1) Can you come to my accommodations?
We can come to your accommodations! Locations immediately around Kutchan/Hirafu are no additional charge, with rates increasing as you go further from the general area. This includes Higashiyama, Annupuri, Niseko Village, and Moiwa (Niseko Resort Towers) – prices range from about 2000 yen to 5000 yen per way. (This means if you want pick up and drop off in Moiwa, it will be a total of 10000 yen plus tax.) Other locations may be possible but charges will be higher; please ask for details.
Depending on weather/situation, either we will bring you back to our office to pick up the vehicle and fill out the contract at a pre-designated time or we will bring the vehicle and contract to you. We can confirm your specific pick up time when you have made your booking and confirmed payment. At that time we will come to your accommodations in the Niseko area with the vehicle and make the rental contract. This usually takes around 15 minutes or so. Once the rental contract is done, we ask that you drive our driver back to our office – this gives you time to learn the vehicle and ask some questions! When you make your booking using our website, you can specify your exact pick up and drop off times, along with location. Please feel free to ask questions for details.
Note: In summer and/or clear weather we can offer drop off or pick up in Sapporo/New Chitose Airport. However, this is subject to weather and other conditions (minimum one-week rental, etc.) – we cannot guarantee this service, especially in winter, and we often cannot recommend it (see our [winter driving guide] for details on this). Please check for prices and availability when you book your vehicle
2) What kind of vehicles do you rent?
We typically rent 8 and 9 seat vans and 5 seat SUVs.
In winter, our vehicles make it convenient to travel around to all the local sites and ski slopes with all your gear. All our vehicles are ready for the weather – they have four-wheel drive, winter tires, and the biggest roof racks available in Japan. Our vans handle your skis, snowboards (Up to 8 sets on the large 8 seat vans), and everything else, no problem.
In summer, we have camping kits for rent as a add on that convert our big eight-seat vans to an awesome camping setup for two, including a mattress with bedding. We may also be able to provide extra supplies to handle up to a family of four with an extra tent, chairs, etc. [Check out our camping page! ] A van with a camping kit is an inexpensive and awesome way to travel around Hokkaido and enjoy the mild, beautiful summer here.
3) What do I need when I pick up the car?
Be prepared and get your car quicker!
You will need to provide proof that you can legally drive in Japan (see the beginning of this FAQ), especially the validity of all your paperwork. You (the person who booked the vehicle) will also need to provide your credit card and passport to guarantee the rental. We take this information for security purposes – don’t worry, we don’t keep a record of your credit card information after your rental.
About a week before your rental you will receive a confirmation email with details about your rental and a copy of the paperwork you will need to fill out so you’ll be ready to go.
4) What do I need when I drop off the vehicle?
At the end of your rental, you will need to fill the car up with petrol (gasoline or diesel depending on the car) and go to the drop off location to meet the driver and check the vehicle. If you are in the Niseko/Kutchan area you will need to go back to our base there. The driver will be waiting and ready to drive you straight back to your accommodations, the Welcome Centre, or anywhere else you need to go in the immediate vicinity. (We request this drop off information when you book.) If you are going to be departing by train or bus, we suggest you bring the car back to our base (for no additional charge) and then get dropped off at Kutchan Station or the Hirafu Welcome Centre.
5) Oh my gosh! How do I drive in Japan? What’s different?
You drive on the left side of the road in Japan, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle.
There is no left turn on red in Japan. However, even when the traffic light ahead of you is red, you can proceed in the directions indicated by any green arrow lights. The yellow arrow light is for trams, not cars. Some traffic lights change according to the flow of traffic as well. (There is no right turn on red in Japan because the traffic flows on the opposite side of the road and right turns cross traffic, so again look for green arrow lights.)
Unlike many countries, you can change lanes in the intersection and pass vehicles in the intersection. Japanese roads are often very narrow and a little busy, although in Hokkaido this isn’t nearly as extreme as Tokyo for example. It’s important to give people as much space as you can. Most highways are two-lane, but don’t drive too close to other vehicles, especially in winter. The roads in winter are ice- or snow-covered and often treacherous. You may notice some people driving alarmingly close to each other, even in winter. Please don't copy them. Leave at least 5 seconds, if not more, between you and the next vehicle -- especially in bad weather.
