Because there were 6 of us and an infant that were traveling to Hokkaido, I booked a car in advance on rentalcars.com. Not many of the rental sites showed the bigger cars, so I jumped on the first one I could get. (Tip: don’t change the arrival and departure times to your actual times, this resulted in 0 available cars for me. Instead, I let the default of noon rule, and rented the car for a few extra hours on both ends). A Mazda Premacy, with a total of 7 bucket seats, 1 occupied by an infant car seat, for 5 days cost $455.28. When compared to a car of the same requirements in Houston, which is a comparative population size to Sapporo (around 2 million people), the cost is approximately $470 for 5 days, without a car seat or fees on March 13, 2017.
Arrival in New Chitose Airport
Mike and I arrived at the New Chitose Airport, just outside of Sapporo and met my sister, her husband and my nephew. We were instructed to call the rental car company to notify them of our reservation via a courtesy phone on the desk of the Times Rental Car company booth. My brother-in-law knew the most Japanese, as he had taken courses in high school and had lived in Japan for the last year, so he was volunteered. About 20 minutes later, a representative showed up to take us and another family on a bus to the rental car center. I presented the rental voucher, my international drivers permit and my passport to the representative. He returned with instructions on how to get back, where to gas the car, how to attach the infant seat, when we could drop it off, where NOT to park (blue sign with red cross over it), and a reminder to drive on the left side of the road. We jumped in the car and he showed me how to program the GPS. Each place has a “map code” and if we entered the map code, it would take us directly to our destination. Thank goodness, this would be easier with numbers rather than characters. We entered the map code of our chalet in Niseko, and I started to drive. Driving on left took some getting used to.
“Turn left but stay on the left,” instructed my co-pilot sister, Amanda. “No, stay on the left!” she said as sharply as I jerked on the wheel to put us back in the left lane. Luckily it was about 930pm at night and the traffic was sparse. My learning curve was steep and I soon became semi-comfortable with left road-side, right car-side driving.
Jump to Dropping the Car Off on the 5th Day
Our flight was at 8:10am. I had told the representative we’d bring the car back at 7:30 am, because I didn’t think it was important to be accurate. We also hadn’t agreed on a time to get to the airport, and that was not a conversation I wanted to have after traveling for 24 hours. Having already filled it with fuel the night before the flight, we decided to meet at 6:00 am to turn the car in. The rental car center had a shuttle bus from the airport when we arrived, so we assumed we’d get a ride back to the airport. I, personally, thought 6am was too early, but I agreed.
We arrived at the rental car center about 6:20 am after a couple wrong turns. The center was completely empty. The doors were locked and cars covered in snow showed they had not been moved in some time. We parked the Mazda and removed our things. My sister, brother-in-law and nephew had stayed behind in Sapporo and our traveling companions were now a couple we had known for years, Carly and Graeme. Graeme circled the rental car center, looking for people or open doors. I reread all the papers searching for instructions. Carly scoured the internet and Mike looked at his map for alternative transportation.
“There’s no one here,” Graeme called out to us.
“I think we’re supposed to leave the keys in it and call the rental car company,” Carly read from the website.
“There’s nothing else in the paperwork except how to get here,” I reported.
“There’s a train stop, about a 5 minute walk from here that goes to the airport,” Mike exclaimed.
“Which way?” we all wonder aloud, picking up our drooping bags and following Mike towards the station. No trains were coming or going when we reached the station, and the way to get to the platform was unclear. Time was ticking.
“Is that a taxi? Should we take it?” Carly asked us all. We considered our situation.
“Let’s take it. We don’t know the train schedule, we might wait here for another half hour before a train comes,” Graeme responds realistically. We all agree and pile into the cab.
We come to a stop outside the domestic terminal at New Chitose Airport not 10 minutes later and rush to check in to our flight. We are in line for security by 7am, in time to find something to eat and return to our gate by 7:55 am, boarding time. The Japanese are incredibly efficient at boarding planes; first the window seats, then the middle seats, and last the aisle seats in only 15 minutes, taking off on time.
I never heard from the rental car company again and was never charged more than the original charge, so we must have figured it out.
Future Foreign Rental Car Commitments
· Be more honest on drop-off times (at least when committing in person)
· Ask about the shuttle ahead of time
· Ask about the hours of the rental car company and what to do after hours
· Be earlier than I think I need to be
Anyone else have experience with this? Besides the crazy drop-off, it was a wonderful way to see some of the island.
Let’s get lost in a rental car on Hokkaido!