Although Kobe has an excellent public transport system, renting a car will give you access to some of the more remote and rural attractions around Kobe that are harder to reach by train or bus. In this article we will introduce some reliable car rental companies in Kobe, offer some general tips for driving in Japan, and suggest some driving locations around Kobe that you might like to visit.
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Car Rental Companies
There are a number of reputable car rental companies located around JR Sannomiya Station in central Kobe. Toyota Rent-a-Car have a branch a on the north-west side of the station, while Nissan Rent-a-Car and Times Car Rental have branches on the east side. Nippon Rent-a-Car also have a branch located north-east of the station on the east side of the tracks.
If you arrive in Kobe by shinkansen, then you can find branches of Times Car Rental and Toyota Rent-a-Car to the south of Shin-Kobe Station.
These are all well-known companies with reliable standards of service and they all have English language websites which you can click through to at the links above.
Cost of Renting a Car
Although prices fluctuate over time and also with location, the average price of gasoline in Japan is normally around 130 yen per liter. Renting a standard sized five-seater compact car for 24 hours will probably cost between 7,000 and 8,000 yen. The car will come with a full tank of gas and should be returned to the company with a full tank also.
A valid international driver’s license is essential if you want to rent a car in Japan. These are not issued in Japan and must be obtained in your home country in advance. You will also need a valid driver’s license from your home country that is at least 3 months old.
Certain countries do not issue international driver’s licenses that can be used in Japan. These countries are Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Slovenia, Monaco and Taiwan. Drivers from these countries should obtain an official Japanese translation of their original driver’s license from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). You can find out more about this at the JAF website.
Major roads, towns and cities have English signage, but this might not be true in the countryside. Almost all rental cars have GPS satellite navigation systems which may have English on the menu. Ask your car rental company to show you how to use your GPS system before your departure. They can program it for you with your destination’s address or telephone number. Also, to be safe, it might be a good idea to buy an English-Japanese road atlas before your trip.
The Rules of the Road
The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) publishes an English language guide to Japan’s traffic rules called “Rules of the Road”. You can buy these at JAF offices throughout Japan. A digital version is also available to download from the JAF web site.
Driving Destinations Around Kobe
Here are some recommended driving destinations near Kobe.
Kikuseidai is an observation point on Mount Maya in Kobe from which visitors can enjoy a spectacular view over Kobe and across Osaka Bay. At night the glittering city lights appear like a sea of stars, and this night view is considered one of the top three in the country along with those of Nagasaki and Hakodate. Although it is possible to get here via a combination of bus, cable car, and ropeway, driving here is much more straightforward and from Kobe’s central Sannomiya area it should take no more than 40 minutes. Entry to the observation point is free but there is a fee for parking.
This 15th century castle is located on a mountaintop in the north of Hyogo Prefecture and is most easily accessed by car. Situated 353 meters above sea level, the dramatic ruins seem to float in the clouds and have been called the Machu Picchu of Japan. Driving to Takeda Castle from Kobe should take around 1 hour and 30 minutes. Admission to the castle is 500 yen for adults and free for children of junior high age or younger. Parking is free.
Himeji Central Park
Although the city of Himeji is easily accessible by train, if you go by car you can enjoy the drive-through safari at Himeji Central Park. This will allow you to enjoy close-up views of lions, tigers, cheetahs, giraffes, zebra, and gnus – all from the comfort of your car. Driving to the park from Kobe should take around 1 hour. Admission is 3,000 yen for adults and 2,700 yen for children. Parking is charged.
Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Shoshazan Engyoji is a mountaintop temple on the north-western edge of the city of Himeji. The temple dates back to the 10th century when it was built in honor of the Goddess of Mercy. This is a large temple complex with many fine buildings in a beautiful natural setting. Although the temple is accessible from central Himeji by bus, driving here is simpler. From Kobe it should take 1 hour and 15 minutes by car. There is free parking by the ropeway station at the bottom of the mountain and from there you can take a cable car or hike to the top. A round-trip cable car ticket is 1,000 yen and entrance to the temple is 500 yen.
Just south of Kobe and connected to it by the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, Awaji Island is home to beautiful natural scenery, gourmet food, and seaside hot spring resorts. One of the top attractions on Awaji Island is Sumoto Castle. This 16th century castle on top of Mount Mikasa is now home to a museum where you can learn all about Awaji’s history.
On the opposite side of the island is Keinomatsubara, a picturesque white-sand beach lined with 50,000 pine trees which is famous for its sunsets. The island also has several scenic parks such as Akashi Kaikyo National Government Park and Awaji Hanasajiki Flower Park which are famous for their seasonal floral displays.
The family-friendly England Hill has flower gardens, a working farm with workshops and fruit picking activities, a collection of 50 animals (including sheep, koalas, and rabbits), a play area with attractions such as cycle boats and go-karts and dining facilities. At the southern end of the island, Michi-no-Eki Uzushio is a roadside station which has an enviable view over the Onaruto Bridge as well as plenty of shops and restaurants.
Popular hot spring resort hotels on Awaji Island include Awaji Yumesenkei, which is located close to Sumoto Castle. This luxurious waterfront hotel features hot spring baths with sea views, beautifully furnished guest rooms, and a restaurant serving the finest high-end kaiseki cuisine.
Another popular option is Plaza Awajishima, a hilltop hotel on the southern end of the island overlooking the Naruto Strait and the Onaruto Bridge. This hotel also has outdoor bathing facilities, delicious fresh seafood, and entertainment facilities such as tennis courts, a bar, and karaoke.
Awaji Island can only be reached by car or by bus as there are no train lines to the island, and it is much easier to explore the island’s various attractions by car. Driving from Kobe’s central Sannomiya district should take no more than 30 minutes.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.