Everything you ever wanted to know about Tokyo's toll road system

TOKYO —

The Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway was opened in short segments beginning with a 4.5-km-long section linking Kyobashi to Shibaura that went into service on Dec 20, 1962.

The toll road network currently boasts a length of 300 kilometers, and between now and 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic games, more improvements are in the works, reports Weekly Playboy (April 28). At the end of the current fiscal year, the Chuo Kanjo Shinagawa-sen (central ring road) will be completed. Still to come are expressways bypassing the western parts of Yokohama and Tokyo, relieving the chronic congestion on National Highway 16.

The toll system was revamped from the end of 2011. Previously drivers of regular passenger cars paid a flat fee of 400 yen if they entered the road network in Saitama, 600 yen in Kanagawa and 700 yen in Tokyo. That system was changed to charges based on distance driven, from a minimum of 510 yen (as of April 1, 2014, when the consumption tax went up) for less than 6 km; 610 yen for 6 to 12 km; 720 yen for 12 to 18 km, and so on, up to a maximum of 930 yen.

If you’re adventuresome, that single 930 yen outlay will let you tour the capital and environs from the elevated expressway for up 1o 149.4 kilometers. To drive the longest possible route you’d have to enter at Minuma in Saitama prefecture, taking route 5 to C2 to Kasai, then route B along Tokyo Bay all the way to Honmoku in Yokohama. From there you can continue along routes K1, C1, 3 and 4, exiting at Takaido in Suginami Ward.

Before attempting that, it might be a good idea to be aware of the sections where cops aboard motorcycles or in patrol cars are most likely to pounce on speeders—most often in lightly traveled sections such as the Wangan-sen along Tokyo Bay, the Saitama-sen and Fukagawa Road 9 headed toward Tokyo.

The most stunning view by far, says Weekly Playboy, can be admired along the Daikoku-sen between Daikoku and Namamugi junctions on Kanagawa 5, which was opened in 1989 in Yokohama’s Tsurumi Ward. Weather permitting, as you glance westward you’ll see an expanse of ocean and Yokohama’s Minato Mirai complex with the 70-story Landmark Tower, Japan’s 3rd highest building, and Mt Fuji towering in the background.

A little known piece of modern history can be found in the “AH1 Asian Highway” sign that’s mounted directly over the Nihombashi bridge. This marks the “genpyo” (starting point) of the 20,557-km-long road, a cooperative project also referred to as the Great Asian Highway, that was initially agreed upon by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in 1992. Plans called for it to proceed from Tokyo to Fukuoka in Kyushu, then by ferry connection to Busan, South Korea (an undersea tunnel project is on hold), and from there to Pyongyang, Beijing, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Yangon, Dhaka, New Delhi, Islamabad, Kabul, Tehran and terminating in Istanbul, where it connects to European Route 80. For reasons ranging from political rivalry to economics, the viability of the project is in doubt.

In 2012, 11,279 accidents were recorded on the expressway, an average of just over 30 per day. The spot with the greatest number of fender-benders was between the Edobashi and the Hakozaki junctions, where 113 occurred that year. The cause is presumed due to the fact that cars successively merge into the main lanes from both the right and left sides, something that unaccustomed drivers find perplexing. Sections where roads merge or entrances to the expressway where drivers attempt to butt in and others fail to yield right of way, resulting in frequent accidents, include the Takebashi, Hamazakibashi and Horikiri junctions, and the Yoga, Ooi, Taishi and Muromachi entrance ramps. The S-curve at Shiodome is also notorious.

Finally, the lanes exiting the Kasumigaseki Tunnel in Chiyoda Ward in the direction of Shinjuku can be particularly treacherous, because drivers wishing to exit are required to transverse two lanes of traffic moving straight ahead. How did that bungling situation come to pass? Somewhere a village is missing its idiot.

  • 6

    wanderlust

    Many of the junctions are badly designed, just like the one at Kasumigaseki, and it is common to find a section of road 200~300 metres in length requiring you to cross 2~3 lanes of speeding, uncooperative traffic to get to your exit road. Hamazakibashi, ShinKiba, MIyakezake, are prime examples. The whole expressway network appears to have been designed by people who have never driven a car in their life...

  • 3

    paulinusa

    "In 2012, 11,279 accidents were recorded on the expressway, an average of just over 30 per day."

    30 per day. Nothing to compare it to but it sure sounds like a high rate.

  • 0

    Pandabelle

    The whole expressway network appears to have been designed by people who have never driven a car in their life.

    I think so much of it has been put together piecemeal, and some of it is quite old.

    Not sure why you mention Shin Kiba, though - that's one of the easiest exits in the Tokyo area.

  • 1

    wanderlust

    @pandabelle - entering Shin Kiba going towards Tokyo has one of those sections where you have around 200 metres to change across two lanes of busy traffic, and lots of trucks.

  • 5

    ebisen

    The best view is over the rainbow bridge IMHO. Especially if you are unlucky enough to be caught in a traffic jam there - you can spend a nice afternoon in your car, admiring the Tokyo skyline and bay area.

  • 3

    Daniel Neagari

    I really have suffer mildly every time I have to use the Shutoko.... If I can avoid it I do.

    And the fact that in some parts is over 50 years old structure that was not designed for the kind of traffic it passes now a days with poor maintenance... I always fear some day a part of it will just come down....

    Is one thing that it is convenient to move inside the city but it is a dreadful thing.

  • 3

    sighclops

    I once drove from Tokyo to Hyogo in a rental car - sans ETC it cost me over ¥16000. Getting on the Shuto alone was ¥900.

    Now explain that! Must be the most expensive tolls in the world...

