Many folks automatically link Japan with its bullet trains and fantastic public transport. Indeed, Japan boasts incredible public transport, making it a breeze to zip around the country.

However, there’s a whole other side to exploring Japan that demands a set of wheels – the Japan road trip experience. If you’re keen on camping or uncovering quaint towns, having your own wheels is key, especially when venturing into the more remote prefectures like Aomori. You’ll stumble upon numerous breathtaking road trips adorned with picturesque bridges and coastlines. So, here are four road trips across Japan that you absolutely must embark on during your visit.

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Four Unforgettable Japan Road Trip Destinations

Furano in Hokkaido

Photo: Biei

Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost large island, encompasses an area of approximately 83,456 square kilometers. Despite its vastness, Hokkaido’s population density is significantly lower compared to other regions of Japan, with around 5.3 million inhabitants. Due to its location and relatively sparse population, Hokkaido is often less frequented by tourists than other parts of the country. However, this island boasts an abundance of natural beauty, making it an ideal destination for those seeking tranquility and stunning landscapes.

The road infrastructure in Hokkaido is well-developed, providing easy access to various scenic spots and attractions. One of the most famous driving routes in Hokkaido is the “Roller Coaster Road” in Furano, a 2.5 km stretch of winding road known for its undulating terrain, resembling the ups and downs of a roller coaster ride. This road offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, especially during the blooming season when fields of lavender and other flowers carpet the landscape.

In addition to the Roller Coaster Road, Hokkaido is home to numerous other picturesque driving routes, such as the “Patchwork Road” near Biei. This area is renowned for its patchwork-like landscape, created by alternating fields of colorful crops such as potatoes, wheat, and flowers. The Patchwork Road offers visitors the opportunity to experience the beauty of rural Hokkaido while driving through a mosaic of vibrant farmland.

Bandai-Azuma Skyline in Fukushima

Photo: Bandai-Azuma Skyline

Fukushima, a prefecture located in the Tohoku region of Japan, covers an area of approximately 13,783 square kilometers. Despite its natural beauty and cultural heritage, Fukushima has faced challenges in overcoming the negative perception stemming from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. However, efforts have been made to promote the region’s scenic attractions and revive tourism, highlighting Fukushima’s diverse landscapes and outdoor activities.

One of the standout driving destinations in Fukushima is the “Bandai-Azuma Skyline,” a scenic mountain road that traverses the border between Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures. This winding road offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains, forests, and lakes, particularly during the autumn months when the foliage bursts into vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow. Additionally, the Bandai-Azuma Skyline is renowned for its picturesque snowscapes in winter, attracting visitors seeking snowy adventures and panoramic vistas.

Venus Line in Nagano

Nagano Prefecture, situated in the Chubu region of Japan, covers an area of approximately 13,585 square kilometers. Known for its mountainous terrain and rich cultural heritage, Nagano is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike. The prefecture is home to several notable landmarks, including Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan’s oldest and most well-preserved castles.

The “Venus Line” in Nagano Prefecture is a scenic driving route that winds through the Japanese Alps, offering breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows, and crystal-clear rivers. Stretching for approximately 70 kilometers, the Venus Line is a popular destination for leisurely drives, motorcycle tours, and cycling adventures. Along the route, visitors can enjoy stops at picturesque villages, hot springs resorts, and hiking trails, immersing themselves in the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Nagano Prefecture.

Tsunoshima Bridge in Yamaguchi

Photo: Tsunoshima Bridge

Yamaguchi Prefecture, located in the Chugoku region of Japan, encompasses an area of approximately 6,112 square kilometers. Despite its relatively small size, Yamaguchi boasts a diverse range of attractions, including historical sites, natural wonders, and culinary delights. The prefecture is known for its scenic coastline, mountainous landscapes, and traditional culture, making it a popular destination for both domestic and international travellers.

Tsunoshima Bridge, one of Yamaguchi’s most iconic landmarks, spans approximately 1,780 meters and connects the mainland to Tsunoshima Island. Completed in 2000, the bridge offers stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea and has become a symbol of Yamaguchi’s natural beauty and engineering prowess. Tsunoshima Island itself is renowned for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and panoramic vistas, making it an ideal destination for beach lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and photography enthusiasts alike.

Renting a Car for Your Japan Road Trip

How to rent a car for your road trip

Now that you’ve had a glimpse of what Japan has in store, it’s time to consider a Japan road trip and rent a car.

Renting a car in Japan is a straightforward and safe process. To do so, you must be 18 or older and hold an international driver’s permit. These permits need to be obtained in your home country and are valid for a year in Japan. However, some countries, such as Germany, France, and Taiwan, permit the use of officially translated driver’s licenses instead. These translations can be acquired from a Japanese Embassy or the Japan Automobile Federation. Conversely, citizens of countries like the US must possess an actual Japanese driver’s license to rent a car.

Japan boasts numerous major rental car services, including Nippon Rentacar, Toyota Rentacar, and Times Car Rental. Most of these companies offer English reservations, which can be made either online or by phone. Typically, rates for renting a mid-sized car hover around 10,000 yen or approximately $100 per day. This price often includes insurance coverage and unlimited mileage.

Additionally, most rentals are equipped with built-in GPS systems, facilitating easy navigation. Road signs are usually displayed in both English and Japanese, and Japan’s well-maintained roads ensure smooth journeys. Drivers in Japan adhere to traffic laws and drive safely, making the streets easy to navigate, complete with clear markings for crosswalks and bike lanes. Moreover, most rental cars come with a GPS system, and Google Maps is readily available for added convenience.

Your Japan Road Trip Adventure Awaits!

As you set out to discover Japan by car, a thrilling road trip adventure beckons! From the tranquil countryside of Hokkaido to the idyllic coastlines of Yamaguchi, each stretch of road unveils new wonders waiting to be explored.

With the simplicity of renting a car in Japan, complemented by user-friendly English navigation systems and clearly marked roads, your journey becomes more than just a mode of transportation – it becomes a seamless voyage of discovery.

So, why not stray from the usual routes, immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Japanese culture, and create memories to cherish? Whether you’re drawn to the bustling cityscapes or craving the serenity of rural vistas, Japan invites you with open arms and endless opportunities.

Prepare to hit the road, embrace the unexpected, and let the adventure unfold as you uncover the beauty and allure of Japan, one scenic drive at a time. Your road trip adventure is on the horizon – are you ready to seize it?

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