Editor’s Note: Okinawa Expressway and ETC was originally published on Okinawa Hai on March 27, 2009; you can read a PDF copy of that original review HERE. The post below is an updated take, published May 23, 2016.
CONTRIBUTED BY LOUISE DUPUY
zjnjyone who has been here more than five minutes (and for anyone who just arrived really), Okinawa is infamous for its traffic. “Going nowhere fast” has never been more apt than here on this pretty little subtropical haven! However, there is a way to beat the traffic: take the expressway! Allow me to take you on a brief journey, and impart some wisdom about the ETC (automated pay) system whilst I’m at it!
What Is An Expressway?
A highway, usually 3 lanes wide and with a top speed of 80km/hr, making it much faster than the standard roads and routes on the island. It runs from Naha to Kyoda on Okinawa, a distance of 57.3km (35 miles). It’s run by the West Nippon Expressway Company and has been in use since 1975.
Where Does It Operate?
The route begins in the South, in Naha, accessed from Prefectural route 82, right up to Kyoda, Nago, with the interchange emptying out onto Highway 58. There are 12 interchanges altogether, running South to North, these are:
1: Naha I.C.: Naha City, Shuri and Naha Airport
1-1: Nishihara JCT: Naha Airport, Outlet Mall Ashibinaa
2: Nishihara I.C.: Camp Kinser
x (not a full exit): Nakagusuku Parking Area
3: Kitanakagusuku I.C.: Camp Foster
4: Kishaba Smart I.C.: Camp Foster
5: Okinawa-kita I.C.: Camp Courtney
6: Okinawa-minami I.C.: Okinawa City and Kadena Gate 2
Ishiwaka I.C.: Onna Village
7: Yaka I.C.: Onna Village
x (not a full exit): Igei Service Area
8: Kin I.C.: Camp Hansen
9: Ginoza I.C.: Camp Schwab
10: Kyoda I.C.: Nago City and Ocean Expo ParkThis means it’s pretty accessible from most of the island and allows for a quicker, stressless route, particularly important for those middle of the day airport runs!
How Do I Find It?
Its signs are well posted. Look out for the green and white signs that say expressway, or the green and white boxes on normal road signs pointing you in the right direction to join.
How Much Is It?
The only downside to the expressway is the fact that it’s a toll road. This means that depending on your journey length, it will cost you. Price also depends on the type of vehicle you have too. You are looking at anywhere from 120/130 yen for the very shortest journey, right up to 840/1,020 for the longest. Again, this depends on the type of vehicle you own, with categories for mini and ordinary vehicles.
How Do You Pay?
Yen cash. They accept coins and notes, but don’t put a 5,000 yen note in, they can’t change it! No dollars. If you plan to use it regularly and don’t feel like having a car full of change, there is an alternative. It’s called ETC, and it’s awesome!
It’s an electronic collection device, much like the EZPass system on the east coast of the US, which allows you to pass through specially marked gates at all intersections without fumbling for change. All you need is a card reader in your car, an ETC card, and voila! The readers can be installed at Autobacs or Yellow Hat. There are different types, depending on your vehicle type and needs, so discuss this with the installation engineer.
You simply put the ETC card into the reader device, enter the toll road through the ETC gate (marked with purple signs) and off you go! There are three service price plans available too, which are:
Monthly: 1200 per month
Yearly: 989 per month, billed annually
One-time fee: 20,000, billed once
Referral code: OKIHAI , lets them know you read it here and that gives us a small commision to help run our community.
These are service fees for the ETC, and you still have to pay for all tolls. However, if you sign up and don’t use the expressway, you won’t be charged the service fee. And with the one-time fee, you pay once then never have to pay the service fees again, just the toll price. Also, you can have multiple cards for one vehicle, or for the household! So if there’s more than one driver in the home, you can keep track of who is spending what with individual cards. They have a website to explain everything, you can find it here. It’s in English, and you can link the ETC card to an American bank account or credit card; with all fees for using the expressway pulled monthly, you don’t even have to remember to pay them by a certain date. It’s efficient and clever.
Happy and safe driving!
Do you use the Expressway often? Who has an ETC unit installed in their car? Tell us about your experiences!
How do I dispute multiple charges on my visa for toll on one single day?
I signed up for ETC with JapanETCcard. A big thank you to the staff at Japanetccard! Wonderful and quick service we love our new ETC card and can’t wait to go on a road trips.
https://www.facebook.com/JapanEtcCard These guys offer ETC
We are flying to Okinawa and will be traveling between the Marriott in Nago to Kadena for the next several weeks. How much is the toll each way? Do you have to use Yen (cash) or can you use a credit card? Is ETC an option anymore, and is it worth the effort for a 3-week trip? Any other options for paying the tolls?
i went here to get a ETC cad bc i have the system dock in my car. i drive from exit 4 to exit 9 everyday for work. i would love to get a card but the place at the spot gate does not sell them anymore. Do you know of anywhere else i can get this. thank you
Gavin, if you get off at Exit 6, stay left after the toll booth then right at the pedestrian circle. You will now be heading South on Hwy 329 proper. Continue South through Ishikawa until you see the sign for Hwy 75, turn left at this light. Continue on 75 for about 5 min and you will see Courtney. The Commissary, PX, bank, gas station and hobby shop are on the right side of 75 while housing, and pretty much the rest of Courtney is a little farther up on the left. From 329 it will be the 3rd and 4th traffic lights you come to on 75. There are shorter routes, and you can learn them later but this will get you there.
