Nikoniko Rentacar – Cheap Enough to Make you Smile

Greg Lane
Update: It seems Nikoniko Rentacar have changed their terms of service to disallow non-Japanese drivers license holders. Boo!

Nikoniko means “to smile broadly” in Japanese. However, if you’ve ever rented a car from one of the big rental car companies in Japan, the hole it left in your wallet probably left you crying. While the likes of Toyota Rentacar, Orix and Nippon Rentacar charge 7,020yen, 7,290yen and 8,316yen respectively for 24 hours use of a compact car, Nikoniko charges just 3,800yen for the same class of car.

Looks small but comfortably fit two adults and two kids.
Looks small but comfortably fits two adults and two kids.

To put that in even more perspective, that’s cheaper even than 100yen Rent-a-car and considerably cheaper for extended use than using one of the car sharing programs like Times Car Plus.

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To prove we eat our own dog food, I recently tried out Nikoniko Rentacar on a trip to Nagano. Rather than navigate my way out of the concrete expanse of Tokyo, I decided to take the train there and then pick up a car. Booking through the site is a relatively simple task – as long as you can read Japanese. Picking up the car required showing my license and filling out a small clip board of forms.

You can't get to places like this on a train.
You can’t get to places like this on a train.

Japanese country roads tend to be remarkably empty of traffic and have puzzlingly low speed limits. Driving the little Nissan from Nikoniko Rentacar, I often found myself on long straight roads with nair a vehicle in sight – with a 40km/h speed limit. Although I admit I may have gone slightly faster than that, the compact car handled the straights and the bends with ease.

With the optional extras (I asked for the car navigation system) the bill for 2 1/2 days use scraped in just over 10,000yen. In hindsight, we probably could have done without the car navigation. Google Maps turn-by-turn directions does almost as well, it’s free and it’s in English. The real surprise just before returning the car was when filling up the tank. Despite zipping around all over the place (well over 100km) the fuel bill came in at just 1,200yen!

Why you should choose Nikoniko Rentacar

  • Dirt cheap!
  • Tidy cars
  • Nationwide coverage
  • Makes more sense than car sharing services for use of a day or more

Why you shouldn’t choose Nikoniko Rentacar

  • Web site only in Japanese (ask a friend or hotel staff to help)
  • Tokyo locations not as ubiquitous as some of the big players
  • Not as convenient for short term/short notice use – car sharing programs like Times Car Plus are better for this

Location Map:

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9 Responses to “Nikoniko Rentacar – Cheap Enough to Make you Smile”

  1. stevepipkin

    Do you need a Japanese Driver’s license or an international driver’s lisence? I have an American driver’s license.

    • CheapoGreg

      According to their FAQ, you can join up with either a Japanese license, an international driver’s or a license from a small list of countries. Those countries are Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Slovenia, Monaco and Taiwan. As long as you’re not on a tourist visa you can go to a driver testing center and apply for a Japanese license, but I don’t think the US has reciprocal arrangements with Japan so you have to jump through lots of hoops. For most western countries, all you have to do is pass an eye test, get your photo taken and pay the fee.

      • Selena

        I can speak to changing the US license – you have to take two tests and there are a lot of hoops to jump through. The driving/practical test can be tricky to pass: there’s a high level of failures and they are very picky BUT it’s not that difficult if you are a careful and experienced driver. The written test is easier for US license holders than the native test; only ten questions instead of a hundred, and you can do it in English.

        If you can get an Int’l license and you are relatively new to Japan (within the first year or two), I’d recommend doing that. It only costs about $40 to pick one up at a AAA office. You’re not allowed to use it if you have been living in Japan for a long time though.

  2. Tony P

    What you didn’t mention was if you had a Japanese licence. On my recent trip our booking was accepted but on collection were told that as we (both) had UK+international licences they could/would not rent to us!

    • CheapoGreg

      Sorry to hear that. According to their FAQ (in Japanese) they accept international drivers licenses. When were your international drivers licenses issued? They’re valid for 6 months in Japan from the date of issuance. If you let me know, I’ll add an appropriate warning.

      • Just an FYI, their FAQ currently states that they do not rent to international license holders. “国際免許での貸出しは行なっていません”

        • CheapoGreg

          Thanks for checking on that. Sounds like they might have changed the rules but didn’t bother updating the website until recently. I’ve put a warning box at the top so hopefully no one else gets caught out.

  3. Hello!
    We will arrive to Japan in april and we would like to rent a car for 17 days to travel around (I know everyone suggests public transport but we prefer self driving). We would rent the car in Tokyo so we are looking for cheap rental companies also according to your recomendations. We sent an email to Nikoniko. Since we don’t speak japanese we sent the email in english and we only received a short answer saying that they cannot rent us a car because they only deal in japanese (they only rent cars to those who understand the contract which is written in japanese). Do you have any suggestion on what to do?

    • CheapoGreg

      For English service you need to go with one of the more full service (higher price) companies. Reputable companies are Toyota Rentacar, Nippon Rentacar and Orix. Times Rentacar is another option – they provide English service and are more reasonable.

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