Expressways of Japan
Following World War II, Japan's economic revival led to a massive increase in personal automobile use. However the existing road system was inadequate to deal with the increased demand; in 1956 only 23% of national highways were paved, which included only two thirds of the main Tokyo-Osaka road (National Route 1).
In April 1956 the Japan Highway Public Corporation (JH) was established by the national government with the task of constructing and managing a nationwide network of expressways. In 1957 permission was given to the corporation to commence construction of the Meishin Expressway linking Nagoya and Kobe, the first section of which opened to traffic in 1963.
In addition to the national expressway network administered by JH, the government established additional corporations to construct and manage expressways in urban areas. The Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation (responsible for the Shuto Expressway) was established in 1959, and the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation (responsible for the Hanshin Expressway) was established in 1962. By 2004 the lengths of their networks had extended to 283 km and 234 km respectively.
In 1966 a plan was formally enacted for a 7,600 km national expressway network. Under this plan construction of expressways running parallel to the coastlines of Japan would be given priority over those traversing the mountainous interior. In 1987 the plan was revised to extend the network to 14,000 km. In March 2005, completed sections of the network totalled 8,730 km and by the end of 2012 the national Expressway network had increased to 11,520 km 
In October 2005 JH, the Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation, the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation, and the Honshū-Shikoku Bridge Authority (managing three fixed-link connections between Honshū and Shikoku) were privatized under the reform policies of the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The expressway network of JH was divided into three companies based on geography - East Nippon Expressway Company (E-NEXCO), Central Nippon Expressway Company (C-NEXCO), and West Nippon Expressway Company (W-NEXCO). The Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation transferred its authority to the Metropolitan Expressway Company, while the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation transferred its authority to the Hanshin Expressway Company. The Honshū-Shikoku Bridge Authority became the Honshū-Shikoku Bridge Expressway Company, whose operations are planned to eventually be absorbed into those of W-NEXCO.
Japan's expressway development has been financed largely with debt. It was intended to make the expressways free when they are paid off. The Meishin Expressway and Tomei Expressway debt has been fully paid off since 1990. It was decided in 1972 that tolls would be pooled from all expressways to provide a single source of operating funds, since some sections were little used. Earthquake resistant construction methods have added to costs, as well as extensive soundwalling. Prime Minister Taro Aso unveiled in March 2009 includes a plan to reduce tolls to ¥1,000 and around ¥1,500 on regional expressways on weekends and national holidays. Tolls on weekdays would be cut by around 30 percent. According to the National Expressway Construction Association, 4.41 million vehicles use the expressways daily, driving an average of 43.7 km.
National expressways (高速自動車国道 Kōsoku Jidōsha Kokudō?) make up the majority of expressways in Japan. This network boasts an uninterrupted link between Aomori Prefecture at the northern part of Honshū and Kagoshima Prefecture at the southern part of Kyūshū, linking Shikoku as well. Additional expressways serve travellers in Hokkaidō and on Okinawa Island, although those are not connected to the Honshū-Kyūshū-Shikoku grid.
Most expressways are 4 lanes with a central reservation (median). Some expressways in close proximity to major urban areas are 6 lanes, while some in rural areas are 2 lanes only with a barrier on the center line. 2-laned sections are built to a standard that allows conversion to 4 lanes in the future.
Speed limits are normally 100 km/h, and a minimum speed of 50 km/h is also enforced. Vehicles unable to reach 50 km/h, such tractors and mopeds, are forbidden from using the expressways. Speed limits may also be reduced temporarily (due to adverse driving conditions) or permanently (in accident-prone areas) as speed limit signs can be adjusted electronically.
Many rest facilities such as parking areas (usually only with toilets or small shops) and service areas (usually with many more amenities such as restaurants and gas stations) serve travellers along national expressways.
National expressways are expensive to use, with the 325.5-km journey from Tokyo to Nagoya on the Tōmei Expressway costing ¥7100 in tolls for an ordinary car. As of March 2009, the toll for most lengths of road on weekends has been reduced to 1000 Yen maximum for those using the ETC card system (detailed below).
With a few exceptions, tolls on national expressways are based on distance travelled. When entering the expressway, one collects a ticket, which can be inserted along with the fare into a machine or handed to an attendant upon exiting the expressway. There is also an Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) card system installed in many cars which automatically pays at the toll gate. As of 2001 toll fees consist of a 150 yen terminal charge plus a fee which depends on the distance travelled. The rate of this fee depends on the type of vehicle as shown in the following table.
|Type of vehicle||rate in yen/km||rate in yen/mile|
|Light car and motorcycle||19.68||31.49|
|Ordinary passenger car||24.60||39.36|
|Small and medium-sized truck||29.52||47.23|
|Special large-sized full trailer||67.65||108.24|
Tolls are always rounded to the nearest 50 yen and include consumption tax. If there are two or more possible routes from the entrance to the exit, the toll will be calculated based on the shortest (cheapest) route.
Tolls collected from all routes are pooled into a single fund and are used to repay the entire network. It is expected that all national expressways in Japan will be fully repaid 45 years after privatization (2050).
Some future national expressways are planned to be built according to the New Direct Control System, whereby national and local governments will absorb the burden for expressway construction and operate toll-free upon completion.
Urban expressways (都市高速道路 Toshi Kōsokudōro?) are intra-city expressways which are found in many of Japan's largest urban areas. Due to lack of space many of these expressways are constructed as viaducts running above local roads. The two largest networks are the Shuto Expressway in the Tokyo area and the Hanshin Expressway in the Osaka area. There are other smaller networks in Nagoya, Hiroshima, Kitakyūshū, and Fukuoka. Each network is managed separately from each other (the Fukuoka and Kitakyūshū Expressways are managed by the same company but are not physically connected to each other).
All roads in Japan that are built to expressway standards (including national and urban expressways themselves) are known as Roads for motor vehicles only (自動車専用道路 Jidōsha Senyō Dōro?). If a road for motor vehicles only cannot be classified as a national or urban expressway, it may be classified into one of the following categories.
- National highway for motor vehicles only with national expressway concurrency (高速自動車国道に並行する一般国道自動車専用道路 Kōsoku Jidōsha Kokudō ni Heikōsuru Ippan Kokudō Jidōsha Senyō Dōro?)
- National highway for motor vehicles only (一般国道の自動車専用道路 Ippan Kokudō no Jidōsha Senyō Dōro?)
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- Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Road Bureau (English)
- Map of expressway routes (English)
- 全国の高速道路ガイド (Japanese)