Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

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.

Road trip!



Japanese tourists often get a lot of flak for going everywhere in packs. Last weekend, I became one of them.

As part of its efforts to stimulate the economy, the government last week kicked off a two-year discount on the country’s notoriously expensive highway tolls. The pricing system differs between rural and metropolitan areas, but what caught the nation’s attention was the all-you-can-drive toll of 1,000 yen ($10) on regional highways on weekends and holidays.