Sunday, July 10, 2016

Okinawa (Japan): Driving in Okinawa & OTS Rent-a-Car Review

In Okinawa, there is only one monorail system - Yui Rail - in Naha, the southern part of Okinawa, and there are long haul buses that do not operate frequently. So for convenience, we decided to rent a car and drive in Okinawa.

Driving Experience in Okinawa

Our driving experience was quite pleasant in Okinawa, especially in rural areas where there were not many cars, we could drive leisurely as the speed limit is 50 km per hour.

Most Okinawa drivers are very courteous, we didn't hear a single honk during our 4-days road trip. There was once I was on the left-turning lane, but I suddenly realised that I should drive straight, so I stopped the car and signaled right. I was actually hogging the left-turning lane. Guess what, I didn't get honked by the drivers behind us, and the driver on the lane that I intended to cut into actually left a space to give way to us! I am very sure that I will get honked if this happens in Singapore!

However, not all drivers in Okinawa drive safely. There were occasions that they cut into our way, but at least they made a gesture to thank us for giving way.

Parking in Okinawa is convenient in the rural areas, and many car parks are free of charge! We only spent 500 yen (about SGD6+) to park overnight at Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha-Bay. But I heard that parking at Naha town area is very challenging, and the car park charges are high too. So we planned our itinerary such that we took Yui Rail in Naha area to avoid the problem of finding car parks and high car park fee.

Things You Need Know When You are Driving in Okinawa

When you are driving in Naha (那覇) area, there are bus lanes "バス専用" which only public buses can use during peak hours. There are sections with alternating central lanes "中央線", which is a system that allows general vehicles to enter the central lane when the bus lane is in operation. In other words, just look out for a red cross on the traffic signal and do not drive into that lane.

There are also some road closures during peak hours. For example, along the famous shopping street Kokusai-dori (国際通り), no private vehicle is allowed from 7.30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and  from 5.30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

taken from Okinawa Road Map given by OTS Rent-a-Car

There is one and only one expressway in Okinawa. This is the toll fee chart (as of June 2016):

taken from Okinawa Road Map given by OTS Rent-a-Car

In Singapore, we have ERP and we pay by cash card inserted into in-vehicle unit. In Japan, they use ETC which is similar to our cash card.

We didn't rent ETC during our trip as we decided to use the expressway only once. So instead of driving through the ETC lane, we had to drive through the general lane "一般". At the toll gate that we entered the expressway, we took a ticket from the machine.

Then at the toll gate that we exited the expressway, we passed the ticket and paid cash to the staff.

Mapcode in Okinawa 

It was very convenient to use Mapcode on GPS to get to our destinations. Check out our blog post on how to find Mapcode and how to use GPS in Japan rental car.

We have tested the Mapcode in the list below, and we had a safe landing! The telephone numbers are just for reference.

Mapcodes that we compiled before the trip but have not tested:

OTS Rent-a-Car Review

When I was searching for car rental company in Japan, I chanced upon some Taiwanese blogs that shared about OTS Rent-a-Car. During a travel fair, OTS Rent-a-Car had a booth and I got to speak to their representatives. In the meanwhile, I found another car rental portal Taibirai たびらい that collates the services from various car rental companies, and in fact, there are better offers on its Japanese page. In the end, I decided to go for OTS Rent-a-Car, because they have Chinese speaking staff, so just in case *touch wood* anything happens, I know that there is staff who can speak the language that I can understand.

Booking a car with OTS Rent-a-Car online is very easy, as there is English language page which offers the same rate as Japanese page. Yes, on some online booking platforms in Japan, Japanese page and English page would have different rate! In order to get some savings, book the car at least 40 days in advance to enjoy early bird discount! And every now and then they have promotions, so check out their website to enjoy the offers!

OTS Rent-a-Car has a few branches in Okinawa. Most visitors would choose the branch near airport (RinkuToyosaki Branch) which they offer free shuttle bus service in between. But we chose not to pick our car there, because we woke up super early in the morning (3+ a.m.) and landed in Okinawa in late afternoon, so we didn't feel like driving on the first day. Another reason is that we heard about the long waiting time at that branch since many people prefer to pick up their cars once they have landed.

We picked up our car at T-Galleria (DFS) branch on the second day. This branch is accessible by Yui Rail (Omoromachi Station おもろまち), and we stayed at Toyoko Inn Naha Shintoshin Omoromachi which is a few minutes walk from there. Although T-Galleria opens at 9 a.m., there was already a queue when we reached at 8.50 a.m.! We were thankful that OTS Rent-a-Car had a few counters, so we were one of the first groups to be served. The staff who served us initially spoke English and Mandarin when he saw us holding Singapore passports, but after a while, he asked me whether I could understand Cantonese, and in the end we conversed in Cantonese.

