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Paying the price on the high summer highway
Bring a lot of patience if you travel by car for Japan’s summer holidays: The highway discounts are great for your budget but the traffic jams can be a real headache.
Japanese highways are notoriously clogged during obon – when people return to their hometowns to visit relatives and worship their ancestors – and even more so this year as motorists take advantage of toll discounts introduced in March and offered only on weekends and holidays.
Last weekend we visited my wife’s family in Iwate prefecture 530 km (320 miles) north of Tokyo and paid only 1,700 yen ($17) one-way in tolls, much cheaper than the 10,000 yen that it would have cost on a weekday. The shinkansen (bullet train) would have set the four of us back almost 35,000 yen.
To beat the traffic we got up at the crack of dawn, loaded up the SUV with three days worth of clothes, diapers, and enough toys to occupy the kids, and hit the road at 6:30.
Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. We immediately ran into heavy traffic on the Tohoku Expressway and crawled along around 40 km per hour through much of the first 100 km before things eased up a bit.
Just when we thought the worst was over, we hit a 25 km (16 miles) backup that looked like a parking lot. All we could do was grin and bear the bumper-to-bumper traffic as my 11-month-old son threw a fit in the back seat while my 5-year-old boy said: “Dad, we should have taken the shinkansen.”
I never wanted to get to my in-laws’ faster than at that moment.
We eventually made it in about 9-1/2 hours – more than three hours longer than it would have taken had there been no traffic jams.
“Next time, let’s not go on a 1,000-yen weekend,” my wife said.
What would you do? Take advantage of the holiday discount and put up with the traffic? Pay more on a weekday and save a few hours? Or shell out for the bullet train and make it in 2-1/2 hours?
Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai