Japan to Launch Nationwide Expressway Pass for Overseas Visitors

Venus Line

Japan has announced the launch of a new nationwide expressway pass that will allow visitors from abroad to take unlimited travel on most expressways across Japan.

From October 13th, visitors to Japan with foreign passports who use certain designated rental car companies will be able to make unlimited use of expressways across the country for a period of either one or two weeks for a fixed price by using the new Japan Expressway Pass.

The new pass will cover expressways owned by East Nippon Expressway Co. (Nexco-East), Central Nippon Expressway Co. (Nexco-Central), and West Nippon Expressway Co. (Nexco-West), as well as some other expressway operators (visitors to Hokkaido can benefit from a separate pass, the Hokkaido Expressway Pass - find out more here).  Although the pass will not cover expressways in Hokkaido, in and around Tokyo or in and around Osaka, it will allow visitors unlimited use of around 10,000 km of Japan’s fastest roads covering most of the country. 

The seven-day all-Japan pass will be priced at 20,000 yen (£132) and the 14-day pass at 34,000 yen (£224). Drivers will be able to apply for the pass before they start using it at one of 275 designated rental car service outlets across Japan. Sales of the pass will begin on 13th October 2017. The new pass is not valid for use by foreign nationals residing in Japan.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), car rentals by foreign visitors to Japan climbed to around 700,000 for the year April 2015 to March 2016. Announcing the launch of the new pass at a press conference, the transport minister Keiichi Ishii said that he hopes that the new pass will encourage visitors from abroad to venture off the popular tourist route between Tokyo, Mount Fuji and Kyoto and explore undiscovered regional destinations outside of the main cities.
Japan already has several regional passes that allow foreign visitors unlimited expressway travel for up to 14 days in key areas such as Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Kyushu. The existing regional passes will continue to be available at prices ranging from 1,500 to 16,000 (£9.90-£106). With the launch of the new pass, the convenience and value of these regional passes will go national. So, where can you visit with the new pass?

Where To Visit with the New Pass

Discover Nara and Kyoto - 1 night, 2 days

Kansai International Airport (KIX) -> Nara -> Kyoto -> KIX

Kiyomizudera Temple

As former capitals of Japan, between them Nara and Kyoto are an invaluable repository of Japanese history, art, religion and culture. See the best of what each of Japan’s former capitals has to offer with this short itinerary. From shrines and temples to palace ruins, a ‘power spot’, and a shogun’s burial mound, by getting around by car, you’ll be able to cover all these sights in just two days both easily and comfortably.

Day 1 - Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Shrine->Kiyomizudera Temple->Arashiyama


Fushimi Inari Shrine ©JTA

Thread your way through Fushimi Inari Shrine’s corridor of scarlet shrine gates  - the mountain shrine never fails to evoke a sense of mystery in visitors. Soak up the unbroken view of the streets of Kyoto from Kiyomizudera Temple’s famous all-wooden yet entirely nail-free viewing platform. Visit Nanzen-ji Temple, Japan’s oldest and highest-ranking Zen temple, built by special request of the emperor at the time. Visit Tenryu-ji Temple - the most famous of Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, the temple garden behind the priests’ quarters is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Cross Togetsukyo Bridge, a 155m long and 11m wide bridge suspended over Arashiyama district’s Katsuragawa River in scenic surroundings. Take a night-time visit to Shogunzaka, a 2m tall burial mound in the grounds of a temple at the summit of Mt. Kacho.

Day 2 - Nara 

Nara Park->Heijo Palace Ruins->Todaiji Temple Big Buddha

Heijo Palace Ruins

Spend a few hours roaming Nara Park, home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites and national treasures as well as over 1,000 deer! Explore Heijo Palace Ruins - another registered World Heritage site, this vast former site of a palace said to be large enough to hold 30 baseball stadiums. Visit Kashihara Shrine, dedicated to the first ever emperor of Japan and his wife, tucked away in the foothills of Mt. Unebi. Measure up against the main star at Todai-ji Temple - another UNESCO World Heritage site, it is most famous for its Daibutsu, a giant golden statue of the Buddha. Climb Mt. Wakakusa, whose grass-covered summit offers a sweeping view of the Nara cityscape from its peak. Recharge at Omiwa Jinja Shrine, said to be one of the oldest shrines in Japan and famous today as a mystical ‘power spot’.

