If you’re renting a car in Japan (which we totally suggest doing) you’re most likely going to find yourself on the highway at some point. This is a good thing! Whether or not you’re used to driving on the left side of the road or not (it’s not hard), you’ll be able to access a whole new side of Japan. So what are the benefits?
When you’re booking a rental car, be sure to get an ETC card. Not only do they make your highways tolls cheaper Just slide one of these Electronic Toll Collection System (ETC) cards into the reader inside your car, and you won’t have to deal with tollbooths throughout your trip.
It should be noted that many private toll roads only accept cash (not ETC) but these are usually just a few hundred yen at a time.
Speed & Flexibility
When you aren’t using ETC you’ll need to go through the cash/credit toll gates, which often have lines and can take several minutes of your time…which you’ll then have to repeat when you get off of the highway. Going through an ETC gate is totally automated and keeps you moving on your way.
Night, Weekend, and Holiday Discounts
You already save a bit of money by using ETC over cash or credit, but you can save 30% by driving at night or on weekends and national holidays. Enter or exit an ETC booth during those days, or between midnight to 4am on any weekday, and you’ll get the discount. Driving at night is also great if you want to avoid traffic, though you’ll miss out on some beautiful vistas in more rural areas.
Special Regional Passes
Just hitting up the Tohoku, Hokkaido, or Central Japan areas? You can get special regional ETC passes for those area from your rental provider which allow you to use the highways at a fixed price for a set amount of time. Depending on how much you plan to drive, you can save a ton of money even if it’s just for a few days.