Having a car in Japan doesn’t just entitle you to travel around this wonderful country, but also in-the-city convenience.
It’s certain that one of the real benefits of car ownership in Tokyo is the ability to get out of the city to find a bargain. Space in Tokyo is scarce, so many of major companies set up shop slightly outside the city and particularly those companies who are looking for warehouse space.
Costco is one of many American companies that has proved to be a real success in Tokyo. Since moving to Japan, Costco has expanded all over the country and in Kanto alone Costco has founded 11 stores.
One of my favorite ways to spend a weekend is to jump in the car and get out of the city and a visit to Costco is no different. If you’ve got space in your car, you will even be able to pick up some cheaper electronic equipment to take home.
Searching for your closest Costco in Tokyo is surprisingly something that’s not that easy to find online, with Google Maps currently not able to find all of the different stores within your local vicinity and therefore I have published this map.
On the map above you will find a numbered list of all of the stores and therefore should be able to clearly identify where your closest Costco is.
3) Kanazawa Seaside
8) Chiba New Town
Noboribetsu, a short drive away from Sapporo in the Iburi Subprefecture of Hokkaido; is a famous onsen town in the southern part of the island.
On our trip, our first port of call was a visit to the stunning river town of Otaru, north of Sapporo. This is well worth a day trip to explore, take in some of the local sights and meet the friendly locals.
From there, it was on to Noboribetsu. This city is well worth a visit during the winter months, so that you can appreciate and enjoy the beautiful onsen on offer. A drive to Noboribetsu will take you through many little villages with markets, great food restaurants and places to stop off to explore.
Wakayama Prefecture is often considered one of Japan’s most under rated prefectures to visit. It’s surrounded by the well known Osaka, Nara and Kyoto; so it’s easy to understand why many ignore a trip to Wakayama on their itineraries. But travelers could well be missing out if they ignore Wakayama. From the stunning Koya-san, all the way to the far south of Wakayama Prefecture; there’s plenty to see here.
A trip from Kansai International Airport to Wakayama City will take only 30-40 minutes by car, depending on traffic. The best thing about arriving by plane to Kansai Airport is that there is an array of options for your rental car; from Budget to Nissan rent-a-car, so be sure to research in advance to find the best value option for your trip.
From Wakayama City, you have plenty of options on your travels. One thing to remember about this prefecture is that there are surprisingly few highways, so always anticipate well in advance if you are short on time. Wakayama City has the very pretty castle; worth a visit if you can fit it in.
On our excursion, we planned to first reach Koya-san. This mountain has a stunning graveyard and a town full of beautiful buildings to explore. It’s very accessible by car and you should have no problem finding parking or places to drive around.
We then decided to head to Shirahama, the most famous beach resort in all of Japan. The drive there is a very pleasant one and the scenery when you arrive will match. There is a good reason why Shirahama is paired with Hawai’i’s Waikiki beach!
The following day we decided to head down to Nachi Taisha on the southern coast; the route there is full of stunning beach views as you can see below.
Expect to spend at least three to four hours driving on your way back to Wakayama City, so always leave plenty of time to navigate.
Wakayama is one of the most pretty places to explore by car in all of Japan. Highly recommended.
Having previously visited Oita Prefecture a couple of years ago and really enjoying myself; I decided that the time was right to re-visit Oita, taking a familiar route but stopping off at some new places along the way.
After flying in from Kita-Kyushu and having good intentions to visit the Fujien Kawachi Wisteria Gardens (which wasn’t open in late April 2017 for good reason, the Wisteria wasn’t even in bloom yet) we decided to take a slightly different route and head to the Kunisaki Peninsula instead. The roads in northern Kyushu, much like the rest of Kyushu, are excellent for driving. Clean, safe and relatively quiet during the April season.
The first port of call on our trip traveling from Kita-kyushu airport was to the Usa-Jingu shrine in Oita, Usi; this stunning little complex of beautiful shrines and buildings is a must do in the area. Prepare to drive for at least 2 hours to reach the Kunisaki Peninsula. Once at Usa-Jingu – which is the main shrine for hachimangu jingu in Japan – you will find some wonderful scenery for strolling around. You should allocate at least an hour of your day for visiting this stunning area.
From there, you may choose to visit Makiodo or other areas of the Kunisaki Peninsula – the Rokugo Manzien temples are some of Japan’s most famous – before heading on to your next destination. Our next stop was to the world famous onsen town of Beppu.
Beppu has so much to do and to enjoy. You can find several “hells”, known as Jigoku in Japanese. These are naturally occurring hot springs that are often with different colour water, smells and/or nature surrounding them. Parking is very easy to find in this area, so when driving around Beppu you should find stopping your vehicle relatively simple and cheap.
