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Japan's four main island and Okinawa are covered by an expressway network of over 7,000 kilometers. Further routes are still under construction. Below is a map showing the major operational expressways.

Foreign visitors should encounter few problems using Japanese expressways, since all important signs are written in both, Japanese and English. The speed limit for passenger cars is usually 80 or 100 km/h, except on some minor, one-lane expressways where the speed limit is 70 km/h.

Below is some vocabulary useful for using Japanese expressways:

  • Interchange (IC)
    In Japan, an interchange refers to an expressway entrance and exit, e.g. Tokyo IC.
  • Junction (JCT)
    Like in English, a junction refers to a place where multiple expressways meet.
  • Parking Area (PA)
    A parking area comes with toilets and one or more vending machines. Sometimes it also features a restaurant.
  • Service Area (SA)
    Generally larger than parking areas, service areas feature toilets, shops, restaurants and a gasoline stand.

The use of most expressways is subject to tolls, which can be paid at manual toll gates by cash or credit card or by passing through automatic ETC (electronic toll collection) gates. The use of ETC gates requires an ETC card and a car that is equipped with an ETC card reader. ETC cards require ownership of a Japanese credit card and provide discounts during certain times of the day and week. Short term visitors to Japan can acquire ETC cards temporarily from some rental car outlets.

The table below shows approximate costs for a regular vehicle between selected major cities. Lower rates apply to light vehicles and motorcycles, while higher rates apply to trucks, buses and trailers.

Approximate Tolls (in yen)

 
Kagoshima
Fukuoka
Hiroshima
Osaka
Kyoto
Nagoya
Aomori
Tokyo
27,500
23,000
17,000
12,000
10,500
8,000
14,000
Aomori
39,000
34,000
28,500
23,000
22,000
20,500
 
Nagoya
21,000
16,000
10,500
3,500
3,500
   
Kyoto
18,500
13,500
8,000
2,000
     
Osaka
18,000
13,000
7,500
       
Hiroshima
11,500
6,500
         
Fukuoka
6,000
           

Approximate Travel Distance

 
 
Kagoshima
Fukuoka
Hiroshima
Osaka
Kyoto
Nagoya
Aomori
Tokyo
1400km
1100km
850km
550km
500km
350km
700km
Aomori
2050km
1800km
1500km
1200km
1150km
1050km
 
Nagoya
1050km
800km
500km
200km
150km
   
Kyoto
900km
650km
350km
50km
     
Osaka
1000km
700km
450km
       
Hiroshima
550km
300km
         
Fukuoka
300km
           

Six companies are in charge of expressway construction and maintenance:

Expressway Passes

There are a few passes available to foreign visitors that grant unlimited use of designated expressways within a particular coverage area and for a set number of days. The passes are acquired along with rental cars at designated car rental outlets within the pass' coverage area. The passes work through ETC cards provided to drivers, allowing for easy travel around the expressway network.

The expressway passes can be good value for those who plan to travel long distances by car within a certain area over a relatively short time period. They are seldom good value for those merely driving from one city to another. The available expressway passes are as follows:

  • Japan Expressway Pass
    Price: 20,000 yen (7 days) or 34,000 yen (14 days)
    Coverage Area: All of Japan except Hokkaido, metropolitan Tokyo, metropolitan Osaka/Kobe and on the bridges between Honshu and Shikoku.
  • Hokkaido Expressway Pass
    Price: from 3,600 yen (2 days) to 11,300 yen (14 days)
    Coverage Area: Hokkaido
  • Tohoku Expressway Pass
    Price: from 4,000 yen (2 days) to 12,000 yen (14 days)
    Coverage Area: Tohoku Region
  • Central Nippon Expressway Pass
    Price: from 5,000 yen (2 days) to 16,000 yen (14 days)
    Coverage Area: Central Japan between Tokyo and Kyoto, including Ise, Shirakawago, Toyama and Kanazawa, except some expressways around central Nagoya
  • Sanin-Setouchi-Shikoku Expressway Pass
    Price: from 6,000 yen (3 days) to 13,000 yen (10 days)
    Coverage Area: Western Honshu and Shikoku, except the bridges between Honshu and Shikoku
  • Kyushu Expressway Pass
    Price: from 3,500 yen (2 days) to 11,500 yen (10 days)
    Coverage Area: Kyushu
Page last updated: October 21, 2017