Japan Self-Drive – Round trip from Narita Airport with TIMES Car Rental


From 1 to 15 December 2015, we went on a self-drive trip around Japan, covering more than 2000 km and chalking up more than 30,000yen in toll fees.  A bit crazy and definitely not something I recommend for first timers, but we chalked off random items from our bucket list such as driving the Golden Route, snow monkeys, Hello Kitty Onsen and driving on a beach.


Why self-drive?

Driving in mainland Japan was quite different from driving in Hokkaido or Okinawa.  For one, it was a much more expensive. Parking was exorbitant. Traffic lights were annoying. Traffic jams stretched for miles along the expressways in spite of hefty toll fees. The only consolation was that petrol was pretty cheap compared to Singapore (on average 120 JPY per litre when we were there).


But when I had doubts whether I made the right choice to drive instead of taking a bullet train (shinkansen), I recalled our recent *tiring* trip to Taiwan with the kids where we used the Taiwan High Speed Rail and the kids refused to sleep on the train. And I think self-drive was still the lesser of two evils when out with the kids.


Due to the sheer distance we had to cover each day, the kids were well rested from their naps in the car and ready to go whenever we reached a destination.  We were spared the agony of shuffling around train stations with luggage + stroller + whiny kids looking for the right platform to make tight connections between trains that left on the dot.  Without kids, I probably wouldn’t want to do this self-drive trip and stick to the much faster shinkansen, especially with the new Hokuriku shinkansen line.  But with kids, I think self driving was the more relaxing way to go.


Ultimately, I think it was sheer laziness.  Searching for train routes on Hyperdia is a pain, compared to keying in a map code on the GPS.

TIMES Car Rental


TIMES car rental was the cheapest I could find after comparing some car rental companies that have a rental desk at Narita Airport. Our 15 days car rental for a C1G class vehicle, round-trip for Narita, cost about 70,000 yen.

But please note that for a family of 2 adults and 2 kids (who require child seats), a C1G class vehicle would be a bit of a squeeze.  If you have more than 1 big luggage, you would definitely need a bigger car. Our family packs very light, so we managed to fit in – by putting our only luggage case in the boot and our stroller at the space in front of the rear seats (under the kids’ feet).


ETC Card

Another important reason we chose to go with TIMES was because they offered ETC card rental.  An ETC card allowed us to breeze through toll gates along the expressways without fumbling for cash and change all the time.  It also gave us discounted toll fees on weekends. We knew we would be on the expressway a lot and hence ETC card would save us a lot of time and some money.

Promotion for Foreigners

If you are renting from TIMES car rental, please go to their JAPANESE WEBSITE and look for the banner that says “Foreign Nationality 20% off!“.  You will not see this promotion if you go directly to their English website. Sneaky, if you ask me, to hide the promotion on their Japanese website.  But not uncommon as I have shared before regarding money-saving tips for self-drive in Japan.

Support for English-speaking travellers

The staff at the desk at Narita Airport spoke English.  He told us that if we encountered any problems along the road, we can call their Narita Airport branch and there should be a staff who can speak English there.  Not sure how true that is since, thank goodness, we did not have to make any emergency calls back.

The GPS was multi-lingual and we could toggle between English and Japanese language easily.  I switched to Japanese language when I needed to key in names of destinations that I did not have the map code / telephone number for. But otherwise, the English GPS worked well enough if you are just using telephone number or map code to key in your destination.

The map codes I got from Mapion worked perfectly with the GPS on our car.

Collecting / Returning Car at Narita Airport

On arrival, we were able to drive off from the airport’s carpark – something quite rare from my experience in renting cars in Japan.  When we rented cars from New Chitose Airport and Naha Airport, we were required to take a shuttle bus to their nearest car rental branch to pick up the car.  But this time, our reserved rental car was waiting for us at the airport – fitted with the 2 child seats which we requested for during reservation.  This saved us A LOT of time.


When returning, we had to return the car to their branch, NOT the airport.  The branch’s location was stored in the car GPS as ‘HOME’, so we drove there, returned the car and took their shuttle to Narita Airport.  So please make it a point to return the car slightly more than 2 hours before your international flights so that you have sufficient time to get to the airport for check-in.

