USING FREEWAYS/ EXPRESSWAYS
Traveling by car in Japan has its pros and cons. It basically comes down to time and money. You have two options, as described below.
Local Roads- Local roads are characterized by 30-50 km/h speed limits, heavy daytime traffic, and frequent traffic lights. The advantage is that there are no tolls to pay, so if you have some time to spare you can save some money.
Expressways – If you are short on time or patience, use the expressways when traveling longer distances. After all, the more people you cram in your car, the cheaper the trip. In addition, expressways are cheaper if you drive a yellow plate – something to keep in mind if you are thinking about purchasing a car. The expressway speed limit is 80km/h unless specified otherwise and there are no traffic lights. As a rule, stick to 80km/h in a yellow plate and feel comfortable up to 100km/h in a white plate. Nevertheless, use your own discretion. There are speed cameras, speed traps, and patrol cars on these roads.
The toll system works like this. Before you get on the expressway you get a ticket from the large gates you must drive through to get onto the road. When it’s time to get off, you hand this card to the man in the tollbooth at your exit and he will tell you how much you owe (it also flashes up on a little screen so don’t worry if you don’t speak Japanese). Obviously, the cost increases as you drive although there are minor deductions if you travel greater distances. Charts for the cost of toll roads can be found in almost all JAPAN map books. Generally, paying cash is the easy way to go but most major credit cards are also accepted. Prepaid toll cards are another convenient option and can save you up to 5%. These cards can be purchased at many convenient stores and at the expressway rest stops.
Before you enter the expressway you should be sure that you have enough money to get off at the other end. If you find you don’t have enough money, you will have to provide your name, address and work place, and other vital statistics. You will have to go back to that exit within 10 days to pay. This isn’t such a problem if the exit is near your home, but it’s best to spare yourself the inconvenience by carrying enough cash. There are only a few expressway pit stop places that have bank machines.
Expressways are well signposted and easy to find from normal roads. You will see a big green rectangle with the name of your entrance in English, and the letters I.C. following. Just follow those signs!!
Also, this might be easy to forget if you’re used to driving in your home country, so just a reminder that the “fast lane” is the RIGHT lane in Japan, and the “slow lane” is the left. Keep safe and visit lots of places in Japan!