Road tripping around Japan: is it worth it? The breakdown.
September 30, 2012

A month after I began studying abroad in Tokyo, it was time for Golden Week. Golden Week is a period during late-April through early-May when several Japanese holidays occur in a short span of time. School was canceled for the week as a result. I didn’t really have any plans when I received an invitation to go on a road trip all over Honshu.

With the promise that it would be cheap and filled with exciting escapades, I signed up to go with four other classmates. Most people thought we were crazy to rent a car when Japan has one of the best transportation systems in the world. Maybe they’re right… or they’re missing out. For those curious about life on the road in Japan, here and the pros and cons of traveling around Japan by car versus public transportation.

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Driving is not nearly as convenient. For one, you have to make sure that all the drivers have an International Driving Permit. Then it’s planning the path you’re going to take, complete with maps and/or GPS. WiFi will not be available and getting lost in Japan if you cannot speak the language is tricky. Then there are the unknown risks. Your car could break down or you could run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

Those using a car in Japan are slapped by massive fees on the toll roads, which are upwards of 5000 yen per toll. The simple solution seems like it would be to simply forego the expensive highways. Simpler said than done. The amount of time and gasoline wasted to circumvent the tolls is not worth it.

An example:

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Using toll roads: 4500 yen, 2h50min driving time
Without toll roads: 6h20min driving time

If you’re a tourist, the cheapest prices pharmacy. buy dapoxetine priligy europe . top offering, buy dapoxetine online. Japan Rail Pass makes taking public transportation even more attractive. For 355 USD for 7 days or 565 USD for 14 days, you receive a pass good for unlimited travel on Japan Rail trains, buses, and ferries. The Japan Rail has good coverage across the country. Unfortunately as exchange students, we were not eligible for these tourist-only passes. Renting a car ended up being more affordable for our situation—renting a large SUV for six days was 15000 yen (187 USD) per person. With the addition of tolls and gas, which approximately is 1.60 USD per litre, it came down to about 20,000 yen (250 USD) per person including the car. Not bad.

For those on a tight budget as we were, you can save on accommodation by sleeping in your car or packing a tent for camping. While it wasn’t entirely comfortable, it saved us a lot of money in a country where a hostel bed is 3500 yen (43 USD) per person a night. Just make sure you don’t set up shop on private property (guilty) or get your car stuck in the sand while sleeping on the beach (also guilty).

Enjoyment of public transportation goes hand-in-hand with convenience. Plush seats, food, and bathroom facilities are usually accessible. You don’t have to do any of the work after you board; the logistics are taken care of. Relax.

There were a few difficulties that may arise on road trips in general, which we experienced. The driver was becoming irritable and fatigued due to him being the only navigator. Instead of maps, we were relying on the GPS that was included with the car—but it only worked in Japanese. Another girl became increasingly carsick. We tried to fit too much into our plan, which resulted in spending hours on the road and not taking the proper time to enjoy the sights when we stopped. Luckily, these are mostly mistakes that could’ve been prevented with more forethought and planning.

Sucking on a sugar cube per the woman’s instructions while sampling her freshly brewed green tea. Enjoying the long-winding roads, making a wish while passing through tunnels curved into the mountainside. Resting in a natural-made hot spring we had to ourselves, looking up at the stars. It was these moments that made it worth it to go by car. Although these small towns were accessible by public transportation, they’re not found in the guidebooks. They can only be stumbled upon. That’s the biggest draw for me in regards to road tripping by car.

Either way you travel around Japan, I highly recommend going to lesser-known places, alighting at a random stop, getting lost. Only by doing so can you experience Japan thoroughly and thoughtfully.