5 Reasons to Travel in Japan by Rental Car
My friends and relatives visiting Japan always ask me this one question before visiting: should I rent a car? It really depends on which part of Japan you are visiting, but in general, unless you are visiting a major city like Tokyo and Osaka and planning to stay in the city throughout your trip, there are many benefits to having a car to travel in when you are here.
Here are 5 top reasons why you might want to rent a car to go around in Japan:
Forget About Bus Schedules
One of the most stressful elements of traveling is to find out about the time schedule of the public transit. If you are in a city, missing a train means you would have to catch the next one in 15 minutes. But if you are somewhere more rural, the next train or bus might be in an hour, and that delays your entire trip that might result in the restaurant being closed by the time you arrive. Not to mention, local buses in the countryside do not have their information as transparent for people who cannot navigate their Japanese website.
This can all be avoided if you rent a car. The whole process of checking and noting down transit schedule is removed, and you can be in charge of your own time.
More Sightseeing Options
Imagine you find a local museum in the town you are visiting that has your interest peaked, but you find out that the closest train station is a 40-min walk away and you would have to take a bus just to walk another 10 minutes to the museum. Is the walk worth the trouble? Is the bus better? Should you call a taxi instead, and how do you go about doing that? What if you want to visit one of the famous waterfalls which is in the middle of a mountain and has no easy access at all? You might have to give up then.
Instead of worrying about all that, you can simply drive to the location and park it at the facility or a nearby paid parking lot. This freedom really takes away a lot of the pressure in planning your trip, and to be able to reach the destination directly is a blessing. It will open you up to a lot more sightseeing locations (especially ones from nature) for your trip.
This has happened to me multiple times during my time in Japan. We head to a restaurant that we had planned only to find out they were closed due to special reasons, or that the line was so long that our hungry stomachs had no patience to wait.
With a car, we were able to simply look up another restaurant that serves a similar local cuisine and head straight there. There are always emergencies and unexpected surprises when you are traveling. When things do not go as planned, having a car could give you more backup options than without one.
No More Carrying Luggage
No one enjoys dragging luggage across town, but when your trip is for a week or more, especially with a family, packing everything into a backpack is almost an impossible feat. Big train stations do have coin lockers, but that is extra expenses and it forces you to return to the station for a pick up.
How about leaving everything in the car? This way, you can walk around with your hands free (or with your camera in hand) without having the physical labour. Seriously, nothing is worse than dragging your luggage in the rain or the snow.
Sleeping in the Car
Lastly, for those like me who travel on a tight budget, renting a car also means renting a mobile bed. Japan is a very safe country and in the rural parts, there are plenty of washroom-equipped parks and Michi-no-eki stops where you can park your car at night and stay for the night for free until the next morning. It also means you have no check-in or check-out time, so there is no pressure in rushing to the hotel before the front desk closes.
I have done that several times, and this website here has been tremendously helpful in helping us finding the best parks to stay in for the night and local onsens to wash up during the day.
As you can tell, many of the points above include avoiding potential hassles and in general being more flexible in your travels. Again, this may not be all that helpful in major cities, but if you are going somewhere more countryside, definitely give this another thought.