Is It Worth It to Rent A Car In Tokyo?

Is It Worth It to Rent A Car in Tokyo

Is it worth it to rent a car in Tokyo? If you are staying only in the city center and plan to use public transportation, then renting a car is probably not necessary. However, if you plan on visiting multiple cities or making day trips to the countryside, then renting a car may be the best way to get around.

Tokyo, a mesmerizing blend of traditional culture and modern technology, is a city that attracts travelers from around the world. 

While the Japanese capital is renowned for its efficient and extensive public transportation system, many visitors often ponder whether renting a car in Tokyo is a worthwhile venture. 

This article delves into the pros and cons of renting a car in Tokyo and aims to help you make an informed decision for your trip.

Is It Worth It to Rent a Car in Tokyo?

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Tokyo has an excellent public transportation system, so renting a car is not necessary if you are staying only in the city center. However, if you plan on visiting multiple cities or making day trips to the countryside, then renting a car may be the best way to get around. Consider the cost of renting a car, parking, and gas, as well as the convenience of public transportation, when making your decision.

Public Transportation in Tokyo

Before we delve into the question of renting a car, it’s essential to understand the robust public transportation system that Tokyo offers. 

According to statistics from the Japan National Tourism Organization, Tokyo’s public transport network is one of the most reliable and comprehensive in the world, with an on-time performance rate of over 90%.

  1. Subway and Bus Systems

Tokyo’s subway system is an intricate web that covers the city like a well-designed neural network. 

With 13 lines traversing the metropolis, you can reach almost any corner of Tokyo with ease. The bus system, too, complements the subway, providing convenient connections to areas less accessible by train.

David Harris, a travel expert, emphasizes the effectiveness of Tokyo’s public transportation: “Navigating the city using subways and buses is not only convenient but also cost-effective. You can rely on them to explore the city without worrying about parking hassles or traffic.”

  1. Japan Rail Pass for Tourists

For tourists planning to explore not just Tokyo but other parts of Japan as well, the Japan Rail Pass is a game-changer. 

This pass allows unlimited travel on Japan Railways (JR) lines, including the iconic Shinkansen or “bullet trains.” Statistics reveal that foreign tourists made extensive use of the JR Pass, with millions of passes sold annually.

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Jane Smith, a frequent traveler to Japan, attests to the benefits of the JR Pass: “The JR Pass is a must-have for exploring the country. 

It not only saves money but also makes long-distance travel a breeze. You can get from Tokyo to Kyoto in just a few hours, stress-free.”

Pros of Renting a Car in Tokyo

Now, let’s explore the scenarios in which renting a car in Tokyo could be advantageous.

  1. Traveling to Remote or Less Accessible Areas

While Tokyo’s public transportation system is extensive, it may not cover certain remote or less touristy destinations. 

Renting a car can be a blessing when you want to venture into the countryside, visit hot spring resorts, or explore the scenic areas outside the city.

Hiroshi Tanaka, a local resident, shares his experience: “When I want to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and explore hidden gems in the countryside, I rent a car. It gives me the freedom to reach places the trains and buses don’t go.”

  1. Flexibility and Freedom of Movement

Renting a car offers a level of flexibility that public transportation can’t match. You have the freedom to create your own schedule, stop at any picturesque spot, or change your itinerary on a whim.

Maria Gonzalez, a tourist from Spain, notes, “Renting a car in Tokyo allowed us to explore at our own pace. We found charming little villages, visited local markets, and enjoyed the freedom to explore off-the-beaten-path places.”

  1. Storage Space for Luggage

Traveling with a large group or have a lot of luggage? Renting a car can provide ample storage space. 

This is particularly beneficial for families or groups who might find it challenging to manage luggage on crowded public transportation.

Hiroshi Nakamura, a traveler from the United States, recounts his experience: “We were a group of six with a lot of luggage. 

Renting a van in Tokyo made our trip comfortable, with plenty of space for all our bags. It made us feel like we were on a road trip rather than relying on public transport.”

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Cons of Renting a Car in Tokyo

While renting a car in Tokyo can offer numerous advantages, it’s not without its challenges and downsides. Let’s explore the cons of opting for a rental car in this bustling city.

  1. Traffic Congestion and Limited Parking Spaces

Tokyo is notorious for its traffic congestion, especially during rush hours. Finding a parking spot can be equally challenging, and parking fees in the city are often exorbitant. 

Statistics show that Tokyo consistently ranks among the top cities with the worst traffic congestion in the world.

Emma Davis, a travel blogger, advises, “Unless you’re comfortable navigating through traffic jams and circling the block in search of parking, renting a car in Tokyo might not be the best choice. It can be frustrating and time-consuming.”

