Hi! Someone called?
ETC is a two part process which does indeed lead to discounts on the expressway tolls.
1) The reader. This is the easy part.
If you need to have one installed, it will set you back about 10,000 (2 part set) to 15,000 yen (3 part set)depending on the model.
Installation requires some wiring work with the three part set being tidier.
This also includes the set up of the reader with the ETC system which basically will tell the system what size vehicle (motorbike, K-car, normal car, big vehicle etc) it is. Each size vehicle has a different charge.
Kotaro or any mechanic/car shop (Autobacs/Yellow Hat etc) can help you with this.
It is possible to buy them second hand but they still need to be re-setup with the ETC system and so the saving is not so great.
2) The card. The card basically tells the system who to charge the toll to. So, if you are planning to do a roadtrip and don't have a card, you can borrow a friend's card and use it in your car. The tolls will get charged to them.
Getting a card is the tough part.
Normally. the card is linked to a Japanese credit card and you pay the bill every month. Obviously this means that you need to go through the process of getting a Japanese credit card which is a pain. If you go down this route, you can get a combined CC and ETC or two separate cards. The advantage of two cards is that you can leave the ETC card in the reader in your car and without risking theft of your CC.
If you don't have a Japanese CC, there is another way which I have never tried myself but my friend in Wakayama has done and it takes about a month. There is a prepaid option which requires an application and a deposit of several man. I think it works in this way.
- Pick up a form from the designated NEXCO booths on the expressway. Otherwise you can phone and order one in Japanese
- Fill out the form with an estimate of your normal monthly tolls.
- Receive a phone call in Japanese to make sure that you understand the terms and conditions. They may allow someone to translate for you.
- pay a deposit equivalent to several ( I think 4) months usage. It is either 4/6/8/10 man with rounding up. You need to do some silly maths to justify the tick box option.
- receive the pre paid card
- Every month, the months bill gets taken from your account. There is no combini option.
- When you leave, you need to give back the card and they'll return your deposit minus outstanding fees
From talking to my friend in Wakayama, if you go down this road, pay a large deposit as they stop your card if your 2 month usage exceeds 80% of the deposit.
Here is a Japanese link. No English I am afraid.http://www.driveplaza.com/etc/personal_card.html
Discounts - I cannot give you a definitive answer on this as it varies soooo much. The discounts are time dependant, distance dependant, weekday/weekend dependant and promotion dependant. Very rarely, there is no discount.
To give you an example, Kofu Showa to Toyashina is normally 2800 yen by cash. I have paid 2100 using ETC and also paid 1450.
When there was a weekend promotion a few years back, I got an 11,550 toll for 1000 yen. This is the exception rather than the rule though.