Self Drive in Japan: Kyushu Road Trip (Winter)
You would have picked up bits and pieces of our Kyushu road trip experience in my previous articles: ‘Overview Northern Kyushu Itinerary‘, ‘Travelling with an infant‘, and ‘Fukuoka Airport to Nagasaki‘.
We took a highway bus from Fukuoka airport to Nagasaki and travelled around Nagasaki on foot, bus and tram. Thereafter, we picked up the rental car and officially started our road trip from Nagasaki. With hubby behind the wheel, we drove from Nagasaki to Kumamoto, Mount Aso, Kurokawa, Yufuin and lastly to Fukuoka. We travelled from 21 February to 1 March 2018 (during winter).
This post is divided into 3 major parts:
- Booking the Rental Car Online: ToCoo! and Our Reservation Details
- Our Experience
- Practical Tips: Pumping Petrol and Parking
Booking the Rental Car
When choosing a car rental company, it is important to consider where the the pick up and drop off points are located. And if you are travelling with a child, baby car seat is another important consideration too as it is a requirement under Japanese law.
Our Rental Package
After shortlisting, we rented a car from Budget Rent A Car. We picked the car up at Nagasaki and returned it at Fukuoka. The pickup and drop off locations are both relatively near to where we were staying.
The car we rented is a Standard / Mid-sized car (Non-smoking) with baby car seat. At the time of booking, ToCoo! gave us examples of the models we might be getting, like Corolla. However, the model cannot be specified until pick up.
Other than renting a car through ToCoo!, we bought a package from ToCoo! which includes, roadside support, ETC card and Wi-Fi router. The ETC card is like Singapore’s cashcard for ERP charges. With ETC card, you can save up to 50% on toll fees and it can be used on any highway in Japan, on any rental car with ETC device. ToCoo! mailed the ETC card and Wi-Fi router to our hotel. You can also choose to pick them up from the airport.
Total Rental Fees
1) Fees from Budget Rent a Car: 33,716 yen* (S$414)
- Basic Rental fee: 20,000 yen (S$246)
- Compensation Coverage: 5,616 yen (S$68)
- Baby Car Seat: 540 yen (S$7)
- Drop-Off Fee: 7,560 yen (S$93) (because of different pick up and drop off locations)
*Amount payable at the outlet when you pick up the vehicle.
2) Fees from ToCoo! package: 6,264 yen (S$77)
- TAS (Compensate for N.O.C & Towing Fee): 4,320 yen (S$53)
- Wi-Fi Router: “Free”
- ETC card rental: “Free”
- Telephone translator support**: 1,944 yen (S$24)
Note: A cancellation fee will be charged on your credit card, including no-shows
3) Important: Holding charge by ToCoo! for toll fees
- Holding Charge: 15,000 yen (S$184)
- Actual Toll Amount: 9,476 yen (S$117)
The holding charge will first be held on the credit card, and the unused amount will be released.
4) TOTAL ACTUAL PAID: 49,456 yen (S$608)
Where are we? Our hearts pounded fast with this question. We were driving up a meandering road lined with tall trees and the narrow road has space for only one car. What if there’s an oncoming car? Then again, this path looked like a road less travelled. There was no car and no person in sight. Tall shadows loomed as little light filtered through the pockets of the canopy.
“Is it this way?” my hubby asked.
I studied the GPS map again, “Hmm,” and answered quite uncertainly, “Yup, it seems to be the way.”
We drove forward on tenterhooks. Casting a quick glance at the baby in the car, I prayed hard in my heart that nothing bad would befall us. Soon, we emerged into an opening, “I think it’s over there,” I said and pointed to a land with barren trees. Where was the supposedly bustling Yume Tachibana Plum Blossom Viewing Festival? Is the season over? Or are we at the wrong place? There was no one around for us to ask, no spread of plum flowers to enjoy.
Heading into the middle of nowhere, and after circling a bit in the rocky terrain, we concluded that the season has passed, and the flowers withered. Since we had nothing to do, and we made a detour to reach here, we decided to make the best out of the situation. Baby was sleeping, and so we sneaked out of the car. Stepping out into the cold, we stretched our legs, breathed in the fresh air, and had a few precious minutes of couple time!
Driving out of that unknown land was as challenging as driving in, but hubby aced it! :)
“Eh, eh, eh…” Baby Evangeline woke up from her slumber and fidgeted in her car seat. It was a miracle she was sleeping in the car seat. Usually she would latch to sleep and have me carry her while she slept, waking up when I transferred her to the car seat.
Anyway, it’s now time for me to entertain her with play and feed her with snacks! With a baby on board, I couldn’t be a passive passenger. If the moving scenery was not entertaining enough, I would be busy trying to keep down her crankiness and cries, and not disturb hubby from driving. Good thing was, at least if she’s out of control, she only disturbed us and not other people.
Travelling by bus around Kyushu seems relatively easy because of the well developed bus system with “Unlimited Bus Ticket in Kyushu“. However, throw a baby in the mix, and car is definitely our first choice. It’s more convenient than bus or train. No rush for timings. No lugging pieces of luggage up and down the bus or train.
Pit Stop: Shopping
“We passed by a big Don Donki earlier on,” my hubby said, “Let’s go there? I want to get an ice cold drink.” Even though it’s winter, the day was hot, moreover, we were in the car the whole time.