  1. High Costs Associated with Renting, Fuel, and Tolls

Renting a car in Tokyo can be expensive. Rental fees, fuel costs, and highway tolls can add up quickly. 

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According to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, the cost of fuel in Japan is among the highest in the world, and highway tolls are not far behind.

Tom Johnson, an expatriate living in Tokyo, shares his perspective: “The high cost of driving in Tokyo can catch you by surprise. When you factor in the rental, fuel, and tolls, it might make more financial sense to rely on public transportation for most of your trip.”

  1. Complex Traffic Rules and Signage for Non-Japanese Drivers

Navigating Tokyo’s roads and highways can be intimidating, especially for those who are not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road. Complex traffic rules and signs, often written in Japanese, can pose a challenge for non-Japanese drivers.

Sakura Kimura, a Tokyo-based driving instructor, mentions, “Many tourists are not aware of the unique driving rules in Japan. 

For instance, you can’t turn right on a red light in Tokyo, and highway signs can be confusing. It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with these rules before hitting the road.”

Alternatives to Car Rentals in Tokyo

If you’re still unsure about renting a car in Tokyo, there are alternative transportation options to consider.

  1. Taxis

Taxis are a convenient option for short-distance travel or when public transportation doesn’t suit your needs. Tokyo taxis are known for their cleanliness and reliability. However, they can be more expensive than other modes of transportation.

  1. Bicycles and Walking

In central Tokyo, cycling and walking are excellent choices for exploring the city’s neighborhoods. You can rent bicycles at various locations, and the city’s walkability makes it easy to explore on foot.

  1. Rideshare Services

While Uber and Lyft are not as prevalent in Tokyo as they are in some other cities, they are still an option. It’s essential to have a compatible mobile app and a credit card for payments.

Tips for Renting a Car in Tokyo

If you decide that renting a car in Tokyo aligns with your travel plans, consider the following tips to make the process smoother:

  1. Necessary Documentation and Driving Permits

Before renting a car in Tokyo, ensure you have the required documentation. International travelers need a valid driver’s license, which should be in English or accompanied by an official translation. An International Driving Permit (IDP) may also be necessary.

  1. Where to Rent a Car and How to Choose a Reliable Rental Company

Tokyo has numerous car rental agencies, including both international and local companies. Research your options in advance and read reviews to choose a reputable rental company. Some companies offer English-language support and GPS navigation systems.

  1. Navigating Tokyo’s Roads and Highways

It’s crucial to understand Tokyo’s road signs and traffic rules. Familiarize yourself with local driving customs and etiquette to ensure a safe and pleasant driving experience.

Cost Considerations For Renting a Car in Tokyo

When deciding whether to rent a car in Tokyo, it’s essential to consider the financial aspects. Rental fees, fuel, parking, and tolls can add up quickly. Compare these costs to using public transportation to determine which option aligns with your budget.

Local Insights and Experiences

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of whether it’s worth it to rent a car in Tokyo, let’s explore the insights and experiences of both locals and tourists who have made this decision.

  1. Discovering Hidden Gems
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One of the unique advantages of renting a car in Tokyo is the ability to unearth hidden gems that might not be accessible by public transportation. Masaaki Hiroshi, a Tokyo resident, shares his experience: “My family and I rented a car and discovered charming villages nestled in the mountains, visited tranquil temples, and enjoyed scenic drives through beautiful landscapes. These experiences are off the beaten path, and we wouldn’t have found them without a car.”

  1. Escaping the Crowds

Tokyo is a city that never sleeps, and its busy streets and crowded trains can be overwhelming for some travelers. Renting a car allows you to escape the city’s hustle and explore less crowded areas. 

Sarah and Mark Miller, a couple from the UK, comment: “While Tokyo’s energy is invigorating, it can also be exhausting. Renting a car gave us the freedom to head to the quieter outskirts of the city, where we could unwind and enjoy a different pace of life.”


The decision to rent a car in Tokyo is a complex one, influenced by numerous factors including your travel preferences, budget, and the nature of your trip. 

Tokyo’s public transportation system is renowned for its efficiency and coverage, making it an excellent choice for most travelers. However, there are scenarios in which renting a car can enhance your experience.

For those planning to explore remote areas, embark on road trips, or experience the serene countryside, renting a car can be a game-changer. It offers flexibility, storage space, and the chance to discover hidden treasures off the typical tourist route. On the other hand, navigating 

Tokyo’s traffic and dealing with high costs can be a drawback for some.

Ultimately, your decision should be driven by the specific goals and experiences you seek during your visit to Tokyo. Be informed, plan carefully, and choose the option that aligns best with your travel priorities.

What do you think?

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