Our first ever road trip through Japan was suggested as a result of a family friend here. We wanted to visit Tohoku and explore several different prefectures, and were initially planning to travel by a combination of the Shinkansen and local trains.
The response was along the lines of “wow - that’s going to be expensive!” when we started listing off all the places we wanted to go. Since we’re living in Japan, we’re not able to take advantage of the JR rail pass which is for temporary visitors only, so they were right - when we looked into the costs more it was going to be a pricey venture.
It was then that we thought about driving, on the suggestion of that same friend. Even taking into account the cost of gas and tolls, driving worked out to be significantly cheaper for our family, but there were plenty of non-financial rewards from exploring in this way too. Firstly, if you’re traveling with kids you’ve got the ability to stop as many times as you need to. Japan’s rest stops are clean and packed with amenities (and even options for unique regional eats and souvenirs!) so this was a definite advantage for us. Secondly, we stumbled across so many things to see and do that we never would have if we traveled by another method of transport. We were able to enjoy incredible rice field art, pick the most delicious grapes ever in a small town in Yamagata, and visit shrines we spotted along the way that were deserted except for us, offering plenty of moments for quiet reflection.
Back then, traveling by car wasn’t our first choice for getting from A to B for our journeys throughout Japan. Now it’s our preferred mode of transport. If you do have the option, I recommend hitting the road and connecting with the country in a unique way.
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I'm an Australian who has lived abroad for almost a decade, including 7 years in Japan - specifically Tokyo and Niigata. I've visited 44 of 47 prefectures, with only Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto left to check out. I'm particularly fond of exploring off the beaten path destinations, gardens, and tea houses, and have a real interest in Japan's growing vegan scene.