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Publication Number:      Date:  Nov/Dec 1997
Issue No: Vol. 61 No. 3
Date: Nov/Dec 1997


The Current Status of ITS in Japan

by Yasuhiko Iwasaki

Motorization has rapidly advanced in Japan. The size of the country is only 4 percent that of the United States, but the number of automo- biles owned has reached 66 million, which is 33 percent that of the United States.

Unfortunately, Japan has not constructed a road network that can accurately support this increasing traffic. Almost 6,500 kilometers of expressway have been constructed -- just about half of the length planned. As a result, trafficc congestion is a serious problem that causes an economic loss of about $100 billion per year, kills almost 10,000 people in traffic accidents annually, and causes considerable harm to the environment.

People in Japan are anxiously expecting intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to solve these traffic problems. They support technological advancements that offer increased mobility and economic efficiency by increasing throughput, by reducing traffic delays, by improving fuel economy, and by reducing the need for additional construction; that offer safer traffic operations by reducing crashes, by reducing driver errors, and by improving driving abilities during inclement weather; and that enhance the environment by improving air quality and by reducing congestion without devoting more land for highways.

Promoting ITS is also important in the creation and development of new industries. Sales in one of those new industries, the production of car navigational systems, have already exceeded 2 million units in Japan. This market generated annual sales of $2 billion during the past five years.

The Comprehensive Plan

ITS in Japan is being advanced in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan for ITS, which was compiled and released jointly by five ITS-related ministries and agencies -- the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and National Police Agency -- in July 1996. Nine areas of development are defined in the Comprehensive Plan, including advanced navigation systems, electronic toll collection systems, and safe driving assistance. There are 20 user services in total under the nine areas. Japan is aiming at a gradual realization of these services by 2015.

Promotion Organization

Comprehensive Plan for ITS in Japan.

Comprehensive Plan for ITS in Japan.

To achieve the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, the five governmental bodies have set up an inter-ministerial council and work together in mutual cooperation. The council also works in cooperation with national and international organizations such as the Vehicle, Road, and Traffic Intelligence Society (VERTIS). VERTIS is an academic and industrial organization for ITS advancement and actively engages in international technology and information exchange. Also, Japan's Steering Committee for ISO/TC204 is involved in international standardization activities.

The Budget

The ITS-related budget for fiscal year 1997 totaled approximately $680 million, which was allocated to the five governmental bodies. The budget includes $75 million for research and development and $605 million for deployment. While the government budget as a whole increased only slightly, the ITS budget increased 16 percent over the previous year.

Major Projects

The government budgets money to promote three major projects: the Vehicle Information Communication System (VICS), the Electronic Toll Collection System (ETC), and the Automated Highway System (AHS).


VICS is a service that provides drivers with real-time information, such as traffic backup situations or traffic regulations, at no charge to the driver. For about 10 years, Japan has been focusing on ITS as a principal solution to the severe problem of traffic congestion. VICS lessens the traffic congestion and offers the largest scale service that directly benefits Japanese drivers. Currently, drivers can obtain traffic information in the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, as well as on the country's 6,500 km of expressways.

ETC Toll booths along the approximately 7,200 km of toll highways (including expressways) in Japan are one of the major causes of traffic congestion. Therefore, electronic toll collection is considered second only to VICS in importance.

Toll highways in Japan are managed mainly by four public highway corporations. As a result, the Japanese government is trying to develop systems that these corporations will use.

This spring, a council within the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications submitted a report about the communication system, which must have a large capacity, stating that they had decided on a frequency band of 5.8 Gz, a transmission speed of 1 Mbps, and a transceiver type of communications.

Before the end of 1997, the Ministry of Construction will determine the specifications and begin full-scale testing, aiming to implement the systems on several sections of toll highways next year.


In Japan, AHS's aim is to soon develop a safe, practical driving-assistance system and to eventually create an automated driving system. In September 1996, the Advanced Cruise-Assist Highway System Research Association (AHSRA) was founded by 21 private corporations to promote research and development for AHS. Japan's need to develop a safe driving-assistance system is apparent -- the number of traffic fatalities now equals the number of people killed in 20 jumbo jet crashes per year. Japan is working diligently on AHS to enhance safety by reducing the numher of crashes caused by driver error.

