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Driving in Japan

How to: Using Expressways in Japan

How To

Japan’s expressways network runs over 7,000 kilometers and covers Japan’s four main islands and Okinawa. On the island of Honshu – the largest of the archipelago -, the expressways connect the city of Aomori, in the north, to Kagoshima, in the south.

With most information available both in Japanese and English, Japanese expressways are quite easy to use, but they also have some specificities that are good to know.

Tolls on the Japanese expressways

The cost of Japanese expressways is on a per-kilometer basis. Count about 25 yen for an ordinary vehicle, which is the category our RVs enter in. To calculate the final price, 150 yen is added to the total (rounded up to the nearest 50 yen), and then consumer tax (8%). To give you a better idea, a trip from Tokyo to Osaka will cost approximately 11,000 yen for about 500 kilometers.

There are three ways to pay: by Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), cash or credit card. If you pay by cash or credit card, you will have to proceed to the manual gate. It is indicated by the word “一般”. All you need to do is to insert your ticket in the machine and pay the amount displayed. If there is an attendant, simply hand it over to him.

The ETC system allows you to drive through a dedicated gate, indicated with the word “ETC” in white. To use it, you need to be equipped with a dedicated system. The toll fee will be calculated and deducted automatically from a card inserted in the device. If you are renting a car, you can check the following website to rent an ETC card: https://www.tocoo.jp/etc/index?lang=en
In that case, you will have to pay the tolls by credit card after returning it.

Expressways: Service and Parking Areas

Found along every highway across the country, parking areas (PAs) and service areas (SAs) are where drivers can take a break or grab a meal. PAs are usually simple rest stops equipped with free restrooms and some vending machines. SAs, located on average every 50 to 150 kilometers, can include restaurants, gasoline station, overnight parking, souvenir shops and even tourist information center.

Popular Service Areas:

Some services areas became so popular over the years that they kind of became a tourist attraction in itself. Among them are:

Hanyu SA: Very popular stop on the Tohoku expressway. Opened in 2013, this service area was designed like a town from the Edo period, from the architecture to the restaurant’s menus.

Ebina SA: Popular stop for those who go from Tokyo to visit Mount Fuji or Kawaguchi lake, the Ebina service area is like a giant modern shopping center filled with restaurants and souvenirs shop.

Fujikawa SA: With an incredible view of Mount Fuji and on the nearby river, Fujikawa is a nice stop on the Tomei highway. Restaurants are offering locally-grown seasonal food. It even has an official website in English: http://www.fujikawarakuza.co.jp/english/

Awaji SA: Gateway to the Shikoku island, on the Kobe-Awaji-Naruto expressway, this service area offers a view on the world’s longest suspension bridge. A tourist information center is also available.

Traffic on the expressways:

Chuo and Tomei Expressways, that both connects Tokyo to Nagoya and respectively follow the inland route to the West of Tokyo and the coastal route to the South-West, are well known for their congestions during big holidays.

People who wish to travel to Japan should avoid traveling during four major holidays: New Year, Golden Week (late April to early May), Obon (August) and Silver Week (September).

To have an idea of the traffic in real-time, you can check the following website:

What to do in case of an accident:

For everyone’s safety, there are a few rules to follow in case of an accident. If you are forced to stop your car:

Do not walk on the expressway.
– Signal the approaching vehicles by turning on your hazard lights, igniting flares and setting up a warning sign.
– After checking that the traffic lanes are safe, evacuate to a safe area. For example, outside the guardrail.
– Notify the authorities: 110 or 9910 (road emergency). Emergency telephones are usually installed every kilometer (200 meters inside tunnels).

Overall, Japanese expressways are a very convenient way to travel across Japan. Not only are they well maintained, but they have all the services you might need during your trip!

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