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  • To be honest, I had never considered renting a car in Japan, even though we enjoyed driving in Europe. I’ll take your advice to stick to the shinkasen. Trains have always appealed to me but I can certainly agree that kid paraphernalia is a good reason to rent a car. (Haha – I well remember those days!) How widely was English spoken in your travels?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Maybe it’s the language and the side of the road we drive at? I would be quite terrified of driving in Europe while I had no qualms about driving in Japan. In the sightseeing areas at major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Nagano, we could usually find staff that spoke English. But once out of the touristy areas, it’ll be quite hard to find anyone who speaks English.

  • I don’t think I would have been game enough to try driving through Japan.
    However as you said you know your kids needs and how they cope. Of course the other benefit to driving is you get to come and go when it suits you – not when the train says it’s time to go.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Haha.. I know.. I still remember dragging the kids out of bed to catch the train in Taiwan and they were like… ugh… And I was hoping they would continue their sleep on the train but they were like bouncing up and down and disturbing the whole carriage, and when we reached our destination to go sightseeing, they kept asking when we would be going back to the hotel because they were tired. Grrr…. At least with the car, even when we needed to set off early in the morning, we could carry the kids down, throw them into their car seats and they would just continue to zzz.

      But my pampered kids aside, Japan really has one of the best rail networks around so there’s little incentive to drive except in the rural areas.

  • Rachel G says:

    That is quite a brave undertaking, to rent a car to see Japan! Glad it worked out so well for your family!

  • I would have never thought about driving around Japan! I heard that their public transportation is pretty good, so I’d probably stick to that. Still this definitely seems to be the more comfortable option with kids! I can’t believe how expensive it seems though! Guess the same is true for driving around Europe. The gas is just so expensive!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, driving in usually expensive, unless there are many people to share the cost. But I guess we would pay for convenience so as not to torture ourselves. :p

      Is gas very expensive in Europe? Gas is super expensive in Singapore too.. We actually thought the gas in Japan was pretty cheap. I would love to know which part of the world has the most expensive gas.. lol.

  • indrani says:

    I too like drives. I haven’t toured Japan yet but a seems to be a great idea from this.
    Great series of pic, particularly the one in which the kids are looking at the white tiger.

  • My friends and I took a trip to mainland and, after a last minute flight cancellation, thought about renting a car. We couldn’t believe how expensive it could be! The three of us didn’t have kids so it wasn’t a hard decision to book the train instead. I really love driving because I think it really gives you flexibility, but we missed out in Japan! Looks like you had a great time.

    Thanks for linking up. I hope to see you again next week!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, I really love the flexibility of driving. And some of the best places in Japan are hard to reach by rail. Before we had kids, we used to do a combination: By taking train a nearest train station and renting a car from there to explore the more remote destinations. But that’s just too much hassle with the kids. Easier to just drive all the way.

  • Kim says:

    Any idea if it’s easy to drive from Tokyo shibuya to Hakone or the lake regions? Is traffic bad and toll is it too expensive? I’m traveling with a baby and a toddler

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I wouldn’t say it is difficult to drive. But yes, tolls are expensive and there were traffic jams along some parts of the expressway. I like driving because the kids can nap comfortably in the car and there is no need to move around train stations with our luggage and kids. So overall I felt the convenience outweighed the toll fees and jams. But that’s just me coz I’m lazy. :p

  • Sunny Li says:

    Thanks for your article. I found this on google and you save me 20%!
    I didn’t make a reservation on the English site, then try to search for review of this car rental company. Then I rebook the very same itinerary and save 4000 yen. Wonderful!

  • caretoh says:

    Thank you for sharing!!! It’s a very good and useful article!
    I would like to rent the car from Times car rental for my coming trip to Hokkaido too. May I know what kind of car seat did you choose for your kids? How old is your kid? My kid is 7 & 5 years old, they are still using the normal car seat until now. I am just worried the car seat I choose would be too small for them.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Choose the same kind that they are using usually? My older boy at 5 was using booster and my younger one at 3 was using child seat, so I rented the same for our Japan drives. The problem is that if you rent a booster for them when overseas when they haven’t been using a booster usually, they will be very uncomfortable. You want to make sure the kids are as comfortable as possible during the long drives. So if they have been using child seats, I would recommend you rent child seats for them in Japan.

  • Sean wong says:

    Does the rental car company requires car seat for kids above 6 years old?