Since AHS is a leading area of development, it is especially important to discuss and exchange information with international partners regarding the implementation process and the human, regulatory, and technological considerations. Therefore, Japan plans to participate in an aggressive exchange of information with the United States and other countries. To promote this exchange, AHSRA has set up an associate membership system, welcoming participating members from abroad.

ITS promotion organizations in Japan.

ITS promotion organizations in Japan.

International Collaboration

ITS addresses traffic problems that are common throughout the world. Therefore, international collaboration is extremely important in realizing the goals of ITS. Japan emphasizes collaboration with countries in the Asian and Pacific regions, as well as with America and European countries. And last year, with support from ITS America, the first Asia-Pacific ITS Seminar was held in Tokyo.

Japan is actively and aggressively participating in international standardization activities. Furthermore, Japan promotes and publicizes research results by releasing ETC test results and by holding open tests of AHS and ETC.

A Step Toward Realizing an "ITS World"

Japan has made considerable progress over the past three years in planning, promoting, organizing, deploying, and developing a research and development budget for the ITS program.

In the next three years, Japan will focus on researching the protocols necessary to ensure interoperability between ITS systems and standardization activities. In addition, Japan will have to develop performance measurements and evaluation methods for ITS.

Current programs, like ETC deployment, practical applications of ITS, and AHS improvements will continue and will be the nucleus of Japan's research and development plan. Also, projects leading to the so called, "merger of ITS and multimedia" may be possible. For example, a simply designed navigational system could be upgraded to a navigational system that includes traffic information, and later, to a navigational system that can provide drivers with all the information they need.

ITS in Japan has finally begun to show full-scale development; however, Japan needs to put more energy into their ITS program. ITS in Japan can be compared to an airplane on take off -- it must gain the needed lifting power to take off successfully. This effort is indispensable.

The Japanese government can advance ITS in three ways. The first way is to clearly express the desire to promote ITS. In fiscal years 1995 and 1996, the government's ITS budget for research and development increased tenfold, during which time the government announced many plans to promote ITS. As a result, the number of companies with departments assigned exclusively to ITS-related work increased from 16 to 170 during that period. Private industry involvement is necessary for realizing the goals of ITS. During this transitional period, moving from the research and development stage to the deployment stage, the government must commit itself to fund the ITS budget and to express clear plans for ITS, so that private companies can consider commercializing ITS without hesitation.

The second way to advance ITS and gain public support is to provide users with the opportunity to actually experience ITS. Japan conducted AHS open tests during fiscal years 1995 and 1996 that were attended by more than 100 invited members of the press. A successful example of ITS implementation is the VICS program that was put into practical use in fiscal year 1996.

This allowed users to personally experience the effects of ITS, and it greatly enhanced the public's understanding of the program. Because ITS is something new, its effects are better understood through experience rather than through words. Japan can continue to gain users' understanding and support through public participation in the test programs.

The third way to advance ITS is to promote international collaboration. Currently, Japan is working on plans for the 12th Five-Year Road Improvement Program, beginning in fiscal year 1998. In creating this plan, Japan must decide how to promote ITS. ITS will be shifting from the research and development stage to the deployment stage within the next five years. During this transitional time, Japan must develop the standards and protocols needed for ITS and must collaborate with international entities to create proper standards that will ensure interoperability between systems, countries, and the other multimedia. The work done during this period will be crucial in proving the value of ITS.

The efforts made in Japan to develop and improve ITS demonstrate that the United States has many fellow "coworkers" in Japan who are seriously studying how to increase mobility, improve safety, and enhance the environment through intelligent transportation systems.

Yasuhiko Iwasaki is working with the Federal Highway Administration as an international research fellow for a year on a U.S.-Japanese exchange program. Before coming to the United States in April 1997, he was the executive deputy director of the Planning Division of the Road Bureau at the Japanese Ministry of Construction. In this position he was responsible for all aspects of ITS within the ministry, including requesting the budget, guiding research and development, and creating the Comprehensive Plan for ITS in Japan.



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