Here in Okinawa we have a high speed (80kph) toll road for cars and motorcycles (single passenger only) known to many as The Okinawa Expressway. This road runs about half the length of the island offering drivers a quicker way to get to their destinations while avoiding traffic. For some the thought of using the expressway is a bit intimidating so in this post we’re going to go over everything you need to know in order to take advantage of this toll road.
There are 10 exits along the Okinawa Expressway running from the southern city of Naha to the northern city of Nago. The exits are as follows (south to north): Naha (Naha City, Shuri, Naha Airport), Nishihara (Camp Kinser), Kitanakagusuku (Camp Foster), Okinawa-Minami(Okinawa City, Kadena Gate 2), Okinawa-Kita (Camp Courtney), Ishikawa Yaka (Onna Village) , Kin (Camp Hansen), Ginoza (Camp Schwab) and Kyoda (Nago City).
It is important when making the decision to use the expressway to know what exit you will need to take in order to get to your destination and back home. This can easily be done my referring to a map such as the one above as well as Google Maps which will give you the opportunity to zoom in on the exact location of the exit. Be sure to make note of the exits you will need to take so that you do not forget them while you’re out enjoying the island.
How to use the expressway:
To use the Okinawa Expressway simply follow the signs to your nearest entrance. **HINT: Be sure to take note of the exit number to make your return trip easier.** You will approach a large gateway which will have multiple entrances. Slowly proceed to the green entrance. **HINT: Carefully hug the right side to make receiving a ticket easier.** You will then approach a ticket machine which will eject a yellow ticket. Take the ticket and proceed forward.
During your journey be sure to safely stow your ticket so that it is not lost. Do not rip or fold your ticket as it may become damaged. Lost of damaged tickets will prevent the toll collector to determine your origin resulting in the maximum fee charged.
Once you reach your destination slowly approach the green toll gate at your desired exit. Pass the ticket to the toll collector and you will see the amount due on a small screen in front of your car. Once you have paid your toll you can then proceed through the gate and continue on your way.
Acceptable forms of payment:
The two forms of payment accepted on the Okinawa Expressway are yen cash and credit cards. Credit cards accepted include JCB, Nippon Shinpan, American Express, Diners Club, Visa and MasterCard. Although credit cards are accepted it is important to note that only cards issued in Japan are valid. This means if you did not get your card from American Express Japan or Visa Japan it will not be accepted. For most people reading this post that means your only option for payment will in fact be yen cash only.
Road signs on the Okinawa Expressway are very simple to read and make use of many symbols and indicators that you’re probably already familiar with. The first thing you will notice right away is that the road signs on the Okinawa Expressway are green and have both the number and name of the exit on them. Names of locations are also written in Japanese as well as the Roman alphabet making it easy for English speakers to understand. Symbols used on the signs area also very similar to what you are already familiar with such as the “P” for Parking, coffee cup for “light food”, gas pump for “fuel” and so on.
Okinawa may be small but the Okinawa Expressway does in fact have a rest stop. Not only are these places to use the restroom and stretch your legs but they are also places to charge your electric car, purchase some souvenirs and even have a nice lunch or dinner. Rest stops are also equipped with AED and vending machines.
In case of an emergency:
In the event of an accident or malfunction on the Okinawa Expressway there area a few things you can do to both stay safe and get the assistance you need. The first thing you should do if you find yourself pulled over on the expressway in to indicate your presence to other cars. This will help you avoid collision. You can do this by pulling over into the break down lane and using your hazard lights (aka four way flashers). The next thing you will need to do is to is to put out a reflective triangle. This is common practice here in japan and they can be purchased relatively cheap at a local DIY or car care center.
Once you have clearly marked the position of your car to oncoming traffic it’s time to start getting the situation resolved. If you have a cell phone you’re good to go but what if you don’t or your battery is dead? In that case you’re going to want to locate an emergency telephone. These phones are installed in 1km intervals along the entire expressway so no matter where you break down it’s not far from an emergency phone.
To use am emergency phone pick up the receiver and wait for the “Talk” lamp to go on. Once the “Talk” lamp is on you will need to inform the control center of your problem. This can be done in one of two ways. Some more modern phones have buttons indicating the type of problem. They are as follows from top to bottom: breakdown, accident, emergency and fire. Some of the older phones do not have such buttons in which case you will need to say what is wrong.
Once the staff confirms the report was received the “Talk” lamp will turn off and you can hang up the phone.
What is ETC and is it for me:
ETC, or Electronic Toll Collection System, is an automatic payment system for those who use the Okinawa Expressway frequently. The ETC system makes paying tolls very quick and easy, however, it requires the purchase and installation of ETC equipment. The cost of an actual ETC reader can vary however most are in the ¥10,000 range without the cost of installation.
Once you have your ETC equipment installed you will need to get an ETC card for the system to work. To do this you must have a Japanese bank account and preferably a Japanese credit card. The easiest way to do this is to contact your credit card company and request an ETC card which is linked to your current credit card.
So is ETC right for you? Unfortunately those who are reading this and are affiliated with the military will find that ETC isn’t a process that they will have the ability to take advantage of. The reason for this is because U.S. Military are not permitted to have Japanese bank accounts here in Okinawa. Others who are here under SOFA Status and do not have a Japanese spouse will find themselves facing the same problem. If you are one of the many who are not facing those challenges there are some other areas you might want to consider before making the move to the ETC lane. First and foremost how often do you use the expressway? ETC equipment is expensive and although the rates to use the expressway are discounted at peak hours it may not be worth it for some. For example you may want to consider getting an ETC if you are traveling from Ginowan to Ginoza for your job but not if you make a trip to Higashi once a month.
Is taking the expressway really necessary:
Ultimately the choice to take the expressway is a matter of personal opinion. Okinawa is not very big and with the proper planning trips on main highways and using the recently constructed bypasses are not as painful as some people make them out to be. Of course there are always times when it’s more convenient to avoid traffic if your trip did not go as planned so it’s a good resource to know how to use.