  • -1

    Ramzel

    I don't mind the cost and when it is not jam packed with traffic, I enjoy the Shutoko.

    However, it get's quite mental with the turns, twists, narrow roads, having to change multiple lanes in quick succession and the speeders.

    If you have to stay on the right lane to make your turn and you are not going 100KM/H (in a 60), people will pass you on the left.

  • 0

    Pandabelle

    @wanderlust - that's only one lane - the Shin Kiba onramp dumps into its own lane on the B, and you have almost 1km before having to merge at the 9-go split. Are you referring to the access road? That was just recently renovated and re-opened last month.

    @sighclops

    Now explain that!

    Just market economics, I think. The tolls are high and the roads are still always packed.

  • 0

    JeffLee

    I believe Japan is the only developed country in the world that tolls ALL its highways. The idea is to support the passenger railway network.

  • 4

    afanofjapan

    They forgot to mention that the new distance based pricing only applies if you have an ETC card. If not, you get charged a flat rate of 930 yen to ride the Shutoko.

    There are so many cases where ETC prices are 50% off the cash based tolls - if you dont have one and you drive regularly in Japan, you are being ripped off!

  • 2

    GalapagosnoGairaishu

    Japan's expressway corporations are basically a receptacle for second careers by government bureaucrats and policemen. Reducing tolls would cut into their salaries, bonuses and entertainment budgets.

  • 0

    Daiki

    Thanks for the info guys , never driven in Tokyo , as the train system is so good , if you want a nice , toll free drive , have a tour around Hokkaido . I always have a small rental car from the office just outside the main station . The staff are really good and helpful ( but then everyone is ) and driving in Sapporo is also a dream , and easy to get around . Everyone just goes around quietly and politely . The only drivers that pass you are the taxis , everyone else just obeys the speed limits and there's no problems . There is a new express train from New Chitose to Sapporo , so that helps getting into town , and a short stroll through the really lovely shopping precinct within the Train Station . Driving in the country is beautiful , I love my visits to the North Island , but always enjoy landing at Narita coming home . Enjoy .

  • 1

    FightingViking

    I've often wondered why they're called "Expressways" ? It is extremely rare that I can drive at the speed limit - which means I won't get caught fro "speeding" however, when one is in a hurry, it would be nice to at least go at a "decent" speed.

    I'm also afraid of the "age" of these roads, there was already the collapse of a tunnel some time back and I often wonder when the next road/tunnel/bridge is going to collapse.

    I did love the last sentence of the article though !

    Somewhere a village is missing its idiot.

  • 2

    Pandabelle

    if you dont have one and you drive regularly in Japan, you are being ripped off!

    Especially since a few years ago they were giving away the readers for free!

  • -2

    kchoze

    I've often wondered why they're called "Expressways" ? It is extremely rare that I can drive at the speed limit - which means I won't get caught fro "speeding" however, when one is in a hurry, it would be nice to at least go at a "decent" speed.

    "Expressway" means a road that has no at-grade intersection (stop signs, traffic lights, etc...) but rather entry and exit ramps, so that cars never have to stop to let conflicting movements through, barring congestion of course. It doesn't refer to the maximum speed allowed.

    The presence of traffic lights and stops can easily reduce the average speed of cars by half compared to the maximum speed. For instance, if you have streets with a speed limit of 50 km/h, on average in a city you can expect to actually go at an average speed of about 30 km/h without congestion. Because you will have to stop at stops and traffic lights, and be slowed by vehicles turning left or right in front of you.

    Anyway, you don't need to go at 70 to 100 km/h in a city. Allowing people to drive faster just results in more sprawl, and longer distances to travel, thus resulting in no reduction in travel times in the long run. Many European cities don't even have expressways inside them, including most German cities, they do fine. And Seoul in South Korea has been tearing down expressways one after the other for 10 years, and the city is no worse for wear.

  • 1

    FightingViking

    @kchoze

    "Expressway" means a road that has no at-grade intersection (stop signs, traffic lights, etc...) but rather entry and exit ramps, so that cars never have to stop to let conflicting movements through, barring congestion of course. It doesn't refer to the maximum speed allowed.

    I guess my English is not as good as it should be... I DO know what "Expressway" means and have been driving on the Japanese so-called "Expressways" for the last 35 years and have yet to see one that is NOT "congested"... They have also changed the speed limit from 100Km/h to 80Km/h but very often, one is lucky to be able to run at 40-50Km/h, which is a pain when one is in a hurry. They should maybe check out the "Expressways" in France and also in America, they're for REAL!

  • 0

    yeah nah

    If you are just a weekend driver then I can understand the complaints. Was driving on average about 4 hours per day all over the Kanto area, and by using various sites and the navi, was able to miss the odd traffic jam. 120 - 140 was not uncommon and if you were late for Narita then , off the clock was possible also. The police are reasonable too.

  • 0

    SamuraiBlue

    kchoze

    Since Tokyo is the hub for everything they need the expresssway including bypasses that circumvent Tokyo entirely.

    FightingViking

    Highways in the US in cities like LA and/or NY is worse in terms of congestion then Shutoko.

  • 1

    FightingViking

    @SamuraiBlue

    Highways in the US in cities like LA and/or NY is worse in terms of congestion then Shutoko.

    You're most probably right ! I've only been on the ones in Texas and they're very aptly named "Freeways".

  • 0

    Tyler Vandenberg

    In southern Japan they are great you have to go at least 100 kmh just to stay with traffic even in Fukuoka its still good.

  • 3

    BertieWooster

    I can never understand why they don't have roundabouts (rotaries) in Japan.

    It would fix many of the problems.

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