Travel Guide to Japan (part 2)

It was only after I write the first post did I noticed I missed out the self-drive portion in Hokkaido LOL so I will be sharing about it today. Japan is like Singapore in many aspects. We are a fast-paced society, we have Asian cultures and we are densely populated cities. But beneath it all, Japan is also an unique country. The Japanese seem to have their own flavours of Kit-kat and Pocky sticks, they preserve their culture – intangible and tangible – so well and they are just so respectful to everyone. Even their toilets are so different. And these traits are a lil’ different from Singapore so today, I will share more about the culture, Japanese practices and many other useful information that will help you adapt better in Japan.

In case you have not read my previous post, I covered about the public transportation system in Japan and you can read it here.

Self-drive in Hokkaido

Most people would choose to rent a car and roam free-and-easy in the Northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, than to take public transportation. Reason is simple: the place is just too big! The natural attractions are spread out across this vast island, which makes commuting from one point to the other at least a 1-2 hours journey.

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JR Hokkaido Rail Pass lines Credits: japan-guide

Take a look at the map above and you would understand what I mean. Even with the JR stations, it is still inaccessible and inconvenient to head to various natural attractions as they are scattered across the area. Therefore, if you don’t know how to drive it might be better for you to join a group tour instead as travel agencies can bring you to these photogenic places conveniently.

For my family, we or more like our dad chose to drive as we didn’t liked to go on tours and stick to a rigid schedule. We planned our own self-drive itinerary, stopped wherever we want to take pictures and for meals, and leave our house as early or as late as we want and though the planning process was tedious, it did gave us more freedom and time at the tourist attractions. So if you are planning to self-drive, the process is actually very simple.

  1. Get an international driving license.

Similar to Singapore, the Japanese drive on the left and most of the cars are right-hand drive. Why do I say most? Well it’s because there are some imported cars which are left-hand drive instead. But nonetheless, vehicles are on the left-lane in Japan.

To get an international driving license that permits you to drive, simply head to Automobile Association of Singapore (AAS) and apply it there. For more information about technical stuff, please visit their website as I have zero driving experience LOL. https://www.aas.com.sg/our-services/international-driving-permit-idp.html

2. Find a car rental company

There are many car rental companies in Hokkaido, not to mention the number of car brands available for you to choose from. There are many factors you need to consider before deciding on a company and some are listed below:

  • Reliability
  • 24/7 emergency coverage
  • Price rates
  • Type of cars and availability
  • Pick-up/drop-off point
  • Safety and reputation

For my family, we decided on Times Car Rental which cost us only SGD 518 for 6D5N (which I think is quite ok). The reservation process was simple as we only had to select our tentative pick-up/drop-off timing, pick-up location and select the type of car we want. However, do note that the car you selected is not guaranteed and only subject to availability. Upon arriving at New Chitose domestic airport (we flew from Tokyo Narita Intl airport), we went to the car rental counter to do the necessary paperwork, and from there there was a shuttle service to transport us to the car park/main office to pick-up the vehicle so it was actually pretty convenient. The return process was easy as we only need to drive back to the main office and hand over the keys.

3. Get an ETC Card

Chances are that you will be travelling across regions (Hakodate, Furano, Sapporo etc) when you visit Hokkaido and for such long-distance trips, you will definitely need to drive on the highway/expressway. With an ETC card (essentially a toll card), you only need to pay an one-time fee beforehand when you collect your vehicle. This means that whenever you stop at a toll station, you can just drive past through it without having to make additional payment. It is cheaper than making multiple payments at the various toll stations but if you are planning to just visit one region, say Sapporo only then it might not be worth it to get an ETC card since you won’t really use much of it.

4. Prepare lots of spare change

Parking is a little bit different from Singapore in Sapporo city areas. It can go up to SGD 20 for just 4 hours in the CBD area! I’m not sure if the locals have a something equivalent to our NETS card for the parking but when we were there, we had to manually press those ticketing machine for a ticket before we enter. And when we are leaving, we will then pay the slot in the ticket and pay CASH.

Try to keep small change and coins with you when you drive in case some machines require exact amount.

In the countryside areas, parking is free and all you need to do is find a spot to park your car.

Shopping

To be frank, shopping for clothes is never my main highlight when I travel overseas as I feel that the items sold are 1. Can’t be worn in Singapore because it’s too hot here 2. Too expensive 3. Not my style. And yes, the clothes in Japan are not cheap but are pretty nice.

In terms of souvenirs, Japan probably had the best and most attractive ones in the world! Everything there is sold in colourful packaging and in some major touristy shops, mini plastic bags will be given when you buy many items (they probably assume that you are giving it and hence the plastic bags, how nice right?).

Tax-free shopping in Japan requires a minimum of around SGD 54 BUT there is one important thing you need to note. When your purchases are eligible for tax-free, the cashier will ask if you want the tax-free, ask for your passport and staple the receipt copy in your passport. You will, however, be asked to tear off the receipt and give it to thr customs officers when you leave the airport. Pretty standard procedures. However, what is different is the store will then pack everything into one big sealed plastic bag. Technically speaking, you are not allowed to tear the bag apart to rearrange in your luggage but we didn’t care about it and tore it anyways. Unless you are buying very expensive stuff, I don’t think this should be a concern.

That’s all I have for now and do feel free to ask any questions regarding travelling in Japan.

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