“Ohh, I didn’t see it. Okay, let’s go!” Don Don Donki (“Donki”) store opened in Singapore just a few weeks before our Japan trip. With no time to visit, this was a good chance for me to see what’s the big hoo ha about Donki.
We “dumped” all the stuff we didn’t need in the car and carried the few necessary items. In any case, we could simply head out to get the items we forgot to bring along. It’s awesome to finally travel light to shop because it was so cumbersome to carry so many bags in thick clothing. As we got ready at the carpark, the scene was strikingly familiar. I felt like I was in the US doing a road trip.
As we stepped into Donki, the smell of sweet potatoes wafted towards us. Reminder to self: Get the sweet potato before we leave. “Wah!” I exclaimed quietly, “It’s huge.” However, we had something more important to do first. We cut through the shop and went straight to finding a diaper changing room, and sincerely hoped they have. Evangeline needed a change of diaper.
Meandering through the empty aisles filled with all kinds of goods, from apparels, to food, to beauty products, we finally found the room deep in the shop. It’s Japan’s typical well-equipped toilet for wheelchair access and diaper changing area. Look out for automated diaper bin in some of these toilets – slot the used diaper slightly at the machine opening, and it will suck the diaper in to be wrapped in plastic.
After our toilet break, we took our own sweet time to shop around the wide array of goods. I even think some of the items are cheaper than the Donki in major cities like Kumamoto and Fukuoka. And before we checked out, we had to get the sweet potato!
In Singapore, people get into the long queue just to get this. And so we got ourselves two piping hot sweet potatoes. There was no queue, and in fact, there was a pile of ignored sweet potatoes. Being so forgotten, I wondered if this is different from the one in Singapore? Guess not! Because it tasted delicious and Evangeline loves it too!
“I think we can have our lunch here,” I spotted the unique standalone building of Ringer Hut, a short walking distance away from Don Donki. The place looked relatively crowded on the outside, and hence I assumed it should be quite popular. It looked like those fast food outlets found along US highways’ exits. “Let me google if it’s an eatery.”
“Sure! Looks good,” my easy going hubby replied.
“Oh, it sells Champon!” God heard my prayer. I wanted to try Nagasaki champon dish while we were in Nagasaki, but for various reasons, we didn’t manage to have it. So now we passed by one unassuming eatery that specialises in Nagasaki dishes Champon and Sara udon, and we made an unplanned stop to dig in! Ringer hut is actually a worldwide chain restaurant, and can be found in places such as Bangkok, Taiwan and Hawaii.
The dishes came and at first look, I was disappointed. There was too much vegetables for my liking. One mouth, and I knew this dish wasn’t for me. I tried to finish half a bowl and passed it to hubby. Moreover, being a fast food outlet with no frills, there’s no baby chair. So we had to take turns to carry baby Evangeline while feeding her. The eatery was a bit warm too. The whole experience didn’t turn out to be good for me. At least the Gyoza side dish tasted not bad and…
I could say I’ve tried Nagasaki Champon!
Hope you enjoy this snippet of our experience! Now on to practical advice about driving in Japan.
Practical Tips for Self-Drive in Japan
There are 3 kinds of petrol in Japan: Regular, Premium, and Diesel. Find out the right fuel to use from the car rental company, because the wrong one might give problems to your car.
The pumping station is self service, including payment. However, it’s all in Japanese and hence we got the petrol attendant to help us out. We paid 4,650yen (S$57) the first time and 1,048yen (S$13) to top up just before we returned the car.
We had valet parking at our Kurokawa ryokan, and so we only had to settle the parking during our Kumamoto stay. There are numerous public paid car parks around our accommodation and our Kumamoto airbnb host gave us information on the two nearest carparks, which were also known as “タイムズ, Times Parking Lot.
The carpark we ended up in was using flap-lock parking. It’s one of the different types of parking in Japan. We had no idea how it worked and there was no parking attendant. We finally figured out from other drivers, but not before wasting a coin because of language miscommunication. So familiarise with such parking because you don’t want to be at loss like us.
This is a good article about flap-lock parking, www.timescar-rental.com/beginner/stop.html, otherwise here’s an instructional video:
There’s something else to consider when choosing the right carpark. Different carparks have different rates and methods of charging. For example, these are the rates for the two carparks nearest to our Kumamoto airbnb:
- The closest one is 300 yen per 40 mins. 600 yen flat fee if park between 21:00-7:00.
- The other one is 200 yen per 40 mins. 1200 yen for 12 hours and more.
In our case, we parked overnight and didn’t use it during the day, or for that matter, didn’t use it for our entire Kumamoto stay. That’s because the places we were headed to are all within walking distance. Hence, we went for the second option. If we had used it during the day, probably the first choice would be better.
So choose the right carpark. You can calculate the rates for the different carparks at “Times Info” website (times-info.net), you need to Google translate it. Otherwise, look out for the big pricing boards which is usually at the carpark entrance.
That’s all I got to share. Have a fun road trip, make detours and find surprises, and enjoy the scenery. Chase after the sunset.
Let me know if you have other questions when planning for a road trip in Northern Kyushu. Or if you have other great tips to share! Leave a comment below. :)