In the inaka you can still try to get a bike, so the only difference I see is in the distance they can have you travel. Up to 10km commute on a bike isn't that much of challenge... unless of course it's in the middle of summer, then I imagine it will suck.
I can speak from experience that my placement REQUIRES a car. Sure, I could get to work and back without one -- I'm only 3 km from my further away school. But the nearest grocery store is 45 km away and on the other side of two large mountains. There is a bus that runs on weekends twice a day in each direction, so I suppose technically
it would be possible to make do without a car... but it is highly unlikely. Especially considering that I have monthly meetings in which I have an hour between when my classes end and when the meeting starts -- couldn't make that 45 km trip in that time on a bike and the bus doesn't run then.
Not to stress anyone out. I think what it boils down to is that marking on your application that you are able and willing to drive gives them a better idea of if you will be able to work well in a placement like mine. Super rural placements usually require driving. More urban placements don't as much. Also, biking 10 km in the middle of summer would suck... but so would biking 10 km in the middle of winter with a meter of snow all around you and ice under your tires. It's doable, but there are some inaka placements where it is simply practical to get a car.
For those thinking about getting a license -- if you've never driven a car before, don't rush out to get a license now. If you have a learner's permit (like I think the OP does?) then it might be worth getting a full license. Just not if you overreach that 3 month mark.... if you come to Japan with a license that has less than 3 months on it, you will be able to use your international drivers permit just fine for the first year, and then when you take the Japanese drivers test... you'll have to pay close to US$2000 for driving classes as well as the test, whereas if you have those three months before you come, you only have to pay for the test (something like US$30-60). It makes a big difference. Past that though, I don't think it really makes a big difference.
Viloxai wrote: Also, second question; if I were to be placed in a rural area and told that I need to drive, do we have to buy a car in Japan ourselves? Or would we be provided with one, and receive fuel expenses? My worry is that if I get such a placement, and I'm told I have to buy a car with my own money, there's no way I would be able to afford one, nor afford the fuel to run it, therefore I'd have to ask for a placement change or ultimately drop out of the programme.
As Jax said, there's no such thing as asking for a different placement. It doesn't happen. As for buying a car and paying for fuel -- the JET salary is more than enough to do both of those things. And buying a used car in Japan is far cheaper than it is anywhere else I've heard of. For example, I paid the equivalent of US$2000 for my car. It's in perfect running order and had a year and a half left on it's shaken (a bi-yearly check up for your car that can be rather expensive, but as long as you plan for it properly it's not a problem). As for the cost of fuel, first year JETs next year will be paid roughly $2500 a month. That is more than enough to buy a tank of gas every two weeks... or even every week. Yes, the cost of the car up front is difficult, but a lot of predecessors are willing to work out a payment scheme for their cars, and if you buy from a dealership, they also will usually work out a way you can pay in installment payments up to 6 months. It's certainly doable. The fuel expenses are considered part of your responsibilities as you are considered a professional adult -- all of your coworkers pay for their gas, so you should pay for yours as well, I promise the salary is more than enough to cover it.
That said, there are a few BoEs that will provide the ALT a car -- however, if that is the case, it may not be available for the ALT to use whenever he/she likes. So you might not be permitted to use it for grocery shopping but only to get to and from school. To me, my own vehicle seems more useful at that point than using a borrowed car.
Really though, you shouldn't let yourselves stress out too much about these questions at this stage of the game. For now, save up money, and breathe. You can worry about specifics and what-ifs later. Good luck everyone!