The staff briefed us on things that we need know when we are driving in Okinawa. We also rented a Wi-fi router (2000 yen for 4 days + 5000 yen deposit), and purchased admission tickets at a discounted rate. To have a peace of mind, we also purchased an insurance called premium safety pack (1080 yen per 24 hours) which is a form of car insurance.

The registration is done at level 2 of T-Galleria, while the collection of the car is at level 1. So we had a "compulsory" window-shopping through T-Galleria before we got to the car! At level 1, I passed the document to the staff, and waited for my name to be called. It is thoughtful that there is a small cushioned play area for the children in the waiting lounge!

When we made our booking online, I chose the cheapest range which is 1300 cc, but we were thrilled to get a free upgrade to 1500 cc Toyota Aqua!

The staff spoke in English and asked us to do a visual check on any scratches, and he recorded on the document. And he even taught us how to start the car, as it was our first time driving a car with smart key - you don't need to insert a key to start a car! Just step on the brake and press the "Power" button! He also helped us to set the GPS to English and taught us how to use the GPS.

The whole process of picking up the car took less than an hour. I think the time taken could be even shorter if I didn't ask too many questions! And then we embarked our road trip!

Returning of the car was very easy too. There is a small petrol station at T-Galleria, just next to the car returning station. It took us just a few minutes to re-fuel the car and return it.

We spent 1665 yen (about SGD25) on the 11.7 litres of petrol to cover a distance of 250 km. Wow, this car is really fuel efficient!

By the way, if you are renting a car from OTS Rent-a-Car, remember to get your admission tickets to places of attraction with them, as there is a good discount rate!

Overall, I am very pleased with OTS Rent-a-Car. The staff whom served us were very patient in answering our questions. The booklets that they provide are very informative, they consist of all information you need to drive in Okinawa. Thumbs up for OTS Rent-a-Car!

Expenditure on 4-days car rental:
Basic = 11520 yen
Collision damage waiver = 6480 yen
Premium safety pack = 4320 yen
Fuel = 1665 yen
Total = 23985 yen = SGD300

OTS Rent-a-Car

Our Okinawa Travelogue

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  1. Thank you for your fun information! After reading your blog, I am now thinking if I should rent from the T-Galleria instead of the Rinku-Toyosaki branch which is so much further away! So pleased to see that petrol is so cheap too. Wow!

  2. Thank you your information on T-Galleria OTS! I was thinking of renting from Rinku-Toyosaki (which is so far out of the way) because i thought there wouldnt be an english speaker elsewhere. If T-Galleria has an English speaker and those discounted tickets too, then I might as well rent from there.

    So please to hear about the cheap petrol! Not heard of in Singapore! :-))

    1. Actually there is free shuttle from Naha International Airport to Rinku-Toyosaki branch. However I heard that the waiting time from arrival at airport to collecting the car can be as long as 2 hours because of the crowd! There are English / Chinese / Cantonese staff at the counters at T-Galleria on the day I visited.

  3. Thanks for the detailed post. I shall refer to your post again when we visit Okinawa in the future!

    Michelle @ The Chill Mom

    1. Okinawa is a nice place for children, hope your family will enjoy!

  4. Hi, you have a great blog! May I know if it is easy to drive around in Okinawa in the night? I will be there in the 2nd week of December. Wondering if the streets are well lighted or very dark? Thank you

    1. Hi, town areas are well lighted, but not the rural area. So please be careful. Have a great trip!

  5. Hello! Thanks for the really informative post. Can you share more abt the discounted tickets for attractions? Is it like a coupon which u exchange at the attractions? And is flexible like you can use it anytime anyday or you have to decide which day you want to visit when u buy the tickets? Thank you!(:

    1. We bought the tickets for Churaumi Aquarium, if I recall correctly, those were the actual tickets that were valid for a period of time.

  6. Hi, did you have to "convert" your Singapore driver's licence? I am also from Singapore and wonder what do I need to do in order to drive in Okinawa. Read somewhere I would need an International Driving Permit, which I can apply in Singapore. Is that acceptable? Appreciate your advice!

    1. Hi, if you already have Singapore driving licence, you just need to apply International Driving Permit with Automobile Association of Singapore. So it is not "converting" the driving license, instead, you can applying another document required for driving in Japan. You can read our post for more information:

    2. Many thanks Waiwai

  7. Hello! Thank you for your informative blog about Okinawa self driving! It's very useful for first timers :)
    I would like to ask about the car rental from OTS. Does either the CDW or premium safety package cover all the deductibles such that you only pay 0 excess for damage to the rented car? I didn't really understand their website so I thought you might have a better idea since they probably explained it to you :)
    Thank you!

    1. Hi, thank you for reading our blog. If I recalled correctly, the premium safety package covers everything, however, insurance coverage will not be provided in certain situations as stated in their website:


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