Car Parking in Japan: A Guide for Overseas Tourists 

Parking in Japan is one of the hardest parts of driving – if you are in a city. There is plenty of car parking in Japan in the countryside and around major shopping centres. 

When driving, you need to know several things about parking in Japan – where to park, what the Japan car parking culture is, how you pay for parking, where parking is prohibited, and what happens if you park where it is prohibited. 

Car Rental in Japan
  • Easy comparison of multiple car rental provider options using Klook, DiscoverCars or RentalCars
  • TooCoo! is a local Japanese car comparison site that has the most options available
  • Clear description of included protection and excess
  • Good cancellation options
  • Child seats, GPS, electronic toll cards, second driver and more are available as add-ons

Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group or Discord Server

You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group and our Japan Travel Planning Discord Server – they are great resources to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

How Does Car Parking in Japan Work

Parking in Tokyo, Osaka or another big city is very different from parking in a small, historical city; and very different again from anywhere else you may be parking in Japan. 

Car parking in Tokyo and Osaka differs from parking in the rest of Japan because the land is at such a premium in the big cities. This has forced them to create special solutions for parking in Tokyo and other big cities such as Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and Sendai. 

Outside the big cities, parking in Japan is a very different matter. There are big parking spaces in Japan around the many small supermarkets that dot rural areas, and car parking in Japan is never a problem – outside the city centres. 

Example of a Japanese Car Park
Example of a Japanese Car Park

Types of Parking in Japan 

Parking in Japan is famously inventive, driven by the lack of land in the city centres. There are several inventive solutions to combat the lack of space for parking in Japan – but most parking in Japan is anyhow in traditional, open parking lots. 

Street Parking Using Parking Meters

There are a few places in the big cities where meter parking in Japan is possible. Street parking in Japan is uncommon and is mostly forbidden, even where the streets are wide enough to park. But where there are parking meters in Japan, street parking is possible. 

Parking on the street in Japan is permitted only where there is a parking sign, often with a time limit written beneath or to the right of the P. 

Parking meters in Japan work very much the same as parking meters anywhere else: you insert coins, turn the lever, and the meter gives you time. Not very much (how much time you get on the parking meter in Japan for 100 yen, the most common coin, depends on where you are). When parking in Tokyo, you may get less than 10 minutes. 

Paid Parking Lots

A far more common type of Japanese car park is paid parking lots. Paid parking lots in Japan can be very small (it is not uncommon with lots as small as three parking spaces).

There are two types of paid parking in Japan: with a steel plate that flips up under the car to stop it from leaving until the parking is paid; and monitored by security cameras only. That type of parking in Japan works as well as anywhere else, which means hardly at all. The steel plates are far more effective in stopping cars that have not paid their fee. If you try to leave without paying, you must call a wrecker, as the Japanese call tow trucks. 

Steel Plates in Paid Parking Lot
Steel Plates in Paid Parking Lot

Public Car Parks

Unless they are in the city centres, all shopping centres in Japan need to have parking lots. But the Coronavirus pandemic changed how parking in Japanese shopping centres was paid for.

Before Covid, you would get a parking ticket when you entered the shopping centre and have it validated in the store when you purchased something; you would feed the ticket to the machine at the gate. If your parking ticket was not validated, you would have to pay. 

During Covid, parking in Japanese shopping centres has been free. No ticket is issued, and no validation is done. 

How it will be in the future is anyone’s guess. Some shopping centre parking in Japan will probably return to the previous model, but others will keep it free. 

Public Car Park in Japan
Public Car Park in Japan

Multi-Storey Car Parks in Japan

Most of the shopping centre parking in Japan are multi-storey parking garages. The Aeon shopping malls have parking lots in Japan on the roof of the buildings, with plenty of parking space. 

In some city centres, in particular, in the bigger medium-sized centres like Sendai, there are multi-storey parking garages in the city centres too, not affiliated with any particular stores. 

When using city centre garages for parking in Japan, check if they validate tickets from the store where you intend to shop before parking. If not, you will have to pay when you leave. The machines at the garage exit of parking in Japan take both cash and credit cards. 

Automated Car Parks

The scarce space for parking has driven the creativity of Japanese engineers and city planners to create a clever Japan parking system. The automated parking garage in Japan is famous worldwide for its ingenuity, but in practice, the automated Japan car parking system is not fully automated – there is usually an attendant. 

Popular city areas are dotted with narrow towers that are a Japanese car garage. They contain automated parking spaces. They are usually one of two types, depending on the size of the building: A chain of baskets or trays which go around the building, carrying the cars, or an elevator that delivers the car. 

