No trip to Tokyo would be complete without sampling a bit of car-culture in one way or another, and there’s probably no better way to do that then to get behind the wheel of an iconic Japanese sports car and get onto an iconic piece of Japanese mountain road. Tokyo is a coastal city, but surrounding it for 100’s of miles in nearly all directions are massive mountains and the ranges. Beyond the winding mountain passes are the highways that interlace the city. Any fan of Initial D, Wangan Midnight, or countless other Manga will be familiar with the landmarks and visual language that makes up this piece of Japanese culture.
Between the two business the requirements are essentially identical for non-Japanese drivers. On the day you drive you will need an International Driver’s Permit (or your local equivalent), your passport, your local driver’s licence/permit, payment (much of Japan is cash-only so it’s best to confirm before going), be 25 years or older, and be able to confidently drive manual cars.
Visiting Fun2Drive can be an adventure on its own if its your first time in Japan. Japanese trains are definitely some of the easiest to navigate and most efficient (on time) I’ve encountered in my travels, but reaching the station of Odiwara and finding the right bus to drive you up the winding road to Fun2Drive can be a challenge all the same. It requires going a bit off the well-beaten tourist track.
For my trip, I had a Japan Rail pass which meant I was definitely taking advantage of the Shinkansen (bullet train) that would take me directly to Odiwara from Tokyo. Buying a JR pass made financial sense since I had also made the trip to Kyoto and knew I would be taking the bullet train to Odiwara. If Fun2Drive was your only planned excursion outside of Tokyo during a trip, purchasing a JR pass would probably not make financial sense and you’d be better off buying individual tickets for the bullet train. You’ll have to do your own math when the time comes, but it’s worth considering as the ticket to Odiwara was $80 alone each direction when I travelled. Also, you *could* take a non-bullet train to Odiwara for a slightly lower price but given the travel time and the fact that you’d likely want to maximize your driving time, it’s worth the bullet train in time saved. Total transit time took us about 1hr45min each direction including the bus ride from Odiwara.
Despite the journey there being a substantial distance, Fun2Drive is located in a literal driver’s paradise. There’s amazing views and sweeping roads of varying skill levels right outside their entrance. You’ll find yourself in Hakone; renowned among driving fans for mountain drifting and touge, and of course used actively by locals for recreational driving so follow normal etiquette for enthusiasts when in the location!
We took some time to speak to our host from Fun2Drive about what roads and routes they would suggest given how long we were renting the cars for and what we were interested in seeing. The route they put together was very helpful - a physical map was provided and they also set up waypoints in my phone’s Google maps for me (which I still have today for when I return).
Some roads had a toll but really when you’re flying across the planet and paying for a sportscar, gas, and insurance - the cost of a few bucks here or there for road tolls evaporates in the face of the fun you’re having.
Beyond the costs to reach Fun2Drive itself, all told it cost me about $400 for 6 hours of time in a FD3S (including tolls, insurance, gas etc). The cost of the car rental does not include a mandatory membership fee (only need to pay this once if you visit them again within a year), insurance costs, a CDW waiver (mandatory if you’re not an insured Japanese driver), road tolls, and gas. The car must be returned with a full tank of the right kind of gas, and the receipt should be provided to Fun2Drive. Going over time will result in an overage cost which is of course fair.
Cars & condition.
At the time having had never driven one, the FD3S RX-7 was top of my list so it was reserved far in advance. My fellow driver rented the white and blue Honda S2000. The cars were safely maintained, but had certainly seen a fair amount of use. Maintenance was clearly focused on performance and safety (brakes and tires in great shape) and not so much on the cosmetics of the cars.
The FD3S had a relatively clean exterior, with only the odd paint chip or ding but overall nothing you’d be ashamed to motor around the Japanese countryside in. The interior had definitely seen rental car duty, but overall quite clean and it had a number of gauges that provided more accurate data (engine/water temp, boost pressure) than anything OEM would. The temp gauges proved useful as unfortunately the car overheated on me as we slowly made our way out of Odiwara toward the Mazda turnpike. Granted, we were driving the cars on a very hot day, and a slow pace doesn’t allow enough air to enter the small front area to cool the buzzy rotary, but it was a somewhat frustrating situation that ate into our driving time.
This meant the only thing to do was pull over and wait 20min while the car had a chance to cool down. You could argue that’s the authentic rotary experience.
"... the only thing to do was pull over and wait 20min while the car had a chance to cool down. You could argue that’s the authentic rotary experience…"
The S2000 had a number of exterior modifications, a full motorsports wrap inspired by Keihin’s SuperGT livery, ITBs on the engine (which sounded amazing in tunnels), and some serious weight reduction in the form of a stripped out interior/trunk and a hard top roof in place of the folding one. It also had a puddle of water in the trunk as it was no longer sealed from the elements and it had rained the night prior. Otherwise some clunks and rattles, but the car drove well albeit with an incredibly stiff setup on the coilovers.
