30 useful tips for travel in Japan

Renting a Car in Japan
Japan has one of the best maintained road networks. And it’s always a pleasant surprise to explore the hidden parts of the country by car. Navigating the car rental system can be a bit challenging. But it is getting easier for non-Japanese speaking visitors. Here are few tips to help make your experience a little bit smoother.
Finding a rent-a-car Company
One of the easiest ways to book as well as compare services and prices is to look online.
There are now a plethora of car rental companies with English language/multilingual websites.
Additionally, close to nearly all major stations, there are generally rent-a-car companies. The best way to find them is to ask local people such as the station staff. It’s possible to rent all kinds of cars, from small compact kei cars to 4WD/SUVs, sports cars, electric/hybrid cars, even camping cars. In all cases, a full tank of gas is required upon return.
Although international car rental companies offer services in Japan, the better rates can sometimes be had at local companies. Vehicles can be rented daily or for half a day. Rates on average start at ¥5,000. Packages can include unlimited mileage, insurance injury damage and liability (minimum 1000 yen/day). Different pick up and drop off locations can be arranged for additional fees. But there may be some stipulations for long distances or different prefectures. Options are also available e.g. child seats, chains, snow tires. The latter are extremely important if you are driving in winter in mountainous areas. In most cases, credit cards are accepted in addition to cash payments.
Gas Stations and Service Areas
In Japan there are both full service and self service gas stations.
For full service stations, a few key Japanese phrases are needed. For example “mantan de”- please fill it up and “genkin de haraimasu” - I’ll pay by cash. Alternatively, "card de haraimasu" - I'll pay by card.
In self service, there are display screens with images so it is relatively easy to follow. However, there is always staff to help should you run into trouble.
Expressways and highways have service areas. These areas are not limited to gas stations, vending machines and toilets. Some of them also include shopping areas, hotels, showers, laundromats and restaurants. Service areas also provide a way to sample local dishes, delicacies, fruit and vegetables. Local crafts are also displayed.
All rental vehicles are equipped with GPS. Normally, it is possible to switch the language to English. Although not always an exact translation, it is useful enough and helpful to get around. Google Maps App on a smartphone is also essential. Major highways are easy enough to follow, but winding roads in town can be very confusing. If available, road maps along with your GPS are a plus to have.
Car Ferries
Being an island nation, Japan has several possibilities to travel via car ferry. For short distances, e.g. Sakurajima - Kagoshima the prices are relatively inexpensive. For longer distances ( e.g. Kagoshima- Okinawa (Naha) or Tokyo- Kitakyushu) the prices increase; however so does the comfort level. These ferries offer public paths, a cafeteria, private rooms, dormitories or common rooms (covered with tatami or carpet). Long distance ferries are a slow way to travel. But they are a great way to relax after driving around for a few days.