Should I Rent a Car or Hire Driver in Japan?

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Driving in Japan can be a convenient way to explore the country, but there are some important considerations for travelers planning to reach areas without public transportation.

We received a question from a reader looking to go from Kyoto to Nachi Falls, they are comparing the options of renting a car in Japan vs hiring a driver.

Renting Car vs Hiring Driver

Here’s a comparison of renting a car and hiring a driver to travel from Kyoto to Nachi Falls:

Renting a car

Pros:

  • Flexibility: You have the freedom to stop and explore at your own pace, and you can deviate from your planned itinerary if you want to.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Renting a car can be more affordable than hiring a driver, especially if you are traveling with multiple people.
  • Scenic drive: The drive from Kyoto to Nachi Falls is scenic and offers stunning views of the countryside.

Cons:

  • Navigating: Driving in Japan can be challenging, especially if you are not familiar with the country’s roads and traffic rules.
  • Parking: Parking can be expensive and difficult to find in some areas.
  • Insurance: You will need to purchase car insurance, which can add to the cost of your trip.

Hiring a driver

You can either hire a driver for a day or take a guided tour.

Pros:

  • Convenience: You can relax and enjoy the ride without having to worry about driving.
  • Local knowledge: Your driver can provide you with information about the area and take you to hidden gems that you might not find on your own.
  • No stress: You won’t have to worry about parking, traffic, or finding your way around.

Cons:

  • Cost: Hiring a driver can be more expensive than renting a car.
  • Limited flexibility: You will be on your driver’s schedule, and you may not be able to stop as often as you would like.
  • Language barrier: If you don’t speak Japanese, you may have difficulty communicating with your driver.

Ultimately, the best option for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. If you are looking for a cost-effective and independent way to travel, renting a car is a good option. However, if you prefer a more relaxed and hassle-free experience, hiring a driver is a better choice.

Here are some additional factors to consider when making your decision:

  • Your travel style: If you are an adventurous traveler who enjoys exploring on your own, renting a car may be a better fit for you. However, if you prefer a more structured and guided experience, hiring a driver is a better option.
  • Your group size: If you are traveling with a large group, hiring a driver may be more cost-effective than renting multiple cars.
  • Your budget: Renting a car is generally more affordable than hiring a driver, but the cost difference can vary depending on the specific rental company and driver service you choose.

Driving in Japan

Driving in Japan can be different from what you are used to in your country. Some travelers have found it to be more stressful than expected, especially on narrow roads and in cities with heavy traffic. However, Japanese drivers are generally courteous and law-abiding. It’s important to be prepared for the differences in road conditions and driving habits.

International Driving Permit

To drive in Japan, you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP). This permit is required for renting a car in Japan. The IDP is easy to acquire and is valid for up to one year from the date of arrival in Japan. It’s essential to obtain this permit before your trip to ensure that you can legally drive in Japan.

Car Rental Process

When renting a car in Japan, it’s advisable to use a reputable car rental company such as Toyota Car Rental, which has an English website and is easy to use. Some travelers have found the initial challenges of driving on the left side of the road and navigating narrow roads to be daunting, but they were able to acclimate fairly quickly. Renting a car can significantly enhance your travel experience by allowing you to set your own timetable and visit places that may be less accessible by public transportation.

Hiring a Taxi or Local Guide

If you prefer not to drive, you can consider hiring a taxi or a local guide to take you from Kyoto to Nachi Falls. Some travelers have suggested hiring a guide who can accompany you. This option can provide a more relaxed and guided experience for larger groups.

The drive from Kyoto to Nachi Falls is 251 km and takes 3 hours 48 minutes via the Kisei Expressway. See the directions here. You may want to explore other attractions on the way to make the journey worthwhile.

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