The other cars at Fun2Drive were of varying conditions; the R35 GTR was obviously a newer car and appeared to be in great shape, as did the very early model NSX. Others like the R32 GTR and Hakosuka GTR clone had definitely seen better days with weather beaten clear coat and wiring looms hanging down under the dashboard. It would be a little disappointing to fly around the world to drive your dream car only to find it in a state that you wouldn’t buy yourself if you had the money, so set your expectations accordingly and you’ll have a good time.
The selection of cars at Fun2Drive is excellent. While there aren’t as many cars as their competition to choose from, they do maintain a stable that is guaranteed to have something for everyone’s interests from the early 70’s up to modern cars. There’s even a few interesting non-Japanese cars to choose from.
Japanese businesses in my experience always pride themselves on quality of service. Fun2Drive is the same in this way. Their communication is excellent, they’re very friendly and helpful, and will provide excellent advice on where to go and where to avoid. The whole process of renting the car was very straightforward and simple, and I appreciated the effort they made for English speaking customers like myself. By the time they had checked ours cars over after returning them, we were close to missing the last bus down to Odiwara station so our host drove us down in his own Subaru Legacy GT wagon which was, ahem, "lightly tuned". You can’t rely on this service as they were going above and beyond for us, but of course having a local show you how to drive on his roads was an entertaining way to wrap up our day.
Other things to be aware of when renting with Fun2Drive
- When we visited, we made sure to leave our AirBnB in Tokyo early enough to get out to Odiwara, and catch the slow-bus that must wind its way up a mountain in time for our appointment.
- Google maps gives great transit time estimates for the trip to Fun2Drive (and even bus/train platform numbers sometimes) if you need, and always give yourself a buffer or you’ll be giving up driving time.
- If you leave it too late (especially if you don’t take the Shinkansen from Tokyo) you may find yourself returning to Fun2Drive after they close, or worse; after the bus to Odiwara station stops running.
- Two of you can rent one car each and go off as a pair to have fun. However, if you are a trio or more you will be required to bring a Fun2Drive guide with you and go on a guided tour with them. This was something I did not want to do on my most recent visit, which is why I went with Omoshiro Rentacar.
Since Omoren has multiple locations and the cars have a home-base, where you go depends on which car you want to rent. There’s a few types of cars that are available at multiple locations, but the majority selection is at their head office in Noda. This is where I went to rent the blue R34 GTR I had been eyeing for years. Getting to Omoren’s Noda head office location was relatively simple. A single train transfer from Shibuya station in the middle of Tokyo and we found ourselves in Noda with a 15 minute walk from the station to the rental shop. The total transit time from Shibuya took us 40minutes (plus the 15minute walk), so it meant we could leave Tokyo centre a little later, and drive for longer.
Nora’s head office is hardly placed in a driver’s mecca. You’ll need to drive a little to find some twisty roads - our drive took us about 1hr10min of wandering before we found the roads we were looking for. Much of that 1hr10min was spent cruising highways at 80km/h with the odd burst to hear our turbos whistle before again slowing for the odd bit of traffic. Once we found a good destination (north towards Nikko) we set off making a good pace, but this transit time is something to be aware of and I would strongly recommend doing research before visiting Omoren so you know where you want to drive the car.
The helpful people who run Omoren speak some good English and provided some suggestions on a piece of paper in the car (we did not realize until after our drive) of where to visit, which when I return I will make sure to follow as their advice would always be best.
The total cost of renting from Omoren was substantially lower than Fun2Drive. Partly due to the simpler/cheaper transit required to reach the Noda (or Narita) offices, but also because the actual cost of renting and insuring their cars is lower. This makes them a great option for longer rentals, even overnight. Next time I visit I will likely take one of their cars for a few days because it’s so reasonable. What could be more fun than seeing parts of Tokyo and the outlying areas at your own pace that you’d otherwise never get to see?
Much like Fun2Drive, you pay for the rental, insurance, a mandatory CDW, a full tank of gas upon return, and any tolls you encounter on your way. The cars were all equipped with an electronic toll system which meant you could drive through a ‘fast pass’ gate, but I wasn’t sure how to settle the cost later so I opted to just pay the tolls in cash and it always only worked out to a few dollars in the area I drove.
Cars & condition.
Omoren has a huge selection of cars available. As I mentioned, they have a home base, and must be picked up from (and returned to) that location, but there are a few of the more popular models that are available in multiple locations. Their fleet skews much more toward modern cars, with nothing much older than the 90’s of note at the time I rented. This is probably a good thing as it means their maintenance costs are possibly lower, and parts availability would be simpler no doubt.