  • Wenny says:

    Hello! just wanted to check with you if it’s safe to drive in Tokyo in December? No snow right? Thinking of renting a car from Haneda airport to drive to Mother Farm.
    And we need to apply for International licence if we are holding a Spore driving licence right? Thank you very much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There’s no 100% when weather is concerned, but there is usually no snow in Tokyo in December. It should be pretty easy to drive.

      And yup, Singaporeans need to apply for international driving permit to drive in Japan.

  • Jane says:

    Bumped into your blog on Japan and I love every single bit u wrote. Provided me more insight of what I can plan for my trip on the big part which is transportation.

    I arrive in Tokyo on 1 Dec and will travel ard for 4 days before I leave for lake kawaguchigo on Monday 5 Dec to Wed 7 Dec, then to Shirakawago from 7 Dec to 9 Dec then back Tokyo for another 3 days. U mentioned that u took a train/bus to somewhere and you started to drive to lake shoji? I would probably change to lake shoji too. My question now is how do I start planning on the driving part? Drive from Tokyo – lake kawaguchi – shirakawago – Tokyo. Hope to save some cost too. Hope to hear from you soon.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Sorry for the late reply as I have been out of town.

      Shirakawago sounds very far. Driving from Kawaguchiko to Shirakawago in a day is still feasible (though it is very long – I recommend you use Takayama to take a break). But for the drive back from Shirakawago to Tokyo, I would definitely break it up into two days. I would use Matsumoto to break up the drive.

  • Ben says:


    I am planning a family trip to japan for 13 days from 1 to 14 Dec.. 5 adults and 3 kids hence MUST self drive 🙂

    I am sure going to use your hakone self drive iti as we would want to see Mt fuji…

    But having a challenge to plan for the other parts of japan. We do not want to go osaka and kyoto as we had been there before. We wanna go to Takayama, Shirawakaho, Nagono, Gugma, Hakone etc which are the less commercialised places beforw driving back to Tokyo for 3 nights to shop and go to Disneyland.

    Appreciate you can advise a self-drive itinerary 🙂

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You can try something like this:

      1 Dec: Tokyo – Hakone
      2 Dec: Hakone / Mount Fuji
      3 Dec: Hakone / Mount Fuji – Matsumoto
      4 Dec: Matsumoto – Takayama
      5 Dec: Takayama
      6 Dec: Takayama – Shirakawago – Kanazawa
      7 Dec: Kanazawa
      8 Dec: Kanazawa – Toyama – Nagano
      10 Dec: Nagano – Gunma
      11 Dec: Gunma – Tokyo

  • nazlin ab wahab says:

    I planned my trip to hokaido last august based on your feedback. Thank you.
    This year I plan to visit tokyo during hari raya break for 7 days 6 nights arriving narita on 26 June 7:30 am and going back late via night flight from narita on 2 July 2017.
    roughly my iti would be like this:

    day 1 -collect car from narita to kawaguchiko fuji and 5 lakes area
    day 2- kawaguchiko to Takayama (self drive)
    day 3 – short trip to shirakawago and Kamikochi (self drive)
    day 4 – drive back to Tokyo and drop car outskirt, stay in Shinjuku area (or should i drop the car in Takayama and take the train back to Tokyo?)
    day 5 – downtown tokyo shibuya akihabara etc
    day 6 – side trip to Yokohama
    day 7 – last minute shopping Tokyo before night flight back from narita

    Do you think my iti is practical. I need some confidence to drive in Japan, driven in Hokaido last year but as you said it is totally different.
    Please advise

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I don’t think it’s practical. It looks WAY too rushed. Frankly just Fuji Five Lakes, Takayama, Shirakawago and Kamikochi can fill up 7 days. If you want to visit all these, I suggest you just skip central Tokyo entirely and do a self-drive of this area for 7 days. Also note that you cannot drive into Kamikochi. You will have to park and take a bus – so it would require more time because buses are usually not very frequent in Japan.

      • nazlin says:

        tq for ur reply. agree with you, I have revised my iti to exclude takayama, shirakawago & kamikochi area altogether as I assume those are just tourist traps.
        I will spend more time in fuji kawaguchiko, saiko iyashi no sato village and hakone including peach picking in misaka farm. I also include numata for cherry picking. 3 days of driving.
        the rest of the time (3 days) will be spent in Tokyo via metro.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          If you are just going Hakone / Mount Fuji area, 3 days should be enough to get a good sense of the area (and hopefully see Mount Fuji! Sometimes it gets obscured by clouds for days.).

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