Also you can get off on exit 5. Turn left on 329 and head North. About 2-3 km down Hwy 329 will split with the bypass continuing straight and 329 proper going right. You should go right. Continue on this road until you see Hwy75 then turn right and follow the directions as posted above from Hwy 75. Again there are other routes, but you can learn them later.
I think I just read somewhere that Exit 6 is wrong your supposed to exit at #5. That would be why I was lost.
Can someone explain the directions to Courtney exiting at Exit 6 coming northbond? Thanks.
I just started using the expressway too and was wondering about the ETC…anyone have any info?
Are there any updates if the express way will ever be free again? Can used ETC machines be purchased on Okinawa yard sales from service members rotating?
I just called Typhoon Motors on Foster and they said that you can still get them but at Make Man and an auto shop. But you have to get an Japanese Bank account since it’s paid through a credit card. On that note, the Expressway is still free at least until Dec of this year, and the guy at Typhoon mentioned that they may even be extending that again. So he recommended holding off on purchasing anything.
Bad News…just called FADTECH and was told they don’t sell ETC’s anymore, and not even the cards if you already have an ETC installed on your newly bought used car…she mentioned something about having a japanese credit card, or local bank account….talk about making it difficult for Americans on island.
Does anybody know any roundabout on this one?
Not sure Joy, but I did go to Tabata today and noticed they have one unit for about Y9,000 and another one for Y13,000.
Thank you, Paul! Do you happen to know any details regarding the card?
Joy, From Courtney: Go out the main gate and turn left onto 75. Just before you reach Hwy 85(this is where the Main City SanA is located- it will be on the right) you will see the AutoBachs on your right. Also I think they sell the ETC at the Tabata Home Store in Ishikawa, just North of the pedestrian circle next to the San A
I’m also hearing that you can get the box there, but NOT the card. And something about having to have a Japanese bank account to get the card?? Anybody know anything about this? Thanks!!
There are several locations on island, but the one that would probably be the easiest for you to find is on 58 across from Lester. It basically shares a parking lot with the Blue Seal/Big Dip ice cream shop that is right across the street from Lester’s main gate. It is a two story building with a black and orange sign. Hope you find it!
I’m researching the ETC since my husband drives from Courtney to Futenma and back each day. It seems I need to contact/visit Autobacs to get the details, but to do that, could someone tell me where to find Autobacs? Thanks!
As of July the expressway will go back to a charge system. However it will be 1/2 the normal fares during the week and free on the weekends.
The ETC is no longer available at The Spot…I just called. The lady told me to go to Autobacs.
1) The expressway is said to be free as of June 28th. Subject to change but that is what the local news passed.
2) Driving to Hansen from Foster. Exit Legion gate, go straight across 330. Turn right at the next light. Left through Exit 3 of the expressway and head North towards Nago. Get off on Exit 8, continue North on 329 for about 2km, Hansen will be on the Left.
From Camp Foster:
Exit the Legion Gate. Continue straight. Take a right at your first light. You will see green signs pointing you to the #3 on ramp for the express way. Take the expwy towards Nago. Exit and Exit 8. After paying the toll, continue down the hill and take a left at the light. Continue straight and you will come to a very obvious gate for Camp Hansen on your left after about 5 minutes.
From Camp Lester:
Take a right out of the Camp Lester Main Gate on to 58. At Rte 23 turn right. Follow 23 until you come to the Expwy Gate 4 entrance which will be on your left. It is very well marked. Enter the expressway and follow it towards Nago. Exit and Exit 8. Come down the hill after paying the toll and take a left at the light. Continue straight on this road and you will come to a very obvious gate for Camp Hansen on your left after about 5 minutes.
Can someone please explain the driving directions to Camp Hansen from the Camp Lester/Foster area?? Thank you!
The Expressway was supposed to be free starting June 1.
However, the entire new DPJ national program concerning toll roads in Japan was challenged within the past two months.
The Japanese NHK had said that all the changes planned for June 1 were put on hold, some to take effect July 1, other indefinitely.
With the resignation of Prime Minister Hatoyama today, a resolution to this issue may linger for awhile longer.
i was wondering the same thing, M…i paid today too! what’s up?
According to Japan Update the expressway was suppose to be free starting June 1st, but we took it today and still had to pay. Has anyone else heard anything about this?
