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Tips for driving in Japan - Kyushu, Hagi, Matsue

Tips for driving in Japan - Kyushu, Hagi, Matsue

Oct 29th, 2019, 02:56 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 615
We will be arriving in Japan for our 3rd visit this November, but our first time renting a car. We will be picking it up by the Hakata train station in Fukuoka and touring northern Kyushu, and then up to Hagi and Matsue, before continuing on by train. Can anyone with experience driving in Japan offer any tips, or insights that they wish they had known before they first drove in Japan?

russ_in_LA is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 04:24 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
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Hi Russ, I hope you have a wonderful trip. Last year we drove around Kyushu for around 10 days, no problems. I’m assuming you’ll have an ITC card which will help with the tolls on the expressways. My main suggestion is NOT to rely on the GPS in the car, we found it very difficult to work. I navigated using Google Maps on my iPhone (DH drove) so the directions were spoken in English. We rented a pocket WiFi to be sure we always had service. Just as a backup, I printed out all directions on our route before we left home.
FromDC is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 06:17 PM
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The first thing that comes to mind is that if you are driving, you open up a whole new world of places to see - there are so many that trains and buses only go to very inconveniently and infrequently, if they go there at all. Saga has some great places and mountain scenery - the Yutoku Inari Shrine is superb, and the Arita Porcelain Park is an eye-opening surprise, even though crowds of Chinese tour groups have discovered it. Kumamoto is great too - particularly the Aso area for the volcano, Daikanbo Lookout, Kikuchi Gorge, Nabagataki Falls, Yamabuki Springhead, and much more.
But if you are thinking of getting a car around Hakata and then driving one way to Matsue or thereabouts, you could get hit with some very high drop off charges - this is something you should ask the rental places. You should also look into what insurance coverage you get through your credit card, if you are renting through one - there are many charges it may or may not cover. One significant one is the NOC or non-operation charge - basically an additional fee you are hit with if you are in an accident and the car can't be rented to anyone for a period of time while under repairs. You should definitely read some important info before getting behind the wheel.
You will find few to no cops on the expressways at all - but there are radar speed traps all over the place, so speeding is not a great idea. In fact, since they are stationary, some GPS systems actually tell you where they are. You didn't specify where you are going, and a Kyushu expressway pass or Chugoku-Shikoku pass may or may not save you money. In fact for the latter I have big doubts it would help you - the San-in side is very rural with few expressways or fast trains.
For Yamaguchi, with a car you can easily see some of the nicest places in the country, yet nearly unknown to most. Nagato has several - the Motonosumi Inari Shrine is a real gem, plus a bit further east are the 'Sea Alps', which have some excellent rugged scenic coastlines. Hagi also has some surreal temples. The Akiyoshido Cave in Mine is also the best in Japan - around 1 km underground to explore, with a river rushing past you.
Adastra2200 is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 07:49 PM
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Thank you both for your insights and the useful links!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 08:15 PM
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One question about the ETC express pass system. If I buy a kyushu pass and a chigoku pass, I know I'll need to change the card in the card reader at some point. Is there an obvious place to do this? I assume it's either immediately before or after the bridge leaving Kyushu. Thanks!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 01:50 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 267
Driving in Japan is very easy - we have always rented from Toyota and find the sat navs have got better and better. Very impressed with the two we used on our October trip. Get the phone number of your destination as that can be entered in the Sat Nav. We used an ETC card linked to our Japanese bank account - I don’t know if it can be linked to an overseas credit card but maybe that is something to explore.

Last year we covered some of the same ground you will. Rented a car after a few days in Matsue, drove to Izumo Taisha Izumo Ginzan (a highlight of the trip), Hagi, Yanai, across the bridge to Suo Oshima (beautiful island in the Inland Sea) then gave up the car in Hiroshima. I didn’t do a trip report but posted on my thread titled “Western Honshu.”
Boveney is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 08:41 PM
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The road signs in Japan are not the international standards. For example, a stop sign looks completely different. Since you have a month, I recommend studying them in advance.

I find driving on the left side to be a challenge. I recommend that the passenger stay awake and alert in order to warn you if you get too close to the left, or if you mistakenly make a right turn without watching for incoming traffic. My husband did exactly that in Wales in the 90's, and if I hadn't warned him (quite loudly), we would have been all smashed up.

Lastly, I would research insurance coverage. Japan and Australia seem to be exempt for many carriers, including credit cards. I ended buying the extra coverage from Hertz, which I have rarely do. I always use my AmEx card for car rentals.

Looking forward to hearing about this intriguing trip. I may have mentioned it in one of your other threads, but be sure to try the mitzozki (chicken soup) in Fukuoka.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 11:46 AM
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 267
There are plenty of disaster stories of folks not used to driving on the left in Engalnd. The recent death of that teenager by the US woman with diplomatic immunity comes to mind. But it's not just driving; pedestrians not used to looking get hit too. I don't mean to discourage you, just make you aware you need to double check every time you make a turn. That's when you are most vulnerable to making a mistake.
shelemm is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 06:19 PM
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Thanks for the additional valuable information everyone. Getting excited, we leave in 5 days!
russ_in_LA is offline  
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