There is an increasing trend of tourists visiting Japan in recent years. Meanwhile, there are various ways of touring the country, more and more consider self drive as one of the options. Although, there is extensive rail and air network coverage, the scenario of one car per household or up to three is quite common in the suburbs. The lack of public transportation poses some challenges to tourists with time constraint. Would you only consider the metropolis areas or self drive in order to explore in-depth?
Many are hesitating about self drive mainly due to the expenses on the road. Unlike Europe or North America, the toll fees are rather high in Japan. For instance, for one-way travelling from Narita Airport to Sendai would cost JPY8,370 (~340 km) and up to Kyoto would be JPY13,070 (~530 km). This excludes the gas expenses along the way. Occasionally, some foreign-issued credit cards might not be acceptable for payment. Those who are used to spend with credit cards would need to prepare for cash in advance.
Are you aware of the fabulous offers to foreign tourists? The great news is that the three major highway operators in Japan has launched the Japan Expressway Pass on Oct 13, 2017! A great deal not to be missed!
Type and Prices
There are two types of Japan Expressway Pass, 7-day and 14-day passes. Prices are JPY20,000 (on average JPY2,857 per day) and JPY34,000 (on average JPY2,429 per day) respectively.
Point of Sales
Japan Expressway Pass could only be purchased directly from designated service network of rental cars . Two of the main ones are: Times Car Rental and Toyota Rent a Car located throughout the country.
You are required to present a passport for making purchase (not applicable to Japanese passport).
How to use
When buying the Japan Expressway Pass from the designated point, you would need to rent an ETC card (additional fees apply) with a vehicle at the same time. Insert the ETC card into the ETC card reader in the car. You will avoid the hassle of stopping for payment at toll plaza. It is good for unlimited use during the validity period.
For further information related to ETC system, please refer to this site for details.
You must drive through the ETC channel when exiting the highway through toll plaza and maintain the speed below 20 km/h.
The Japan Expressway Pass is not applicable to the following sectors: Within Hokkaido and Daini Shinmei Road, Kanmon Tunnel, Shuto Expressway, Hanshin Expressway, Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway, Sky Gate Bridge etc.
Usage on any of the above sectors would incur toll fees on your ETC card which could be payable upon rental car return.
Cost-saving tip: avoid the Shuto Expressway
When depart from Narita Airport, drive towards Kan-Etsu Expressway (to Karuizawa, Nagano, Niigata etc), circumnavigate Ken-O Expressway, Joban Expressway, and Tokyo-Gaikan Expressway then merge into Kan-Etsu Expressway will avoid the congested and expensive Shuto Expressway*.
*Since the Shuto Expressway is excluded from the coverage of Japan Expressway Pass, for driving from Narita Airport via Shuto Expressway towards Kan-Etsu Expressway would incur a toll fee of JPY1,300.
Shin-Kuko IC (Narita Airport) to Nagano IC
Via Shuto Expressway
Estimated distance: 312.6km
Via Ken-O Expressway
Estimated distance: 316.0km
From Narita Airport towards Chuo Expressway (Kofu, Matsumoto etc) and Tomei Expressway (Gotenba, Shizuoka etc), using the Shuto Expressway is still the shortest travel. Otherwise, if you make a detour via Ken-O Expressway towards Chuo Expressway would results in an additional 60 km drive where towards Tomei Expressway would be another 90 km which are not practical.