Fueling Up: A Guide to Japanese Gas Stations

When you are driving in Japan, after a while you will need petrol (unless you rented an electric car). It is time to fill up the tank so you will need to take your car to one of the many Japanese Gas Stations. 

In this article, we will help you find gas stations in Japan and explain the two main types of gas stations. We will also give you lots of other useful information including the types of gas used in Japan, what gas prices to expect, what food and amenities you can find at Japan gas stations and even some useful phrases you can use to make communication easier.

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Japanese Gas Stations

If you do not speak Japanese, finding a gas station may be a challenge. While your car navigation has a function to identify points of interest by area – such as gas stations near you – navigating the car navigation system without knowing Japanese is an insurmountable obstacle. Also, you have no idea what the different menus mean, how to select something in your proximity, and what a “gas station” may be called in Japanese (hint: It is actually called “gasorin stando” – ガソリンスタンドwhich translates to ‘gasoline stand’ in English). 

How to Find Gas Stations in Japan

When you are planning a road trip, you need to include visits to a Japanese gas station. Otherwise, you will run out of gasoline during the trip, and get stuck somewhere while you are waiting for someone to come and rescue you with a tank full of gasoline. 

In most of Japan, there are gas stations every few kilometres. In urban and populated areas, there are never any problems finding Japanese gas stations. But there are many other areas, especially tourist areas in the mountains where you are likely to make a road trip, where the gas stations are few and far between. 

Before making a road trip, during the planning stages, you will want to check where gas stations in Japan are located – and especially where they are not located. Make a note of the last gas station before the empty area, so you can stop there and fill up your car. It is an easy way to avoid unpleasant surprises. 

If your car gas metre is starting to beep and flash a warning that you had better fill up within 15 kilometres, or else, then that pretty quickly gets old. Especially if you are in the countryside or, worse, in the mountains and there is nothing around except trees, rice fields, and the occasional farm. 

There are two easy ways to find the nearest gas station in Japan: The first is to check the map in the car navigation system for Japan gas station brands – Eneos, Idemitsu, Cygnus, Apollo and Cosmo. Shell and Esso petrol stations in Japan are gradually being rebranded.

Cosmo Gas Station

The other way of finding a gas station in Japan when on a road trip is through Google Maps, which works very well in English in Japan, as long as you do not look for specific addresses. Just put in “gas stations near me” and search. You will see where they are and can easily get to them by pressing “directions”. Just remember that when driving a car, you are completely prohibited from using your mobile phone. You either have to stop (which can be tricky in Japanese traffic), or someone else in the car has to do it for you. 

If you are driving on Japanese highways, you have less to worry about. There will normally be a petrol station once every 5 to 10 kilometres, in the service areas where you also can get a bite to eat, browse the local specialities, charge your electric car or let your dog run. Plus, of course, visit the toilets … and the gas filling station. 

Japan gas stations in highway service areas are not much different from gasoline stations in other places, with one important difference: the price. Gasoline on the highway is at least 10 yen more expensive than gas off the expressways, regardless of type. The cheapest gasoline in Japan you get from the Costco gas stands, which are at least ten yen cheaper than a comparative gas station in Japan. 

How Japanese Gas Stations Work

There are two types of Japanese gas stations: Serviced and self-service. Gas stations on Japanese highways are usually self-service.

Full-service Gas Stations in Japan

The serviced gas station in Japan used to be an example of the Japanese concept of “omotenashi”, when cars still were uncommon and gasoline cheap. In a serviced gas station, the attendants flock to your car in a cross between an F1 pitstop and upscale hotel bellboys. One person washes the windows; one wipes the headlights; one fills up the car; and one brings the change. 

You just have to drive up to the pump, roll down your window and say “mantan” (満タン) which means full tank (the first kanji, you may notice, is the same as what appears where the parking lot is full). If you want to take a break, there is a driver’s room with toilets and drink vending machines. Usually, there are also other car-related related services, like tyre changes and underside coating. 

Unfortunately, these stations are becoming scarce. They are being replaced by self-service gasoline stations, where you have to fill up the car yourself. 

Gas Pumps

Self-service Japanese Gas Stations

At Japanese self-service gas stations, you have to do all the work yourself, although there is usually an attendant to help if something goes wrong. In some of the self-service gas stations in Japan, you can pay with cash rather than a credit card; the pump prints out a receipt with a QR code on it.

Gas Pump QR Code Reader

You then have to bring that code to the cash machines next to the attendant’s office and pay there (other chains have the cash payments integrated into the pump, in the same way as vending machines work).

