Japan Road Network

By | October 31, 2022

According to wholevehicles, Japan has an extensive road network of 1,152,207 kilometers of which 863,003 kilometers are paved (1997). There will be more than 12,000 kilometers of highway by early 2022, putting Japan in the top 10 countries with longest highway networks in the world. The islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu are connected by a highway, the island of Hokkaido has a separate highway network. In addition, there is also a highway on Okinawa. All major cities of Japan are connected by toll roads. The toll costs are quite high. In addition to the highways, Japan also has an extensive network of national routes or national highways. These are regularly developed in a highway-like manner and a toll is often levied on the high-quality developed parts. There are no general congestion charges in Japan, but tolls are payable on a significant portion of through roads and urban highways.

National roads

一般国道 (Ippan Kokudō) are the national highways of Japan. There are 459 national highways, but not all of them are equally important. Previously, the roads were divided into a class 1 and class 2 category. The former were given 1 and 2 digit numbers, the latter 3 digit numbers. In the 1950s, only a very small part, less than 30%, of the road network was paved. They started building expressways quite early, making the National Highways less important for through traffic. Almost all National Highways that fulfill a long-distance function have already been replaced by (single-lane) highways.

National highways in Japan
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 303 304 305 306 307 308 309 310 311 312 313 314 _ 316 317 318 319 320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327 328 329 330 331 332 333 334 335 336 337 338 339 340 341 342 343 344 345 346 347 348 349 350 351 352 353 354 355 356 357 358 359 360 361 362 363 364 365 366 367 368 369 370 371 372 373 374 375 376 377 378 379 380 381 382 383 384 385 386 387 388 389 390 391 392 393 394 395 396 397 398 399 400 401 402 403 404 405 406 407 408 409 410 411 412 413 414 415 416 417 42118 419 420 _ 422 423 424 425 426 427 428 429 430 431 432 433 434 435 436 437 438 439 440 441 442 443 444 445 446 447 448 449 450 451 452 453 454 455 456 457 458 459 460 461 462 463 464 465 466 467 468 469 470 47471 472 473 _ 475 476 477 478 479 480 481 482 483 484 485 486 487 488 489 490 491 492 493 494 495 496 497 498 499 500 501 502 503 504 505 506 507

Expressways

高速道路 (kōsokudōro) is the name of the Japanese highway.

The Japanese highway network consists of toll roads. After the Second World War, prosperity in Japan increased rapidly, and with it car ownership and use. In 1956 only 23% of the national road network was paved, even through roads were not all paved at the time. This made highways necessary. In 1957, the first highway was constructed, the Meishin Expressway between Nagoya and Kobe. The first highway section opened in 1963. In addition to the national highway network, large urban areas have their own urban highway networks. In 1966 a plan was unfolded to build 7,600 kilometers of highway. In 1987, this plan was revised to 14,000 kilometers. As of January 1, 2020, Japan had 11,960 kilometers of expressway, of which 4,432 kilometers as a super twoexpressway has been constructed.

The highways do not have a number, but have a name. They are usually named after the city or towns between which they run. Most highways have 2×2 lanes and 2×3 lanes in urban areas. The maximum speed is 100 km/h and a minimum speed of 50 km/h is also maintained. There are frequent rest areas and service places along the highways.

The highways are toll roads where the toll costs are quite high, compared to Europe and certainly to the United States. The national highways have a toll that is based on the distance driven. In urban areas there are also fixed amounts for the entire network. An electronic toll system is also in use, the ETC (Electronic Toll Collection). Toll charges are rounded to the nearest 50 yen. The toll roads are steadily being privatized, with the hope of achieving lower toll rates. In 2050 it is expected that the motorway network will be paid off via the toll costs. In 2016, it was decided to extend the concessions for another 15 years to fund a $36 billion renovation program that includes 2,265 kilometers of highway. These are very complex projects and mainly involve the viaduct highways in the major cities.

