October 27 2017
For military members in Japan, the Exchange offers car rentals on base, usually through the Auto Port or gas station. You can rent vans (for trips to IKEA!) or four-door sedans for every day driving. The great part about renting on base is the rentals usually come with toll tickets which, for a day trip to Fukuoka, can save you at least $60.
The downside to the Exchange is that you are limited on the type and size of the cars and they do not allow one-way rentals. We needed a one-way rental for our cross-country adventure from Sasebo to Yokota so we asked the wonderful ladies at the ITT office for some assistance. They pointed us to Toyota Rent a Car. It was super easy to make a reservation because everything in online and in English! The website is https://rent.toyota.co.jp/eng/.
We were a little concerned that they would not rent to us as foreigners but all they needed was to see our SOFA license. We had the option to add an ETC reader, which would have made the tolls less expensive and faster, but we didn’t have an ETC card and we needed the toll receipts for our travel claim anyway. We requested a vehicle with a back up camera (so handy!) and a navigation system (essential!).
Picking up the car was just as you would expect in Japan. Quick, courteous, efficient. A Toyota rep was waiting with a clipboard, ready to inspect the vehicle and point out some features. We let them know we would be traveling with George so they gave us a “pet mat” to put under his travel crate to help keep everything clean. We already had our own hammock to contain the fur and drool but the mat was a very nice touch. I always appreciate the little things people or companies do to make pet travel easier.
The nav system was in English and really easy to use. It let us know when we were approaching a toll and how much yen we would need. It pointed out rest areas and kept us on track. The only time we had trouble was on MCAS Iwakuni. The nav system didn’t know the roads there and we spent an hour driving in circles around a construction zone trying to find the temporary exit.
We had a slight hiccup dropping off the car but it worked out great for us. We thought we knew where to go but it turned out there were two locations: one for returns and the other for cleaning and prepping. We went to the wrong one but it turns out it was only two blocks away from the drop-off location and one of the Toyota reps offered to drive us there. We chatted, in English!, about our trip and how far we had driven. The gentleman was really nice and we had a good time chatting. When we got to the drop-off location, they realized we were a couple of hours early and so they promptly issued us a refund for the hours we did not use. That was really unexpected and so freaking nice. The Exchange is great but our experience with Toyota was top notch.