Fancy heading further south? Check out this itinerary for 1 night 2 days in Nagasaki and Fukuoka on Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu.

Explore 5 Castle Towns in Central Japan - 5 Days

Matsumoto->Shirakawago/Gokayama Villages->Kanazawa->Hikone->Nagoya

Matsumoto Castle ©Matsumoto City
Central Japan is dotted with some of the county’s most famous castles. These include three castles which have been designated National Treasures of Japan - Matsumoto Castle, Hikone Castle and Inuyama Castle - Nagoya Castle, which is one of the most beautiful and famous of Japanese castles, and Kanazawa Castle where many culturally important structures remain today.


Day 1 - Matsumoto

Former Kaiichi School ©Matsumoto City

Explore the authentic wooden interior of Matsumoto Castle, one of the most complete and beautiful of Japan’s surviving original castles. See inside the Former Kaichi School, one of the first schools in Japan, which opened in an attractive western-style building in 1876 and was converted into a museum in 1961. View the highlights of Matsumoto City Museum of Art’s permanent collection, which includes artworks by Matsumoto’s most famous daughter, internationally acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama. Relax in Okuhida Onsen Towns, a famous hot spring destination known for its outdoor baths (rotenburo) offering stunning views of the Northern Japan Alps while you bathe.

Day 2 - Shirakawago and Kanazawa

Higashichaya District ©Kanazawa City
Visit Shirakawago and Gokayama - declared World Heritage sites in 1995, these two rural villages are famous for their 250 year-old traditional thatched cottages with steep roofs designed to withstand heavy snow in winter. View the exhibits at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, one of Japan’s most popular art museums, whose unique circular building was designed to prevent visitors from approaching its art from only one direction. 
Explore Kanazawa Castle Park, where a long-running project since the 1990s has slowly created authentic reconstructions of the castle’s original structures, including turrets, storehouses and gates. Meet a geisha in Higashi Chaya District, the largest of Kanazawa’s three well-preserved, charming traditional districts, whose streets are lined with teahouses (chaya) where geisha perform to this day. Wander the paths of Kenrokuen Garden - justifiably classed as one of Japan’s top three most celebrated landscape gardens, a stroll through the garden is an unmissable part of any visit to Kanazawa.

Day 3 - Hikone

Hikone Castle ©Yasufumi Nishi
Enjoy the historical town atmosphere and stylish shops and boutiques, housed in distinctive black buildings, in Kurokabe Square, Nagahama. Visit Hikone Castle, an original hilltop castle dating from 1622 that, like Matsumoto Castle, has successfully survived the rigours of time - its keep, moats, gates, walls and guard houses are all intact. Spend a half-day or day exploring the streets and gardens of Hikone Castle Town, a small, pleasant town on the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake.

Day 4 - Nagoya

Inuyama Castle
Visit Inuyama Castle - built in 1537, Inuyama is another of Japan’s twelve surviving original castles. A hilltop castle, it offers panoramic, sweeping river views from the top of its keep, one of the oldest in Japan. Explore Meiji-mura Museum, a theme-park like open air museum displaying over 60 buildings from the Meiji Period (1868-1912), many showcasing early examples of western-style architecture in Japan. Visit Nagoya Castle - while a concrete reconstruction of the original, the castle keep houses an interesting museum. And don't miss the mesmerising gold-leaf fusama (sliding doors) with tigers painted on inside the recently unveiled reconstruction of the castle palace, built using traditional materials and techniques.
Castles not quite your cup of tea? Why not try this 5-day route in central Japan that takes in (amongst other things) Iga ninja museum, an unforgettable Ama pearl diver experience, and Toyota automobile museum
Or this 6-day route in central Japan, known as a manufacturing hub since ancient times, focusing on its art and handicrafts. Create your own plastic food sample in Gujo Hachiman, explore Takayama’s merchant district, sake cellars and morning market, blow your head off at Daio Wasabi Farm, and walk the cluttered terracotta pottery paths in Tokoname’s pottery district.
One thing is for sure - with the launch of the new national expressway pass, getting off the beaten track in Japan has never been easier! So next time you visit Japan, why not rent yourself some wheels, grab yourself a pass and get out in and explore the undiscovered nooks and crannies of Japan - there is so much to discover.
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