When you are starting the transaction, you sometimes get the option to choose a different language. Not all companies have it, and occasionally the translations appear to be made by elementary school children – definitely not by professionals. Google Translate can be a great resource here, as it has a speech-to-text function that lets you understand what the machine is saying.   

Typically, when paying in cash, you pay after you fill up. When paying with a credit card, you do not have to think about change, but there are a few steps before you get there. 

When you pull up to the pump at a gas station in Japan – after first checking that you have the pump on the same side as the gas tank – you have to first put in your credit card, then any discount cards you may have, and then choose what kind of gasoline you want, and whether you want a full tank or just fill it up partly (for instance, if you just want to put in 1000 yen worth of gasoline). 

After that, you have to rub the big black static electricity discharge button, take the right nozzle, press the handle, and fill up the car. You may have to be careful to make the gasoline flow as it might take a couple of times of pulling the handle. Check that the pump starts ticking up the numbers to confirm it’s working. Sometimes the pressure in the tank is higher than the outside, and this fools the sensor in the nozzle. 

Which Type of Gasoline Should You Choose? 

Always ask when you rent a car which type of gasoline it needs. Usually, the answer is regular, but some sportier cars run better on premium. 

The red nozzle is regular gasoline, and the yellow is premium (high octane). You should not choose the green nozzle unless you are driving a truck. There are very few diesel cars on Japanese roads and no ordinary personal cars use diesel. 

Gas Pump Close-up

Often, there is a small shack to the side, with people filling up gasoline tanks and jerry cans, especially in fall and winter. That is the filling station for kerosene. Putting it in your car would be even worse than filling it up with diesel, so why are so many Japanese filling up so many tanks, especially in fall and winter? 

In Japan in winter, kerosene heaters are an extremely common way of heating homes. The red glow of kerosene heaters makes Japanese people feel warm already by looking at them. And here is where they get their kerosene. 

What are the Gas Prices in Japan? 

While the price of gasoline is no less subject to fluctuation than prices of gas in other countries, it is heavily taxed. During the latest crisis, the Japanese government used this to lower the taxes so the oil companies would keep operating even when facing a steep increase in oil prices.

As a result, gas prices in Japan remained relatively steady over the past six months or so, stabilising at 150 – 155 yen per litre for regular gasoline (the red nozzles). This is not as expensive as in many European countries, but of course more expensive than in the US and Australia. Japan is a physically small country and a little gasoline goes a long way. 

Japanese Gas Prices

But there is local variation in the gasoline price, on top of the variation caused by importing gasoline from world markets to Japan. Each prefecture sets its own taxes, and the tax rate varies between the different prefectures. So gasoline prices in Japan will be slightly different between Tokyo and Yokohama, Ibaraki and Gunma, Osaka and Hokkaido, and Okinawa and Miyagi.  

It’s important to note that as prices are set on a daily basis by the world markets, they can be changed at a moment’s notice. Prices are displayed on LED displays in front of the gasoline station. 

Japanese Gas Station Food and Amenities

Different from other countries, Japanese gas stations do not have much in the way of amenities. Even though they sometimes are co-located with convenience stores, that is by no means the norm. The manned gas stations in Japan will have “driver’s rooms” where you can sit down and grab a drink from the vending machines; or get some simple car accessories, like scent diffusers … and visit the restroom. They do not have tools, candy, lottery tickets, soft drinks, ice cream, emergency equipment, tires, paint, car stereos, and other things you might find in gas stations in other places than Japan. 

In self-service Japanese gas stations, you will find even fewer amenities. Typically there is a vending machine in the self-service gas stations in Japan, a toilet (if there is an attendant), some paper and rags, and if there is a car wash, a cloth to wipe the car clean. 

Useful Phrases in Japanese Gas Stations

These are some useful phrases to use when at a gas station in Japan.

  • Self-service Japanese gasoline station: self (セルフ)
  • Full tank: Mantan (満タン)
  • (Credit) card: Kaado (カード)
  • Select type of fuel: Gasorin erande kudasai (ガソリン 選んで 下さい)
  • Please touch static electricity discharge button: Sedenkibotan sawatte kudasai (瀬電気ボタン 触って 下さい)
  • Please take your receipt: Recito ukrtotte kudasai (レシート 受け取って 下さい).
Car Rental in Japan - Use Coupon Code K49O12 to get a 1,000 Yen Discount
  • Easy comparison of multiple car rental provider options using ToCoo!
  • Use coupon code K49O12 to get your 1,000 yen discount
  • ToCoo! 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

Frequently Asked Questions about Gas Stations in Japan

Japanese Gas Stations - Pinterest

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