Many Japanese drivers prefer to back into parking spaces instead of “front in,” and parking lots may look a little oddly backwards because of this (especially to drivers from the Americas). This may also cause a little confusion in parking lots, as it may look like other drivers are skipping a parking space when they are in fact, driving past it to back into it.
Hokkaido has very extreme weather in winter, and is famous for its wonderful snow – and the blizzards that bring it. Please read our winter driving guide, especially if you’re from somewhere that doesn’t have much winter weather.
The Japanese stop sign is an oddity – it is the only stop sign in the world that isn’t a hexagon. Instead, it is a red inverted triangle with the Japanese for “stop” on it. Stop signs in the Kutchan/Niseko region have begun adding “STOP” in English to them as well, making it easier to spot them. You can read about Japanese road signs here: [Road signs of Japan link]
6) How can I get to Kutchan/Niseko/where you are based? I don’t want to pay extra to pick up my vehicle!
We are based in Kutchan, in the Hirafu area (Google Maps Link). The general region is often referred to as the "Niseko area," but Hirafu is actually in the town of Kutchan, not the village of Niseko. If you're confused as to what is where, feel free to ask.
After a long flight, you probably don’t want to drive all over right away. There are lots of trains and buses around Japan and you can get here pretty easily. Especially in winter, we highly recommend taking a train or bus from the airport (generally Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport) to Kutchan Station to pick up your vehicle. The train and bus services in the region have both Japanese and English on their signs. In summer we do offer pick up and drop off at Sapporo New Chitose Airport, for an additional fee. If you are coming into the airport very late, however, we probably won't be able to arrange pick up there -- our driver has to get back to Kutchan after he drops the vehicle to you, so if it's after the trains have stopped when he's done, he can't get home! You may want to stay the night in Chitose and take a morning train or bus to Kutchan.
Regular Bus Transfers
Two major local bus companies have services running to Niseko and Kutchan regularly.
The train service is especially convenient and not as expensive as other services, plus its reliability is high even in bad weather. There is only one line change between New Chitose and Kutchan, at Otaru, and all the signs have English as well as Japanese. In summer this trip also looks spectacular.Select New Chitose Airport if traveling from Sapporo airport. The local terminal station is Kutchan - not Niseko funnily enough!
There are several private transfer services available for the Niseko area as well.
7) Do you have ETC readers (automated toll road card readers) for your vehicles?
We now have ETC readers available on a limited basis but can't guarantee availability. Please ask beforehand and we can check.
8) I want to go camping with your van. Can I take it to any camp site? Can I make reservations at those sites? Can you make them for me?
The van should be fine at any camp site and counts as a normal vehicle for most purposes.
Some camp sites take reservations and some do not, and most list this information online, although it's in Japanese. Google Translate generally works, though. Note that camp sites generally charge per vehicle, although some places may charge per person (especially if there are onsen or other amenities around). The largest and most popular camp sites in Hokkaido are often first-come, first-serve, especially in peak season (July and August) and the best suggest we have is: show up early and plan to leave your vehicle there even if you go somewhere else! Some places lock gates at 8 pm, too, so even if you've gotten there that morning and reserved a spot for that night, if you don't get back on time you're out of luck and may be parked on the side of a road that night.
We are not a travel agency, and although we can check on some things for you and help with things that you may not understand, we cannot make bookings for you.
9) I want to drive all over in winter, and visit this place and that place...
...we suggest strongly that if you are driving all over in winter, plan carefully and have plenty of time, and if the weather is bad, don't drive at all. Don't drive at night. If you don't have winter driving experience, don't make a plan to rent a van for a week in winter and drive from one end of Hokkaido to the other. You won't be able to. Please trust us on this.
10) I want to drive all over in summer and visit...
Summer is a great time for driving all over Hokkaido! It can rain and get chilly at night, though, so do plan for a little bad weather. If you plan to do a lot of outdoor cooking and sitting outside in the evenings, you might want to rent our gazebo tent to put your cooking gear and table under for those rainy evenings. Also, make sure you have bug spray. All vehicles come with 100 free kilometers per day, and we charge additional kilometers based on your total at the end of your trip. So if you rent for 10 days, you have 1000 kilometers and that's a lot. Please check with us on the additional kilometer rate when you book.