Editor's note: As of this writing, Japan only allows foreign business travelers and students with appropriate visas. Tourism visa is still suspended.
With health officials and experts optimistic that COVID-19 cases will start to decline this February, many of us are starting to think about revenge travel. Many places are also starting to ease up travel restrictions for vaccinated individuals. Some even had the privilege to go to other countries that have opened up to foreign tourists.
If you’re fantasizing about a family vacation abroad, we offer inspiration with the help of the Arcega family. They traveled to Nagoya in Japan in 2019 during the Christmas season.
It was their fifth visit to the Land of the Rising Sun. So they decided to try something we don’t often think about when touring a country abroad. The family rented a van to enjoy the Nagoya countryside and visit Takayama and Shirakawa-go.
Mian explains, “Nagoya has its own charm. It is not as busy and fast as Tokyo and neither is it too touristy like Osaka. It reminds us of a modern version of Kyoto with a lot of spots that are great for families.”
Renting a van was relatively easy, says Mian. “My husband canvassed various van rental companies and Times Car Rental had the most value for money. They offered a winter promo which brought down the price even more.”
Everything was done online. “Each step allowed you to customize your requirement, down to the kind of tires to the particular car seats you want.”
Considering the upsides of the trip, Mian said renting a van not only gave them more bonding time but allowed the kids to play while on the road for three days and ensured that her mom, a senior, was comfortable all throughout the trip. The van was also big enough to fit all their luggage in the trunk.
“We didn’t have to lug so many things around during transfers. We were generally comfortable and warm since we went there during the winter. We also had the flexibility to go when and where we wanted without worrying about bus/train schedules, or other people if we did a group tour.”
Mian’s husband managed to apply for an international driver’s license at the Automobile Association Philippines in two hours pre-pandemic. The international license’s cost: P4,000.
Unlike in the Philippines, driving in Japan is on the right-hand side, one of several differences between the two countries that Mian’s husband, Kristoff, had to keep in mind throughout the trip.
“I think it could be a bit disorienting at first, but my amazing husband did it very well,” Mian says, adding that the built-in GPS made it easier for them to navigate and get to their destinations without hassles.
The only downside Mian observed was the cost of parking. “Parking is quite expensive in Japan, so you also have to choose a parking space that’s near your accommodations but won’t charge too much.”
Before taking the wheel in Japan, it would be good to orient yourself about the rules in the country. So here is some valuable information from japan-guide.com before you hit the road:
- You have to drive on the left side of the road.
- You have to be 18 and above to be allowed to drive.
- All foreigners should carry an International Driver’s License applied for in their home country.
- Expressways are comparable internationally, but side streets in Japan can be narrow.
- Road signs and rules follow international standards.
- Speed limits are 80 to 100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 30 km/h for side streets, and 50 to 60 km/h elsewhere.
- Full and self-service gas stations are available throughout Japan, but most are closed at night.
- Parking in the city is expensive, with price ranges that reach the hundreds per hour. But the farther from the city, the cheaper it gets. Typical parking fees in tourist areas range from 300-500 yen.
We asked the Mian to give us a breakdown of the cost she spent for van rental, parking and toll fees for five days. Note these are 2019 prices.
Parking: approximately JPY¥1,500 (with overnight charges)
Gas: approximately JPY¥7, 000
Van rental cost: JPY¥56,000
- Cost is all in for three days with snow tires, 1 car seat for a toddler, and 2 booster seats for kids.
- Tip: Drop by the rest stops of Japan’s highways. They are clean and complete with items a family on a road trip would need. “It’s like a tourist destination in itself!” says Mian.
Electronic Toll Collection (ETC): JPY¥6,000
- This is a one-time payment for all the toll gates. You can pay as you pick up your vehicle at the rental company.
- Tip: ETC saves you more than paying at every toll.