Expressways in Japan
East Nippon ExpresswayAkita • Aomori • Asahikawa-Monbetsu • Ban-etsu • Doto • Fukagawa-Rumoi • Hachinohe • Hachinohe-Kuji • Hakodate-Esashi • Hidaka Expressway • Higashi-Kanto • Hokkaido • Hokuriku • Joban • Joshin-etsu • Kamaishi • Kan-etsu • Ken-O • Kita-Kanto • Nagano • Nihonkai-Tohoku • Obihiro-Hiroo •Sanriku • Sasson • Shin-Kuko • Shiribeshi • Tateyama • Tohoku • Tohoku-Chuo • Tokachi-Okhotsk • Tokyo-Gaikan • Yamagata

Central Nippon Expressway

Chubu-Jukan • Chubu-Odan • Chuo • Higashi-Meihan • Hokuriku • Ise • Isewangan • Izu-Jukan • Kisei • Meishin • Mei-Nikan • Meihan • Nagano • Noetsu • San-en Nanshin • Shin-Meishin • Shin-Tomei • Tokai-Hokuriku • Tokai-Kanjo • Tomei

West Nippon Expressway

Chugoku • Hamada • Hanwa • Harima • Higashihiroshima-Kure • Higashi-Kyushu • Hiroshima • Imabari-Komatsu • Kanmonkyo Bridge • Kansai-Kuko • Keiji • Keinawa • Kinki • Kitakinki-Toyooka • Kochi • Kochi-Tobu • Kyoto-Jukan • Kyoto Outer Ring Road • Kyushu • Kyushu-Chuo • Maizuru-Wakasa • Matsue• Matsuyama • Meishin • Minami-Kyushu • Miyazaki • Nagasaki • Nishi-Kyushu • Nishi-Meihan • Oita • Okayama • Okinawa • Onomichi • San-in • San-in Kinki • Sanyo • Second Keihan • Shikoku-Odan • Shin-Meishin • Takamatsu • Tokushima • Tokushima Nanbu Expressway • Tottori • Yonago

Honsh-Shikoku Bridge Expressway

Kobe – Awaji – Naruto • Nishiseto • Seto-Chuo

Urban Highways

Fukuoka • Hanshin • Hiroshima • Kitakyushu • Nagoya • Shuto • Tokyo

Half-profile Expressways

Unlike in many other countries, in Japan motorways are already being built at very low traffic intensities, whereby the relative importance of a route outweighs the actual road use. These types of highways are usually constructed first in a semi-profile, i.e. with one carriageway with two lanes, and only later, when the traffic intensities require it, the second carriageway. Quite a lot of single-lane highways have been doubled to 2×2 lanes since the 1990s, especially on Honshu Island. These single-lane highways have a maximum speed of 70 km/h and overtaking is often physically impossible. Sometimes overtaking lanes are present here and there. These types of roads are also grade separated and have the status and function of a motorway. As of January 1, 2020, there were 4,432 kilometers of super two expressway.

Urban Highways

In Japan, a distinction is made between the rural highways, which have a name, and the urban highways, which have an umbrella name and route numbers and names. There are six such urban highway networks in Japan, varying in size from 30 to 60 kilometers to more than 200 kilometers. The best known network is the Shuto Expressway in and around Tokyo. Shortly afterwards, the extensive Hanshin Expressway network around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe will follow. The third largest network is the Nagoya Expressway around the city of Nagoya. In addition, there are also the Hiroshima Expressway in Hiroshima, the Fukuoka Expressway in Fukuoka and the Kitakyushu Expresswayin Kitakyush. These networks have separate route numbers for each solitary route, and the number varies from about 5 to more than 15 routes. The rural highways also serve these cities, but go around them more broadly or start and end there. Through traffic uses these urban networks to a much lesser extent. Other major cities in Japan, such as Sendai or Sapporo, do not have separate urban highway networks.

Asian Highways

Asian Highways in Japan
AH1

Traffic intensities

Given the size of the cities, traffic volumes on Japanese highways are relatively low. The highest intensities are found in Tokyo and Osaka, where intensities of more than 100,000 vehicles occur per day. But many Japanese highways have no more than 2×2 lanes, so their intensities rarely exceed 90,000 vehicles. There are often very many highways in the big cities, so that the traffic pressure is spread over different routes. Because almost all highways are toll roads, the traffic volume is not as great as one might expect based on the population size. However, the secondary road network in Japan is quite well developed in the urban areas, with wide main roads that can handle a lot of traffic. The busiest interurban highways are theTomei Expressway and the Meishin Expressway serving the Tokyo – Nagoya – Osaka axis. There are many single-lane highways with traffic volumes below 10,000 vehicles per day and sometimes even as few as 3,000 vehicles per day.