As I mentioned I rented the Bayside blue R34 GT-R. The car was in beautiful condition inside and out. I was stunned to see it had over 200,000km on it according to the cluster! It’s quite possible that’s accurate as given their location many of those km would be highway. The car was very well maintained; the tires had good tread on them, and the brakes had obviously been routinely flushed and extremely sticky pads had been used. I couldn’t find out what they were, but my brakes squealed like a good set of track pads, and once on some twisty stuff they warmed up a little the stopping power was pretty substantial.
The car had no squeaks and rattles which was impressive given its age and the duty it’s seen. According to the boost gauge in the (awesome) 90’s era LCD, the car was making peak of about .97bar, which I believe is detuned from stock levels. I’m nearly positive the turbos had been replaced with something slightly better flowing though as it felt like it pulled much more than that would suggest, and of course after 200,000km the stock turbos would be miraculous to survive! The interior was in great shape, and the car had only a few minor scratches on the outside. It’s clear Omoren cares for and maintains this car very well.
"... the Bayside blue R34 GT-R. The car was in beautiful condition inside and out. I was stunned to see it had over 200,000km on it..."
My travel partners rented the blue R33 GT-R and silver FD3S respectively. The R33 had been re-sprayed at some point with a very clear paint line across the roof behind the b-pillar, and had an intermittent but loud banging noise apparently in it which turned out to be the aftermarket exhaust binding up underneath the car on deceleration.
The car made good power, although once we got onto some twisty roads it was clear the brakes weren’t up to the task. It’s possible they pads were at the end of their life, or perhaps the lines needed a good bleeding, but after hearing from the driver I’d say it’s always wise to check the brakes meet your expectations right after picking up the car and talk to them if you’re concerned. We didn’t do this explicitly, but I would on a return visit for peace of mind.
The silver FD3S was in much better condition inside and out than the yellow FD3S I had rented from Fun2Drive. That said, they both were at a good level of maintenance and the driver of the silver FD3S reported it stopped well and pulled well when given some boot.
Much like Fun2Drive, the service at Omoren was exceptional. Their communication prior to our arrival was good, their accommodation for English-speaking visitors was great, and upon meeting the people who run the business it’s clear they’re friendly and take pride in their work.
We had an unfortunate circumstance with one of our drivers that could have resulted in them not being allowed to drive. I won’t go into the details, but it was an unfortunate circumstance and nobodies fault, but I mention it because Omoren would have been well within their rights to decline that driver’s rental. Instead, they went well above and beyond what we expected of them, and managed to sort out paperwork for us so all three drivers could drive. We were very impressed with their caring and commitment to service.
Other things to be aware of when renting with Omoshiro.
- Unlike Fun2Drive, after a quick walk-around of the cars, we were let loose on Japanese roads right away. The roads around Noda’s office are tight, have a fair amount of mid-day traffic, and you’ll need to be on your game if you’ve never driven in Japan (or on the right side of a car). There’s no test given to drivers, only consequences.
- Inside the office there are photos of other renters’ accidents - a tragically wrecked blue FD3S and GD STI, with information about the speed they were doing. There are also some wrecked cars in the lot behind the office, including the FD3S, which are reminders of what can happen in an instant if you get carried away pretending to be Takumi.
- As mentioned, plan your roads ahead of going to Omoren, or you will waste time figuring it out that you could be driving.
- I booked my car for 9 hours with Omoren. This is a long day of driving, and at the end of it you will likely feel somewhat uncomfortable in the car, consider if one long stint is good, or if you’d rather do two days of driving shorter stints.
Safety and etiquette.
- Japanese drivers I find are on average much better than many other countries. What I mean is in built up city areas they are very cautious and courteous, and in the countryside locals are of course more familiar with the twisting turning roads than you will be. It’s important to be safe, courteous and careful in a foreign country.
- If you encounter the police, you may be in for a difficult time if not fluent in Japanese. The police are very courteous but understandably will have little patience for someone visiting their country and paying their laws no regard.
- Your inability to understand Japanese characters or road-signs is not an excuse police will accept for breaking the law.
- Simply because you can rent a sportscar it doesn’t entitle you to drift their public roads, or otherwise drive like a jackass. Access to places like Fun2Drive is a privilege for foreigners and should be treated as such.
- You don’t need to know how to drive right-hand-drive, however with Fun2Drive you will be taken on a ‘test drive’ with a staff member to validate your driving abilities, and they reserve the right not to rent you a car if you’re acting like a hooligan or don’t appear comfortable and safe on their roads.
I hope this detailed information helps provide some guidance to anyone considering visiting either of this awesome businesses. I considered picking one over the other, but that’s not fair given I’ve only been to each once, they both offered great service and I felt I got amazing value from each experience. Really they do serve slightly different needs. If you’re unsure which to go with, I’d carefully consider how you want to spend your time and then how the details I provided would best meet your hopes. And of course if you have any questions not answered above, you can always drop me a line.
Both Fun2Drive and Omoshiro are great with communication via email and Facebook messenger, be patient and courteous and they will help answer any questions you have.