Driving in Okinawa? Stay out of the bus lanes!

Driving in Okinawa? Stay out of the bus lanes!

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Some of you may be new to the island, while others may just seem to forget about Okinawa’s bus lanes. Don’t be another Y-plate car pulled over for driving in these lanes!

It’s a familiar scene I see all too often on the southbound lane between the south end of Camp Foster and the entrance of MCAS Futenma.

When driving south on Route 58 to MCAS Futenma, you need to merge to the far-left lane at some point in order to make a left turn into the facility’s gate. However, doing that too early can lead to trouble.

The bus lanes are those that can only be used by public buses during certain times of the day. And the penalty for violation can be 6,000-7,000 yen.

This law is an important one to know and should be covered anytime someone is new to Okinawa. If you’ve been here for a while, you’ve likely have heard about quite a bit.

There is nothing difficult about understanding the rule, to put it simply, it is a lane designated for buses and most likely to be the far-left lane, But it may require a special attention to note an actual bus lane when you get behind the wheel.

Although some bus lanes are colored green, some are not. Drivers need to note what time of day it is, because the rule only applies certain times of the day – typically rush hour in the morning and evening.

It is simple, but there are some smaller details one needs to know when driving during bus lane hours.

Did you know that when you only merge into a bus lane for a left turn once you’re close enough to the intersection where you will make the turn? Or that there are roads that turn exclusively into bus lanes, not allowing any personal vehicles to travel in certain directions at certain times?

According to the Okinawa Prefectural Police, the best advice for drivers to avoid bus lane violations, is to be aware of the rules before you drive. And ideally, have an idea of which areas are affected by the rule.

And with all the people I see getting pulled over, maybe a refresher course would be worth the time.


Nishikaigan Road offers shortcut to airport

If you’ve lived on the island for a while, you know traffic on Route 58 can be heavy at any moment. But there is a shortcut that will shave off a significant amount of time for those headed to and from Naha Air Port.

Nishikaigan Douro (Nishikaigan Road), which opened in 2018, connects Uchidomari in Ginowan City to Irijima in Urasoe City. The 4.5 kilometers road/bridge spans over the coastline, overlooking Camp Kinser on the shoreside and the ocean on the other.

The road is also connected to a street that goes along the west coast of Naha City, providing an almost straight route from Camp Foster to the airport. Depending on time of day and traffic, Nishikaigan Road reduces travel time between the facility and the airport from 40 minutes to 30 minutes.

Taking this road helps reduce the chronically heavy traffic on the main road. Plus, it provides a great view of the ocean. It’s a beautiful drive.

Bus Lanes

LOCATION: Southbound lane of Route 58 (From Isa intersection near the south end of Camp Foster to Nakanishi, southern end of Camp Kinser)
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m.
NOTES: Y-number plate cars are often stopped by local police on the road between Isa intersection and the sign of MCAS Futenma.

LOCATION: Southbound lane of Route 58 (From Jitchaku intersection to Aja intersection)
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m.
NOTES: This is a short section south of Camp Kinser, where you would drive if you don’t merge on to an elevated bridge that runs parallel.

LOCATION: Southbound lane of Route 58 (From Ameku to Kumoji Intersection)
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m.
NOTES: This is a long section that runs near the central part of Naha. Traffic on this portion of Route 58 becomes very heavy in the morning. But drivers of regular vehicles cannot take advantage of the less crowded lane on the far left.

LOCATION: Northbound lane of Route 58 (from Asahibashi Intersection to Jitchaku)
TIME: 5:30 - 7 p.m.
NOTES: The northbound lane of Route 58 is regularly flooded with cars on their way home during the time period.

LOCATION: Northbound lane of Route 58 (from Nakanishi to Makiminato Overpass)
TIME: 5:30 - 7 p.m.
NOTES: If you go out Gate 1 of Camp Kinser during the time, you should not drive on the far left lane.

LOCATION: Northbound lane of Route 58 (from Ojyana to Isa)
TIME: 5:30 - 7 p.m.
NOTES: This section has been newly introduced for the bus lane regulations. Drivers around MCAS Futenma and Camp Foster need to be careful of this new bus lane.

LOCATION: Kokusai Street
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m. (Southbound) 5:30 - 7 p.m. (Northbound)
NOTES: During the above time period, this main street will be exclusively available for buses.

LOCATION: Route 222 (Between Naha High School and Yogi Intersection)
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m. (Naha High School bound) 5:30 - 7 p.m. (Yogi bound)
NOTES: During each time period, the road will be exclusively used by buses except for the Yogi bound lane between Kainan and Naha High School, where the far left lane will be designated for bus lane.

LOCATION: Route 330 (From Kohagura through Yogi, northbound lane)
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m.
NOTES: Heavy traffic is regularly seen on this road, which runs almost parallel to Route 58

LOCATION: Route 329 to Route 507 (from Kanegusuku to Kohagura)
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m.
NOTES: Heavy traffic is regularly seen on this road.

LOCATION: Route 29 (Between Asato near Kokusai street and Matsugawanishi) 
TIME: 7:30 – 9 a.m. (Asato bound), 5:30 – 7 p.m. (Matugawanishi bound) 
NOTES: There is a reversible lane running at the center, which is used as an Asato Intersection/Kokusai street bound lane from 6 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. whereas from 5:30 p.m. through 6 a.m., it becomes a Matsugawanishi bound, according to the Okinawa prefectural government.

LOCATION: Route 29 (Between Matsugawa and Yamagawa near Shuri Castle) 
TIME: 7:30 - 9 a.m. (Matsugawa bound lane), 5:30 - 7 p.m. (Yamagawa/Shuri castle bound)

NOTES: The Matsugawa bound lanes become exclusively available for buses during the commute hours whereas the far-left lane of Yamagawa Shuri Castle bound road is designated as a bus lane during the evening hours to go home.  
- Okinawa Prefectural Police

*There are no bus lanes effective on Saturdays, Sundays, National holidays in Japan, and January 2nd and 3rd.
*Motorcycles are allowed to drive on bus lanes.

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