Toll

Virtually all Japanese expressways are toll roads. The highways were privatized in 2005 and housed in 3 major toll companies and a number of smaller ones, mainly for urban areas and some bridge connections. The toll costs are quite high, which especially depresses the traffic volumes outside the cities. The toll costs are 24.6 per kilometer for passenger cars and ¥40.60 per kilometer for trucks. In 2014 this was converted to € 0.18 and € 0.30 per kilometer respectively. The rates are therefore higher than the more expensive European toll roads in France and Spain. Many rural Japanese highways are not economically viable. There is too little traffic to recoup the high construction costs. For this reason, all toll revenues are bundled per toll road company so that the profitable highways balance the costs of the unprofitable highways. As a result, Japan can build many highways for low traffic volumes, with the result that almost all roads with some through importance have been replaced by at least half-profile highways. Due to the low speed limits and high toll costs, the Shinkansen (high-speed train) is a popular alternative for journeys between 200 and 500 kilometers and above the plane, Japan has some of the busiest flight routes in the world.

Electronic Toll Collection

A popular way to pay tolls in Japan is ETC – Electronic Toll Collection. ETC has been introduced on almost all highways. It is often possible to pay with cash or credit card, except at so-called Smart Interchanges (SIC) where payment can only be made with ETC. Partly due to the toll, the average distance between exits is quite large, namely 10 kilometers. Since October 2015, tests have been carried out with ETC gates without barriers, but at a reduced speed of 20 km/h.

Japan Expressway Pass

On October 13, 2017, a special toll pass for rental cars was introduced, giving tourists unlimited use of Japan’s toll roads at a discounted rate. Regional ‘expressway passes’ have previously been introduced that allow unlimited use of toll roads in a specific region for a fixed fee, but this does not apply to all expressways. Prior to the introduction of a nationwide Japan Expressway Pass in 2017, five regional expressway passes were available for tourists; Hokkaido, Tohoku, Central Nippon, San’in-Setouchi-Shikoku, and Kyushu, will continue to operate beyond 2017. Tokyo and Osaka urban expressways are not covered by any expressway pass,

Toll-free

Sometimes toll roads become temporarily toll-free to stimulate the local economy. In English this is called a “social experiment”. This toll-free period is usually several months and is used to investigate the effects. Some new highways will be toll-free for some time from opening. In 2010, an experiment was conducted with toll-free highways over a length of more than 1,600 kilometers, about one fifth of the Japanese highway network. In 2011, the project was temporarily halted due to the impact of the tsunami in March 2011.

Statistics

In Japan, 65.6% of passenger kilometers are traveled by car and 28.7% by train. In 2009, 1,370 billion passenger kilometers were traveled, of which about 900 billion by motor vehicle and 400 billion by train. 63.9% of freight traffic goes by truck and 32% by ship. The other 3.9% goes by train. In 2017, 61.2 million passenger cars were registered in Japan. Car ownership in Japan thus amounts to 484 passenger cars per 1000 inhabitants, which is comparable to the Netherlands. There were also 15.5 million trucks in use.

History

The development of the length of the highway network in Japan.

The number of kilometers that are open per year.

Signage

Signage in Osaka.

In Japan, the signage is with green signs on highways and blue signs on the secondary road network. In principle, the signage is in both Japanese and English, whereby English is often subordinate in terms of layout. Driving around in Japan therefore requires some attention if one cannot read Japanese. There are a number of highway terms used on the signage that originated in English;

  • PA = Parking Area
  • SA = Service Area
  • IC = Interchange (exit)
  • SIC = Smart Interchange
  • JCT = Junction (junction)
  • BS = Bus Stop
  • TG = Toll Gate

There is sequential exit numbering in Japan, but because some highways have later connections, there are quite a few suffixes for exit numbers, which are indicated by a dash and a second number, e.g. “8” and “8-1”. All nodes in Japan have a name, like in the Netherlands. The names of nodes are also indicated on the signage. The control cities are usually the next large cities, but in principle there is no signposting beyond the next large agglomeration. For example, in northern Honshu, Sendai and Tokyo will feature prominently on signposts, but not Nagoya or Osaka.

Motorway names are indicated in a white area with green letters on the signposts, so in terms of color scheme just the opposite of the regular destinations. Also the name of the highway is always indicated in Japanese and English, but the term “expressway” is often omitted on the directional signage, for example it only says “JOBAN” and not “JOBAN EXPRESSWAY”. The signage is mostly in normal script, but some terms are written in capital script, such as the name of the highway, and the abbreviations PA, SA, IC, SIC, JCT, etc. On urban highways, because of the exit density, sharp bends, tunnels and lack of space not all exits announced in advance. Destinations are also indicated on the road surface, these announcements are usually limited to Japanese.