Elevator Car Parking
Elevator Car Parking

A Japan car parking lift often requires you as a driver to sit in the car and find the assigned parking space yourself, but there are automated parking garages in Japan where the car is moved into position and placed in the right spot. 

This kind of rotating car parking system demands a lot of energy and is becoming increasingly uncommon as the cost of electricity goes up, and the use of cars in the narrow city centres declines. 

Rotating Car Parking System
Rotating Car Parking System

If the automated car park places the car in the right place, all you have to do when you have requested your car be returned is wait. It will be moved out by the system, rolled onto the turnstile, and turned around automatically. 

Free Parking

Free Japan car parking is quite common, but not on city streets. There is parking in Japan at supermarkets and convenience stores where you can leave your car for at least 30 minutes, maybe longer depending on the location. Convenience store parking in Japan typically checks how long your car has been standing there, but supermarket parking in Japan will not check even if you leave your car for a couple of hours – as long as it is not sitting in the parking lot overnight.   

Parking on the road first assumes that there is space to park. Street parking in Japan is very uncommon simply because there is not even space for two cars to meet on many streets, let alone park. And even where it is possible, there are a lot of restrictions. One of the biggest is buying a car; you have to have a parking space in Japan. While this can be rented, most people try to find one either in their house or building. 

Parking in the street overnight in Japan, even where possible, is something only temporary visitors will do. And the police will not approve your car purchase if you only have street parking in Japan. 

There are plenty of parking lots in Japan with what seems like empty spaces, but they are usually rented out to people in the area, and there may not be any sign (or handwritten signs) stating that the parking lot is rented. Be careful not to park there.

As many restaurants in older areas do not have any parking spaces or only very limited parking space in front of the store, they will rent parking space in a nearby parking area, which will be limited. There will usually be a sign in Japanese showing where the additional parking spaces are. It may be in front or behind another house entirely. When you are parking in a parking space in Japan that is rented out to a restaurant, be careful to take the right space. Usually, there will be a sign with the name and logo of the store.  

Parking Signs in Japan

With parking restricted in so many ways, you would expect the “car parking prohibited” sign with its distinctive red bar in a red circle across a blue background to be uncommon. But it, and its sister “no stopping” sign with two red crossing bars forming an X, are found in many places you might not expect someone to park or stop. The reason is that they can be time restricted: often, small white numbers on the top of the red circle (or on a supplementary sign) show the times when parking is permitted or prohibited on the streets of Japan. 

The same constraint – but in reverse – applies to the parking sign in Japan. The times when parking is permitted can be shown in additional numbers on the blue P sign in Japan (which is usually round, not square, as the international standard for parking signs demands). 

Example of Parking Signs
Example of Parking Signs

Even when there are permitted (or prohibited) times for parking in Japan, there can be exceptions. If there are exceptions to the permitted times for parking in Japan, they will be shown on an auxiliary sign posted underneath the main sign. 

Easy to Misunderstand Parking Signs

It is easy to mix up the “no parking” and “no stopping” signs. Since they are the only signs with a blue background inside a red circle among the Japanese road signs, they do not look like any other traffic sign. But there are plenty of other round signs with a red rim and a white circle, so if you do not remember the blue background for the Japanese “No parking” and “no stopping” signs, mistakes become easy. 

As a visitor, you must also ensure you do not park in a forbidden space. If the word 駐車場 is followed by 禁止 it means parking is prohibited there. 

Also, make sure that there is a parking space before you enter the parking lot. Paid parking in Japan usually advertises that there is parking with a sign saying either “満” when the parking is full or “空” when there is empty space. 

Prices for Parking in Japan

The price of parking in Japan can be hugely different depending on where in a city you are. Even a few meters can mean a difference of a hundred yen per day, and the more attractive the location, the more expensive it will be. 

In a small city, you can find parking lots priced as cheap as 200 yen per 24 hours; in the centre of a big city, you can pay anywhere between 6000 and 12000 yen per 24 hours, with hourly fees corresponding. 

Example of Parking Prices
Example of Parking Prices

Illegal Parking in Japan (Parking Violations)

Since it may be difficult to find somewhere to park your car outside official parking lots in Japan, illegal parking in Japan is not very common. But it happens, even if it is an honest mistake. When you park your car, even if it is only for a few minutes, make sure that it is in a location where parking is allowed.   

Examples of Illegal Parking Areas Where Parking is Prohibited

Parking in Japan is not only prohibited where there are no parking and no stopping signs. In principle, parking in Japan is prohibited anywhere it is not expressly allowed. But there are exceptions even in places where parking (and stopping) may be allowed since there are no signs telling you not to stop (or not to park).