After enjoying a wonderful meal and evening in Beppu, the following day saw us drive for a wonderful breakfast at Jigokumushi Kōbō Kannawa (Jigokumushi Kobo Steam Cooking Center), where you will be able to cook your food on the heat of the onsen. A great side trip is a short drive away, to Takasakiyama Monkey Park where you can find hundreds of cheeky monkeys (macaques) on top of their own mountain. A wonderful day out!
A recommended itinerary from there is to drive to the pretty town of Yufuin and set up camp there. You will find it tricky to get around by car around Mount Yufu/Yufuin and so keep this in mind if you are reliant on your vehicle.
After Yufuin, you may choose to head to Oita City, the main city in Oita prefecture. There are plenty of shops and restaurants here.
After Oita City, we decided to stop by Kitsuki town; a delightful little village on the way to Oita Airport. From there you will find many shops and a pretty little castle to explore.
Sapporo, Hokkaido island’s most populous city, is one of the best ways to enjoy the north of Japan on a day trip or a weekend break. Most visitors will arrive to Sapporo by plane, be aware that the Chitose airport is quite some distance away from the Sapporo city centre and a train will take anywhere up to 45 minutes before arrival at the centre of Sapporo.
Sapporo is a fun evening out and there is plenty to do in the vicinity of the centre of the city. Great nightlife, amazing food and friendly people make for a wonderful evening.
Sapporo also has some of the most beautiful areas within the local areas, including the likes of Biel and Furano.
Furano will take over two hours to get to, but once there you will see some of the most wonderful flowers in Japan.
Yakushima is an island located off of the southern coast of Kagoshima; the farthest prefecture south in Kyushu. The island is one of the wettest places in the world and has the most precipitation in the whole of Japan; partially because of the mountainous landscape. Yakushima is one of the most enjoyable places in the world to drive and is famous for it’s winding roads twisting around the mountains on the island.
All of the above makes Yakushima undoubtedly one of the most fun places to travel by car and the island makes for a fun excursion both for a day or for a long term trip. We decided to make a day trip to Yakushima and therefore only travelled around approximately 1/4 of the island, but were able to visit two of the most fun places on the island.
Taking a ferry from Kagoshima is anywhere between a 2 hour journey to 3 hours; depending on the route that you choose to take. When you arrive at Miyanoura port, you will be able to find several rent-a-car outlets near to the port. Both Times Rent a Car and Toyota Rent a Car can be found just 5 minutes walk away from the port; alternatively you can arrange for transport to the car centre in advance. Recommended if it’s a rainy day, which is roughly 1 day in every 3 on this wonderful island.
The first port of call from Miyanoura would be a short 30 minute drive to the world famous Shiratani Unsuikyo, which has a variety of trails that could take anywhere from up to 1 hour from car park and back; or a four hour journey farther into the forest. The journey will take you on one winding road into the centre of the Shiratani and from there you will be able to reach three of Yakushima’s most famous cedars; Kugurisugi, Yayoisugi and Nidaiosugi. All beautiful in their own special way, a short walk will take you up stream to the waterfalls.
Watch out for the monkeys on the road… they’re everywhere…
The next port of call for us was a trip to Yakusugi Land, which makes for a great trip if you don’t want to hike the 10 hours required to see Yakushima’s oldest tree. The journey from Shiratani Unsuikyo to Yakusugi Land will take about 1 hour and 30 minutes, and will also go through some small towns on the way where you will be able to enjoy a quick stop for lunch.
At Yakusugi Land you can see some of the most stunning cedar trees and a further trip in land will give you a trip to Kigensugi, one of Yakushima’s giant cedars.
In total six hours will afford you a great journey through Yakushima; recommended for anyone who wants to experience the best that this stunning island has to offer.
The Okayama prefecture is a place often visited by tourists visiting the West of Japan due to its position close to Kansai and north of Shikoku. With the gorgeous Naoshima nearby, it’s worth a weekend trip and certainly worth exploring by vehicle if you have the opportunity to do so.
Okayama city surrounds the main train station nicely, so most of the hotels and car rental companies are strategically placed around the station. On both sides of the track you can find a selection of accommodation and vehicle rental spots; Times Car Rental is highly recommended in Okayama for its excellent customer service, as a non-Japanese speaker they will even help setup your GPS unit in your preferred language.
From the Okayama City centre, it’s well worth heading straight to Okayama Castle and the world famous Korakuen; a stunning garden located to the East of the main city centre.
From Okayama City it’s a nice journey to the highly recommended Kurashiki; a stunning village with traditional Japanese architecture and beautiful local shops to explore. There is a canal on which you can rent a boat and float leisurely along the water.
From Kurashiki, you can make a journey to the beautiful, artistic island of Naoshima. A ferry can taken across in approximately 20 minutes to Naoshima and you car can of course come along, this will cost you just over 300 yen per person and the car should set you back a further 2000 yen.
