DRIVING IN JAPAN
RULES & REGULATIONS
Japan's large metropolitan areas around Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are served by highly efficient public transportation systems. Consequently, many residents do not own a car or do not even possess a driver's license. Outside the big cities, however, public transportation tends to be inconvenient or infrequent, and most people rely on cars to get around.
Cars drive on the left side of the road and have the driver's seat and steering wheel on their right side. The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. Road signs and rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English. Vehicles have to come to a full stop before crossing any railway tracks.
Most roads in Japan are toll free with the exception of expressways, some scenic driving routes and a small number of toll tunnels. Road conditions tend to be good, although side streets in the cities can be rather narrow or even impassable to larger vehicles. Traffic congestion is a frequent problem in and around urban centers.
Drivers generally tend to be well mannered and considerate, however some common dangers on Japanese roads include drivers speeding over intersections even well after the traffic light has turned red, people stopping their vehicles at the edge of the road in a way in which they block traffic, and careless cyclists, especially those who ride on the wrong side of the road.
The typical speed limits are 80 to 100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 30 km/h in side streets and 50 to 60 km/h elsewhere; however, drivers tend to go a little over the posted speed limits.
Parking in the center of large cities is very expensive, costing several hundreds of yen per hour. Fees decrease with the size of the city and the distance to the city center. In small towns and in the countryside, parking is often free. Parking lots in national parks or near tourist attractions sometimes charge a flat fee (typically 200 to 500 yen per use). Urban hotels usually provide parking for their guests at a flat rate (typically 1000 yen per night), while hotels outside the large cities usually offer free parking.
Besides standard parking lots, you may encounter a few unique types of parking lots in Japan. The first are elevator parking lots in which cars are stored in towers. Drivers are directed to park their car onto a lift, which will automatically store the car in the tower. When coming back, the car will be fetched by the lift and returned to you.