First, you are never allowed to park or stop in front of police or fire stations. There is typically a grid with diagonal lines where stopping is prohibited. You will even see cars avoiding this area when traffic is congested – they will leave a gap and not stop in it, so cars will never be bumper to bumper there.

The second rule regarding parking on the street in Japan is that stopping and parking in Japan on the street is not allowed within 5 meters of a pedestrian crossing on either side of it. 

The third basic rule is that you cannot park in Japan in front of a water cistern that fire brigades use. This applies even if parking is allowed on the street. And here is where it gets tricky. 

Water cisterns are shown by a round red sign at the side of the road. But that is not the only way. And there may not be any sign to show the location of the cistern, only another marker. The first marker showing a cistern is yellow lines along the pavement. You can not park there. 

In addition, there are manholes with a yellow line around them (and often a picture of a fire truck on them). In Japan, parking is also prohibited in front of those manholes. 

No Parking Marking - Manhole
No Parking Marking – Manhole

This means there is not much space to park on the street, even where parking in Japan is allowed. 

How Does Parking Enforcement Work

As so many parking spaces in Japan are private, enforcing parking regulations often falls to private contractors. The police will only rarely encounter vehicles in public spaces that commit parking violations in Japan, but of course, it happens. It is more common for vehicles in private parking spaces in Japan to cause traffic violations. In that case, the private parking space operator will report the vehicle to the police, which means the enforcement can take quite some time. 

Penalties for Illegal Parking

When a vehicle is illegally parked in Japan, especially on the street or in areas where it may be considered a traffic hazard, for instance, by blocking traffic, it will receive a parking ticket. If it remains for a longer time, the owner may be requested to take care of it. Only in extreme cases will it be moved. 

How to Pay Parking Fines

When a vehicle is illegally parked in Japan, the owner of the vehicle is responsible for any fines on the vehicle (unless it has been reported as stolen). Paying parking fines is a several-step process: First, you have to go to the police office written on the ticket; there, you have to complete the paperwork to pay a fine, and then you have to pay the fine in a post office or bank. 

If you have a rental car, the rental car company will, of course, be formally responsible; but it is much better to pay the fine than risk getting it and a hefty administrative fine charged to your credit card. Or, even better, avoid parking fines altogether. 

How Do The Japanese Park Their Cars (Car Parking Etiquette)

Japanese parking lots are famous for being extremely well organized. Entering and exiting, drivers follow the arrows on the ground showing where to go to search for a parking space. At the big supermarket and shopping centre parking lots in Japan, hordes of brightly uniformed security guards wave traffic along with their little orange batons. 

Some places in the parking lots are smaller than others and usually painted with the character “軽自動車” or just “軽”. These spaces are reserved for the small “kei” cars, the ubiquitous Japanese runabouts that serve as workhorses for small companies, farmers, and families. Do not try to park an ordinary car in those spaces. 

The default way of parking in Japan is with the rear facing back and the front outwards. But as usual in Japan, there are plenty of exceptions.

Example of Rear Facing Parking  - Except for One Car
Example of Rear-facing Parking – Except for One Car

When parking on the street in Japan, you will not park your car perpendicular to traffic unless there is a special sign requesting you to do so. Where there are no exception signs, you will normally park parallel to the sidewalk. But there can be signs – on the street or in parking lots, requesting different ways to park your car in Japan. 

Normal exceptions from the Japanese parking rules are to park your car with the rear facing outward, to park diagonally, or to park diagonally but with the front facing outward. And of course, as so often when you park in Japan, there can be time restrictions to the rules, written on the signs themselves or on supplementary signs underneath. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Parking in Japan

How the word 'parking' is written in Japanese
How the word ‘parking’ is written in Japanese
Car Rental in Japan
  • Easy comparison of multiple car rental provider options using Klook, DiscoverCars or RentalCars
  • TooCoo! is a local Japanese car comparison site that has the most options available
  • Clear description of included protection and excess
  • Good cancellation options
  • Child seats, GPS, electronic toll cards, second driver and more are available as add-ons
Car Parking in Japan

You may also like:

Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group or Discord Server

You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group and our Japan Travel Planning Discord Server – they are great resources to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Wisterian Watertree has lived in Japan for more than 15 years, and traveled the country from the southern tip of Okinawa to the northern edge of Hokkaido with his three children. Enjoying every minute of it, even the tantrums and hours spent looking for lost mittens in the snow. Now he writes books dedicated to help others get the best out of Japan.