan especially for people like my husband and I who do not understand Japanese at all. With the guidance of a GPS we got to all our destinations without getting lost or needing to ask for road direction when we drove in Japan.
Unlike some other countries where old GPS machines are used, the car GPS provided with rental car in Japan is very user friendly. It provides very good voice and video guidance and make it very easy to reach the targeted destination. Moving from one destination to the next is very straight forward, a great deal of time is saved which goes into having more time to explore and sightsee.
In Japan an English GPS machine is not provided by default with a rented car so when I placed my online reservation with car rental company I specifically requested for a “English GPS”.
At this moment in Japan an “English” GPS is only a Partial English GPS. As far as I know, no car rental company in Japan provides a full English GPS. The Partial English GPS displays instruction in English for selection of destination, it will then display a recommended route on a map with street names shown in Japanese. No worries for those that do not understand Japanese because the sound guidance is in English and it will get you to your destination.
Destination can be selected through a variety of methods, it can be selected by its address/name, location on a map, postal code, telephone number or MapCode. I found using address/name to select a destination difficult because address/name of the place had to be entered in Japanese. My preference was to used MapCode as it was most reliable and accurate. It will pinpoint a destination to within 30 meters accuracy.
Toll road IS SO MUCH FASTER
In my 2013 trip, I initially tried to save cost by avoiding toll roads but found out later that travelling on non-toll roads increased the travelling time drastically which was not worth the cost saving at all. Instead of a one hour drive the journey could take up to two or three times longer. There were too many traffic lights on non-toll roads and it got worse in populated areas where traffic lights could be found at 100 metres intervals. In the end we decided to go on toll road. Our route was a big round loop starting from Tokyo to Kyoto and back and all in we paid close to Yen40000 just for tolls.
ETC CARD HELPS TO SAVE TOLL CHARGES
On my 2nd trip and 3rd trip I rented a ETC card from the car rental companies. This is an card that is inserted into a ETC card reader installed in the car. As the car drives pass a toll both the charges is automatically deducted from the card. Paying toll charges with the ETC card is about 20% lesser than paying by cash at the toll booths.
In Japan one needs to have a Japanese bank account to own a ETC card, so it is not definitely not feasible for a Tourist to get a ETC card. Luckily car rental companies rented out ETC card at nominal charges.On returning the ETC card, the car rental company will print out a list of toll charges and collect payment.
When we rented a car for the Nissan Rent a Car during our 2013 autumn trip in Japan, we were told that the ETC card needed to be returned the same outlet where we picked it up. Unfortunately we intended to return the car at a different outlet at the end of the trip which meant we would not be able to rent the ETC card.
In 2016 during our 3rd trip to Japan, we rented a car from Toyota Rent a Car and was told that we could return the ETC at any outlet.