When on Naoshima, most will travel by foot or bicycle, but by car is the absolute winner. There are very few places to keep your car in Naoshima but if you are staying at the world famous Benesse House, as a guest you will be able to leave your vehicle right next to the hotel. The car can also be used to travel around the different museums and buildings in Benesse House.
Miyakojima is one of the Okinawan islands at the southernmost point of Japan. Much like Ishigaki and Okinawa island itself, hiring a car on Miyakojima is easy and a fun way to get around the island. Miyako is only 25 kilometres by 15 kilometres so a vehicle makes for a convenient way to explore everything on offer.
Miyakojima is 300km away from Okinawa’s main island and is thus only reachable by plane. JAL have a direct flight to the island from Tokyo but expect to pay a hefty price as Miyakojima is an incredibly popular spot for traveling Japanese tourists.
Miyako is famous for its beaches and Maehama Beach and Yoshino Beach are absolutely the most popular spots to visit. A quick 15 minute drive from the airport will take you to Maehama and thus should be one of the first spots that you visit on your travels around the island.
A visit to Cape Higashi-Hennazaki would certainly be an important part of any tourist’s itinerary but expect to travel approximately 30 minutes from most of the island to reach the spot, famous for its lighthouse.
A visit over Irabu, Ikema and Kurima bridges makes for an exciting trip and the Irabu bridge is one of the longest in the world. The 1.7 kilometre Kurima Ohashi connects Kurima Island with Miyako Island and is only recently built. Irabu’s bridge – at 3.54km – takes some time to explore but gives travellers the option to visit Irabu Island.
Miyakojima is a must visit spot for any international traveller looking for a different experience in Japan.
Ishigaki is one of the most southernmost islands in Japan and can be reached by plane direct from many major cities; including Tokyo, Fukuoka and Osaka.
Japan’s incredible infrastructure never ceases to amaze and even as far south as Ishigaki has excellent roads and highways.
Hiring a car at Ishigaki Airport is easy and convenient. There are shuttle cars to drive you to your vehicle but Nippon Rent a Car is just a short walk away if you have no reservation in advance. One of the best things about Japanese rental car companies is that if the store is not located directly within an airport, transportation for free is generally provided.
From Ishigaki Airport you will be able to drive directly to Kojima Bay, in approximately 20-30 minutes. The roads are quiet and easy to navigate, but car parking at the bay could prove busy and difficult. Prepare for a short wait during busier times of the year. The bay itself is pretty and is one of the most famous beaches and picture spots in all of Japan.
From there, the possibilities are endless. Ishigaki is an island where you should probably split your trips into two separate days; conquering the north on a different day to the south. A route South of Kojima Bay can see you drive along the west coast of the island. It would be worth stopping at XX beach; don’t be put off by the hotel that you need to walk through. The beach is public and the hotel welcomes guests.
From there, a short five minute drive will see you arrive at YY. This is a beautiful spot to catch the sunset and get a photo of the short drop down to the sea from the rocks.
From there onward you may want to drive through Ishigaki City. Convenience stores are virtually non-existent on the island apart from Ishigaki City, so you may want to stock up on supplies here. A quick drive through the city will see you drive past the port and if you choose to take a day elsewhere, a visit to Taketomi Island makes for a lovely trip.
A drive around the bay will then take you to the ANA intercontental hotel and the beach close by makes for a lovely spot.
When you eventually go north of the island you will discover a side to Japan unlike anywhere else. Lots of small communities and long, stunning, quiet roads all the way through the centre of the island.
At the far north of Ishigaki you will find ZZZ. A beautiful spot to take a photo or two, the cape itself also has a small mountain to climb up for an even better view.
One of the most beautiful things about Ishigaki is the chains of small roads just off of the main streets. At any time a trek down one of those roads could take you through a small village or, as I discovered on one turn off, a stunning secluded beach.
Ishigaki is a beautiful place to visit and is highly recommended for any visitor looking for a slightly different experience of Japan.
Okinawa is arguably Japan’s most popular island. Despite being well known in the press for having army bases, the region also retains plenty of beautiful beaches and sights to visit. There are an abundance of top quality hotels and city areas to enjoy; including Naha, which has some excellent options for restaurants and drinks. No visit to Okinawa would be complete without sampling the Okinawan cuisine; famous for it’s mix of sweet and sour flavours.
The best thing about Okinawa, though, is the fact that one can hire a car and drive around the island for a day or a weekend to take in most of the sights. Okinawa’s world famous aquarium can really only be reached by vehicle, so it is an ideal day trip for the kids. A travel down the northern coastline of Okinawa is not the most stunning sight, but the eventual arrival at beach resorts will delight all of the senses.
Okinawa also has a stunning reconstructed former Ryukyu royal palace at Shuri Castle, which can be visited along the way out of Nara. A must see on a visit to the island.
A trip down the coastline will give you an opportunity to really see Japan’s beach beauty and is definitely worthwhile for anyone looking to visit Japan for longer than a two week period.