I hope all is well and that you are having a great day.
We are a family of three and will be traveling from Haneda (Tokyo) to Ikaho onsen, Minamiuonuma, Shibu onsen, Karuizawa, then finally Kusatsu onsen, returning to Haneda, from 11/29 to 12/3 (roughly 5 days in total).
We plan to rent a car at the airport and wonder if renting a basic or compact car such as Vitz will be fine during this time of year? Is it necessary to rent 4W drive and request for snow tires?
Thanks for contacting Go! Nagano with your question about driving around Japan this winter.
I can’t predict when it will begin snowing this year, but it’s always better to be prepared in case of an unexpected heavy dump of snow. I’d recommend getting snow tires on your vehicle, as even if you don’t plan on traveling in mountainous areas, highways will likely require you to have snow tires once snow starts falling.
4WD is great if you plan to visit ski resorts in the mountains, but shouldn’t be necessary for Shibu Onsen, Karuizawa, or Kusatsu. (I’ve never personally visited Ikaho Onsen or Minamiuonuma, so I can’t say for sure regarding those two.)
Compact vehicles are fine during winter. Many people in Japan use kei cars, light vehicles with 660cc-or-below engines, year-round; a Vitz would feel quite powerful in comparison.
I hope that answers your question. Let me know if I can help with anything else!
Thank you very much for your recommendation, Blair!