Update: They don’t sell the ETC hardware at the Spot (Fad-tech)any more, as a matter of fact they are less than helpful there.
hi rose it’s me vinda from jacksonville florida.how are u? long time no hear.i just retired last aug. as per my hubby’s request.ijust go with him every other month travelling evrywhere for two weeks.just enjoying life while we can.i miss oki and our good time together in fad tech,your generosity towards me.i wish we cuold go back there,maybe someday.send me a message on my email address ok.love to hear from you.miss you mucho.
i’m in facebook
really easy, Theresa – i just did it last night.
expressway south and follow the signs. all the way. just pay attention to the signs; it’s exit A-4, on an extension of the expwy to the airport that isn’t on most maps.
from exit 4 (okinawa-minami off of rte. 23) it cost me 350¥. hope that helps! leave about 45 minutes at the minimum to be safe, depending where you’re coming from.
Does anyone know how to get to airport using the expressway? What exit, and is it hard to get there once you exit off the expressway?
according to reader Paul,”You can buy the ETC hardware at most any store that has a car section in it, or at the specialty shops like Autobachs.”
Hope this helps!
Is there anywhere ELSE to setup the ETC instead of Fad-Tech???
After over a year on island, I finally got an ETC card and machine – couldn’t be happier. I commute between exit 4 (Okinawa Minami) and Exit 8 (Kin) everyday. At the times I use it, I save almost 50% each time I zip through the gates. The card and machine paid for themselves in about two months.
Paul is right, exit 7 exists only when you’re going northbound on the expressway. When you’re traveling south it skips the Yaka exit and goes from 8 to 6.
Her name is Rose.
So glad you posted this. I have been trying to get info for awhile . I travel from Kinser to Hansen everyday and its about time I get that darn lil ETC machine .I cant imagine going anywhere now with out being on the expressway.Plus I heard they have a new 30% discount from the hours of 7am -5pm with your ETC . I could be saving more .Thanks again for the info.
By the way I got stuck on that ETC entrance as well . Dumb me I thought it was for Americans only. I seriously thought it would stand for English Translator Center.LOL
Good evening ma’am,
I couldn’t help but notice you mentioning that you commuted from Kinser to Hansen every day. I just got on the island last week and am working on Kinser currently. My husband and I are looking for a houses and came across an amazing house right by Hansen and were set on living there. However, I’ve had numerous people tell me that this will be the worst decision and that I will hate my life doing this commute every day.. I thought it’d be best to get input from someone that’s done it herself. I know this was over 4 years ago, but if you have any advice you could share, it’d be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
I would suggest making the drive during your commuting hours to try it out before committing. My husband works at Hansen and we live on Kadena and the commute every day can be a pain. He will spend 25 minutes driving on good days and more if there is traffic. Kinser is another 30-45 minutes from where we are. Your commute would probably be at least an hour each way. Plus if you take the Expressway (which would be the fastest way at 1 hour, anything else will probably take you twice that), you are going to pay probably $7-$10 each way. It doesn’t seem like much but it adds up very quickly. I wish we lived closer to where my husband worked so he wasn’t driving so much.
I have to echo Amanda’s advice and those who’ve cautioned you about this commute. In my personal opinion it would be a nightmare to spend 1 hour+ each way driving to and from work, not to mention expensive on the expressway (the shortest route possible.) Spending a minimum of two hours in the car each day would wear on me quickly. Consider your work hours as well. My active duty husband has 14 hours workdays on a regular basis, and I could not imagine him making this drive safely every day. In the end you have to do what’s best for you, but consider carefully.
Thanks for the info on where to get the ETC.
I love the expressway for the sole purpose. It reminds me of home. Driving on the Parkway in NJ is pretty much the same. We have EZ pass instead of ETC which is also marked in purple. So thankfully I just figured it was the same LOL. It is. Now I know:) Thanks for that info!
You can buy the ETC hardware at most any store that has a car section in it, or at the specialty shops like Autobachs.
Oh…and I’m pretty sure Yaka is only an entrance, not an exit…or the other way around, it’s been a while.
Thanks for posting this. We took the expressway twice before my hubby left (well, 1 trip north, 1 trip back south). It wasn’t as difficult as I expected -I’m not used to toll roads anyway…we don’t have them where I’d been driving the last 20 years, but Hubby’s used to them. It was really nice to muddle through it with my spouse though.
We didn’t know what ETC was so we assumed we weren’t allowed there… but figured it was for carpools or something. This is great info – now I know to consider it if I start braving the expressway more myself. 😛
Great info – thanks much!!!!
Thanks for posting this information. I’ve only driven on the expressway twice by myself, the other times have been riding with others. Thanks for posting the routes and where they lead, too. Oh, and the lady’s name is Rose (I had to take her photo for work when they opened the shop…thought I’d help you out!)