Traffic lights

A traffic light in Tokyo.

Traffic lights in Japan are similar to Europe. They are often on the other side of the road, or both on the other side and in front of the road. Traffic lights are horizontal, green is left and red is right. From red to green goes directly, without an intermediate yellow phase. Yellow is shown before red. Part conflicts are very common, also on multi-lane roads. Japanese traffic lights generally do not have countdown timers as is common in other Asian countries.

Road marking

In principle, the road markings are similar to Europe, white markings are used. Major cities, especially the Shuto and Hanshin Expressways, use very busy markings by European standards, especially at sharp bends and junctions. At intersections there are arrows on the road surface, possibly accompanied by Japanese text. English is omitted here. In addition, arrow signs with road layouts are often displayed above the lanes, similar to those in Eastern Europe. Speed ​​limits are often indicated on the road surface in dark yellow.

Road numbering

In Japan, National Highways are numbered according to a national numbering system. The roads are numbered sequentially, starting with the low routes in the northeast and ascending towards the southwest. Numbers 1 to 58 are the main roads. Road numbers are one, two or three digits. Numbers 1 to 4 and 6 to 11 run from Tokyo. The numbering runs to the bottom of the 500 range. In addition, prefectural roads are numbered separately.

Expressway Numbering

Expressways were originally basically unnumbered, except for the six urban networks Shuto, Hanshin, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Kitakyushu, and Fukuoka Expressways, which do have route numbers. Not all numbers are allocated within these systems, especially in the networks of Hanshin (Osaka region) and Nagoya numbers are missing, possibly with a view to future new routes.

On September 10, 2016, it was announced that Japan would introduce road numbering for expressways from 2017. The system was introduced to facilitate navigation for foreign visitors, in particular in view of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. A prefix ‘E’ is used, for example E1, E2, E3, etc. It is roughly based on the number of the national highway that an expressway runs parallel to.

Maximum speed

Originally, design speed was the maximum speed in Japan. The current speed limits were introduced in 1979. In Japan there is a points driver’s license. Between 0 and 20 km/h too fast you get one point, increasing to 12 points at 50 km/h too fast. At 6 points, the driver’s license is withdrawn and one can be arrested. This is the case at 30 km/h too fast on main roads (inside and outside the city) and 40 km/h too fast on expressways.

Expressways

On expressways, a speed limit of 100 km/h applies, but in urban and mountainous areas, 80 km/h regularly applies. On very urban highways, such as in the largest cities, there are sections where only 60 km/h applies. Japan has many expressways that are single lane. These are grade-separated and often have a lane separation (sometimes with posts) and narrow emergency lanes. Usually 70 km/h applies on these roads. Trucks are subject to a speed limit of 80 km/h on the highways, unless the general speed limit is lower. The Shuto Expressway in Tokyo is largely 60 km/h, and 50 km/h in the center where the highways are extremely winding and narrow.

Since 2017, experiments have been carried out on part of the Tohoku Expressway and the Shin-Tomei Expressway with a maximum speed of 110 km/h. The Shin-Tomei Expressway is designed at 120 km/h. In 2019, the speed limit was increased to 120 km/h on parts of the Shin-Tomei Expressway and the Tohoku Expressway. In 2020 it was decided to increase the maximum speed on more routes to 120 km/h.

Outside the built-up area

60 km/h is the standard speed limit in Japan inside and outside built-up areas.

In Japan there is a general speed limit of 60 km/h outside built-up areas. This is very low compared to other countries, but it should be borne in mind that almost all flat areas are urban areas. The non-urban areas are mostly mountainous and winding. In addition, in Japan almost all roads with only slightly through importance have been replaced by expressways, so that few long distances will be covered on the underlying road network. Many single-lane expressways are already being built from 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles per day. Outside built-up areas, lower speed limits of 40 km/h occasionally apply. Emergency services are allowed to drive 80 km/h outside built-up areas.

Within the built-up area

In Japan, no distinction is made between built-up and non-built-up areas. The general speed limit within the bowl is therefore also 60 km/h, unless otherwise indicated. Speeds of 30, 40 or 50 km/h are also common.

Road safety

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. In 2018, there were 3,532 road deaths, the lowest number since the statistics began in 1948. Victims aged 65+ account for 55% of all road deaths. The number of deaths in 2018 was 28 per 1 million inhabitants, which is one of the lowest ratios in the world.

Japan Road Network