The inspiration people seek: For many people in Tokyo, the name “Shutoko Route 3” just brings traffic jams to mind. But, for those who have ever been blessed with the experience of heading east toward the city center along a nearly empty Route 3 in the early morning hours just before dawn under a clear and cloudless sky that the months of late autumn to early spring often bring, it becomes a completely different world. In this magical hour, there’s no trace of the daytime traffic jams, and the only color illuminating the sleeping city is the flashing red of the aircraft warning beacons atop the dark silhouettes of the skyscrapers. As you run toward the creeping light of dawn’s white horizon with the stars still shining brightly above in the deep indigo of the sky, the vast metropolis of Tokyo shows you a visage that will surely remain in your memory for a lifetime. Read more Or, you might ride west along Route 3 at sunset when the passing neon signs and lights of the office buildings of Roppongi begin to stand out with growing brilliance. Soon, you begin the gentle uphill climb through the S-curve that puts the bustling din of Shibuya behind you in an instant. As the road levels off, you begin to approach the end of Route 3 at Yoga, and the surrounding buildings begin to shrink in size. What then greets your eyes is a vast expanse of sky painted in a breathtaking gradation no brush wielded by human hand could ever duplicate, rising from sunset vermillion up to the deepest indigo blue imaginable. Then, before you on the horizon rises one of the country’s most famous sights; the graceful silhouette of Japan’s sacred peak—Mt. Fuji. It is a moment of beauty to be experienced only by those who have set out to run the length of this multifaceted road.
In short: The route’s official name in Japanese is Shutokosoku San-go Shibuya-sen (Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway Route No. 3 Shibuya Line). It is a section of the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway system that splits off from the Inner Circular Route (C1) at the Tanimachi Junction in Roppongi and runs directly overhead Roppongi-dori to Shibuya. It then continues outward from Shibuya, running above Tamagawa-dori (National Route 246), and connects to the starting point of the Tomei Expressway at the Yoga Interchange. Read more It is also a road that forms a section of AH1, a route on the international Asian Highway Network. Almost the entire length of Shutoko Route 3 is elevated expressway, running between the skyscrapers of the Japanese capital from Roppongi, through Nishi-azabu and on to Shibuya, where it looks down on the “bottom of the Shibuya valley” before making an S-curve out of the valley. Just farther up, it links to the huge 4-layer loop that is Ohashi Junction. Known for its sharp curves and a vertical elevation span of roughly 70 meters, the structure reaches down more than 30 meters deep into the bowels of the city to connect to the underground tunnel that comprises part of the Shutoko’s Central Circular Route (C2). From there, Route 3 continues west in an almost straight line with a few gently arching curves between the buildings of the business areas at Ikejiri and Sangenjaya stations, and the high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums lining R246 before reaching Yoga. Once past Sangenjaya, the road provides glimpses of the beautiful peak of Mt. Fuji far off ahead in the distance.
Some background: The first section of Shutoko Route 3 was opened to traffic at the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 (Showa 39). It ran from a provisional expressway entrance ramp (no longer existing) in Shibuya’s 4th district (4-chome) to the one near Shibuya Station. It wasn’t until 1967 that Route 3 was finally opened to traffic from Shibuya IC to Tanimachi Junction. Read more Four years later in 1971, when the roughly two decades of rapid economic growth that completely changed the face of Japan was coming to an end, Route 3 was opened all the way to Yoga, signaling its completion. After that, as the pace of Japan’s motorization accelerated, so did the flow of people and goods along Shotoko Route 3 en route to the Tokyo city center from the Tomei Expressway completed two years earlier. As one of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares of the city, Route 3 has become known for its chronic traffic jams. In 2010, it was connected to the Central Circular Route (C2), one of the long-awaited three circular routes of the Tokyo metropolitan expressway system currently under construction. The final section of Route C2, named the Shinagawa Line, is scheduled for completion and opening at the end of 2014.