There’s an excellent article up at the Japan Times that explains some of the reasons why even though the government used to subsidize half of the toll for the bridge to the mainland I used every weekend when living on Awajishima, I still had to pay 2600 yen (one way!): Japan’s many roads to ruin
“The results have been a disaster. Certainly, Japan has a lot of roads: four to five times the number of any other Group of Seven country when measured by kilometers of road to usable land. The trouble is, a lot of these roads are in places where they are not needed. The country has an impressive network of toll roads that will never be profitable. It has expressways that connect industrial parks to ports and airports that industries do not want to use, and monumental bridges that suck people and money out of rural towns rather than reviving them. Yet despite decades worth of road and other infrastructure projects, projects that people actually need remain undone: In 2007 the government identified 110,000 km of roads where there was a high risk of accidents because, for example, children used them to walk to school (including 40,000 km of streets lacking separated sidewalks!). Adding sidewalks to streets used by small children simply doesn’t fit the agenda of the road tribes as well as a four-lane expressway to nowhere does.
The cost of all this has also been disastrous. Thanks in part to road-building costs 10 to 30 times higher than in other countries, Japan has the most expensive toll roads in the world, some of the highest vehicle acquisition costs, and a national debt almost double the country’s GDP, the servicing of which consumes about a quarter of the annual budget. Japan’s four principal road corporations stagger under an additional ¥40 trillion in debt that is guaranteed by the government.”
I still have some really crazy road stories from Japan, and I may eventually share them. Some of them may be future editions of Osaka Stories.