With Japan Experience, discover everything there is to know before taking a highway in Japan and get ready to explore the country!
A dense network of highways
Japan’s highway network covers 7,000 km of the country. This network connects Aomori, in the north of Honshu, to Kagoshima in the south of Kyushu, while including the island of Shikoku. Although they are not connected to the Honshu-Kyushu-Shikoku network, the islands of Okinawa and Hokkaido also have their own highway.
The most frequently used are:
- The Tohoku Highway, which connects Tokyo to Aomori
- The Tomei Highway, which connects Tokyo to Nagoya via the Pacific Coast
- The Chuo Highway, which also connects Tokyo to Nagoya but via the mountains and passing through the regions of Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Nagano and Gifu. It also provides access to Mount Fuji and the five lakes.
- The Meishin Highway, which connects Nagoya to Osaka via Kyoto
- The San’yo Highway, which goes from Kobe to Yamaguchi via the coast of the Inland Sea and Hiroshima
- The Chugoku Highway, which goes from Osaka and also leads to Yamaguchi but via the mainland
- The Hokuriku Higway, going from Maibara in the Shiga Prefecture to Niigata, via Kanazawa.
How to take onto highways
The entrance to a highway is called an "Interchange" (IC).
They are equipped with tollbooths with lanes reserved for cars with an ETC (Electronic Toll Collection, an automated payment device), and lanes where it is possible to pay with a card or with cash.
To use ETC, you need to have an ETC card, and the car must be equipped with a device to read ETC cards. ETC lanes are marked in blue with signs reading "ETC専用".
Junctions between several highways are marked “JCT”.
How to drive on highways
Most of the highways in Japan have two lanes in each direction, but it is not unusual to find places with three lanes around cities or a single lane in tight places (tunnels, mountains, etc.).
The normal speed limit is 100km/h. There also exists a lower speed limit of 50km/h.
Service areas can be found every 50 to 80 km, and rest areas every 15 to 20 km.
During holiday periods (at New Year, during the Golden Week at the beginning of May, and during Obon in mid-August) and at the start or end of long weekends for bank holidays, highways can be hit by impressive traffic jams. If you have flexible dates, it is highly recommended not to take to the roads at the start or the end of the holidays when everyone else is also driving.
The cost of the highway
In Japan, you have to pay to use the highway.
The driver gets a ticket when entering the motorway at the tollbooth and pays when exiting.
The cost is based on a per-kilometre price + 150 yen of fees added on, rounded up to the nearest 50 yen, and to which consumer tax (8%) is added.
The average price per kilometre for an ordinary car is around 25 yen. For example, a trip from Tokyo to Nagoya costs between 7,000 and 8,000 yen.
Service areas along the highways are well equipped and clean. You will find service stations, restaurants and restrooms, as well as souvenir shops selling regional specialties.
The restrooms are generally clean and very large to allow for busy times. You will also find many automated machines for hot drinks, small stands selling Japanese-style snacks and even the occasional Starbucks.
In some of them, especially around the big cities, digital signs are installed showing the surrounding roads with the state of traffic and any jams.
There are even some service areas with Onsen baths!
The service areas offer a wide selection of souvenirs (mostly food), and each one is special in its own way. The Japanese, who love souvenirs, purchase them in these shops to give to friends on their return. For example, the Ebina service area, along the Tomei highway connecting Tokyo to Nagoya, in the Kanagawa Prefecture, before entering Tokyo, is well known for its many souvenirs originating from all over Japan. Good for anyone who may have forgotten to buy a present before leaving.
Our video on how to drive on highways in Japan: