NIHON LIFE: The Shuto, Tokyo’s Elevated Expressways


Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway — Shuto Kōsoku Dōro (or just the Shuto) — is Tokyo’s answer to handling large volumes of traffic traversing the megalopolis.


The first sections were opened in time to showcase Tokyo for the 1962 Olympics. Not designed as an unlimited speed road, its main purpose was to ferry cars around at moderate speeds, unhindered by the non-car friendly Tokyo streets.

While some sections snake alongside rivers, or behind buildings at ground level, most of the road sections are elevated above ground, or tunnel under major areas such as the Imperial Palace or other surface roads.

Many sections of road deck are multi-layered, often consisting of four or more. Because of limitations of the landscape buildings, subterranean infrastructure (other roads and train lines), the often convoluted elevated sections, tunnels, dividers, ramps, interchanges, and tollbooths all conspire to enhance the legend of the Shuto as being a challenging road to drive, at any speed.


The Shuto also includes the Tokyo Wan Aqualine, a 15km straight-line blast under, and then over, Tokyo Bay (wan) to Chiba. The Aqualine used to be a “private” road, built by private interests and with a toll value set at the wish of the operator. Like many private roads in Japan (such as the Atsugi Toll Road to Fuji-san), they used to be un-policed for speed limits. This open status promoted street racing gangs, sometimes badging themselves with ‘250’ or ‘300’ patches – representing their supposed topped-out kilometer-per-hour speed achievements on public roads.


Sadly, or perhaps for the better, speed limits on private toll roads are now policed — not before I was able to enjoy nailing the throttle on a Ferrari V8, roof down, in a vain attempt to chase down some hairdresser in his RX-7. I am not sure what sounded better; the five-valve V8 from Modena, or the Hiroshima rotary cracking and spitting fire on the over-run as we screamed through the tunnel section. At some ridiculous speed though, I chickened out, and watched the RX-7 disappear into the distance.


While street racers have use sections for racing, notably the Bayshore (Wangan) sections, the Shuto gained global exposure with the 1998 release of Shutoku Battle, a Dreamcast console game known as Tokyo Extreme Racer in the US, accurate for its representation of the Shuto’s layout, down to being able to see my old apartment as you raced past at high speed. I still wake in the middle of the night when hearing a loud exhaust, thinking perhaps I am still in my bed next to the Akasaka-Roppongi-Knot (“ARK”), a particularly notorious set of bends known to claim the unwary.


Working too nearby the Shuto, and while enjoying car talk at work one day, one of the senior managers — perhaps sixty years of age — commented that he too enjoyed fast cars, driving a Legacy Turbo. As a joke I asked, “So Tanaka-san, do you get up at 02:00 and go racing around the Shuto?”

“Of course!” he blurted out rapidly, looking at me as if I was mad to even ask such a question.

One notable site for all car types to congregate is the Shuto’s Daikoku Futo – halfway between Yokohama and Tokyo on the Wangan route.


With no other facilities except a gas station and some fast food sellers, it is perhaps a natural place to congregate and enjoy the sounds of fast cars screaming overhead on the elevated sections.


The Parking Area (or simply “PA”) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays is often full of interesting rides. Not only for legendary Japanese cars, but bikes too, and the Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini clubs sometimes show up, as do a regular smattering of bozosoku and general shakotan style aficionados.


On the access roads outside the PA, in front of the local koban, or police booth, less responsible drivers have been known to practice their mountain drifting skills. The massive tire marks, rubber-marbles in the gutter, and the sometimes dinged guard-rail, are all obvious signs of some serious drift work.


YouTube has numerous postings, including the bemused police in their koban, and their attempts to shut the drifters down.


The new Yamate Tunnel adds another 10.9km of fun to the run from Ikebukero to Meguro. It features some remarkable engineering, including a 12 level climb from the subterranean run to nine levels above ground to join the Chuo Expressway at Hatsudai – this roller coaster ride up and down alone is worth the ¥700 entrance fee.


While I ride the Shuto two or three times per week, commuting on my barge-like Maxam scooter, the best time of course is as recommended by Tanaka-san in his Subaru; late evenings, or early mornings. Chasing the fire-breathing RX-7s and GT-Rs is a lot more pleasurable when I can forget the camera, and enjoy the wail of an Audi V8, a Nissan inline six, or a high-revving Mazda rotary next to me as we scream through the tunnels and wind through the many routes around Tokyo.

All at the recommended speed limit of course.

Skorj is a photographer living in Japan and co-founder of Filmwasters.

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10 Responses to NIHON LIFE: The Shuto, Tokyo’s Elevated Expressways

  1. B1500boy says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. That’s the side of Japan I would love to see. Sure I love J tin to death but the engineering feats like in these pictures is why I relate to Japan and her people.

  2. Nigel says:

    I used to play Tokyo Extreme Racer so much, I started seeing the Wangan in my dreams. Then I was able to play Wangan Midnight on advanced levels without any practice. Seeing these roads for real would be a “lifetime too do list”, type goal.

  3. kingtoy says:

    I think a late night/ early morning high speed blast in some fine Japanese metal is definately on my bucket list.

  4. Sr-FairladyZ says:

    I still have the promotional Tokyo Extreme racer VHS tape somewhere. Kobayashi-san of MCR was all over that tape. lol. Very nice read here. Thanks!

  5. bert says:

    I remember thinking I was hot stuff blasting down the I-5 around Seattle! I did 135 in a race once, before slamming the brakes to avoid killing old lady pedestrians! I feel stupid and amateur after reading this tho!! I think I would tremble in fear, and probably have a little incident in my pants if I had a chance to drive the Shuto!

    So…….when do we go?

  6. bert says:

    Skorj-You forgot to get a pic of Sokey Nagata schooling the punks in his Celica 2000GT!

  7. Alan says:

    A Ferrari F355 is among the best sounding cars ever, the problem is, so are tuned roatries – difficult call on which is more musical.

    Love these stories on Japan, I feel like you really capture the zeitgeist of the place well.

  8. Unbelievably cool Skorj.
    Thank you.

  9. MikeRL411 says:

    There is a rather Japanese common sense solution to the building rights vs public use rights issue. In downtown Tokyo the Shuto runs right through a square cutout in a large high rise building.

  10. Kevin Lee says:

    well, since ive been to japan, i could see how these roads realistically could lead to good and fast racing.

    compared to the roads in malaysia, its totally a far cry. and i think japanese drivers would be pretty skilled, since they could practice most of their times there plus nice roads to touge. its only enviable to have such roads here in malaysia

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