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How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

For fans of Tokyo Drift and driving enthusiasts in general, the highways in Tokyo are like a dream come true. Curving roads, multi-level highway lines, pristine asphalt, and tunnel upon tunnel, which are both a feast to the eye and exhilarating to drive on, make up what is known as the Shuto Expressway or Shutoko.

  • How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    But as exhilarating as the highways are in the world’s biggest metropolis, they are also quite challenging to drive on. Although the main C1 and C2 highway lines look simple on paper, since they circle around the whole of Tokyo, they are actually a complex set of lanes that will have you zigzagging along, going up and down, and exiting left, right, and center. We thought we would give you a head start by sharing a few tips to make your highway experience in Tokyo a safe, convenient, and memorable one.

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we’ll start by reminding you that driving on Tokyo highways, just like driving anywhere in Japan, means driving on the left. If you’re not accustomed to this yet, we recommend you test your inverted driving skills on the normal roads before venturing on to the Shutoko. Although Japanese drivers are generally organized and drive with lots of care, the expressway tends to be narrower than other highways around the world and there’s little room for error. The complexity increases when the C1 and C2 connect with other lines further out of the city, like the Ikebukuro Route, the Bayshore Route, and even the mind blowing Aqua Line, which connects Tokyo to Chiba underwater across Tokyo Bay.

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    Once you’re feeling confident, head for the nearest ramp and the toll gate. “Toll gates?” you ask, well … yes. The Shuto Expressway, as with a lot of the city’s infrastructure, is top of the line and that doesn’t come cheap. A maximum ¥1,300 toll is what you need to cough up if you want to ride the distance on the metropolitan highways. The minimum fee is ¥300 and it rises according to the distance you cover. You can pay cash or if your car rental company provides it, you can use an electronic toll collection (ETC) card, which will be charged automatically once you cross the ETC marked toll gate. When possible, we highly recommend you do carry the card, as this will save you time when entering and exiting the highways and it will actually save you a few yen compared to paying for tolls in cash. A word of caution though, the toll is charged every time you get on the highway, so as much as possible, avoid getting off at the wrong exit.

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    Talking about exits, since you are (as you are now fully aware of) driving on the left, more often than not, the ramps to get off the highway will be on the far left of the road. Some of these ramps seem to come out of nowhere, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the numerous signs along the way. And since there’s countless platforms and roads on this one-of-a-kind highway system, there are also countless lane-merging sections you ought to watch out for. At certain junctions (JCTs), there will be cars coming left, right, and center, and at ramps merging from the left, you can avoid getting stuck behind traffic by cruising in the right-hand lane.

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    If your phone has died and the in-car navigation is too complex to understand, you’ll be able to get around by relying on the signage available at every step of the way. With some exceptions (exceptions that will leave you wondering for hours where you made the wrong turn), the road signs in Tokyo are very reliable and informative. One digital panel in particular will show you the sections (in red) around Tokyo where there are traffic jams, and if you can figure that sign out, you have a better chance at avoiding the traffic that sometimes feels unavoidable.

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    How to Drive on Tokyo Highways

    So, if driving is as thrilling to you as it is to us, we highly recommend driving on the Shutoko while you are visiting Tokyo. You’ll get a very different perspective from what you get while riding the city trains and you’ll enjoy an experience that not many visitors get to try while in Japan.

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