Winter driving can be pretty treacherous, and you can never be too careful. When driving in Japan in the winter, remember to be aware of the road conditions. You might think that December is too early to think about heavy snowfalls, but while in Tokyo you might just feel the autumn leaves are still falling, it is the time in some northern parts of Honshu and Hokkaido that the snow piles up in alarming quantities.
Even those of you who are very seasoned to driving in wintery conditions will find it rough going when the snow starts to fly, or when driving through the mountains during winter. Here are some useful tips to remember if you’re new to winter driving here:
Check the weather conditions and the road traffic warnings before you leave
As obvious as it may sound, there will be places where you will need to be prepared with snow tires or chains and there has been cases where people get stuck because they ignored this fact. Here there is a mobile app (Japanese and English) named Japan Road Traffic Info Viewer (for iPhone), where you will find road traffic information and eventual heavy snow warnings :
You may also check this website: Drive Traffic (in English)
Check your equipment and gasoline!
Canadians, Americans and Europeans are use to see salted roads. However most of Japan doesn’t do that. This means that If you are used to “all-weather” tires in your home country – Be careful! You may find your car unable to get up even the smallest incline on a cold, snowy day. Snow tires or chains are imperative for winter driving in Japan! In Tokyo metropolitan you may get away with not needing snow tires, but we still recommend a set of chains to keep in the trunk. Especially if you’re driving to ski resorts. Check your gas tank as well, you will appreciate to be warm if you get stuck in the snow.
Keep snow removal kit!
This can be as simple as keeping a small windshield ice scraper, brush and foldable shovel in the trunk as well. You’ll also notice how Japanese people will fold their wiper blades away from the glass if they know snow or freezing rain will hit. This prevents the blades from cracking and makes it easy to deice the windshield later.
Enjoy the snow and stay safe!