A welcoming rest
As you traverse Japan's vast road network, you may find yourself in need of rest. Michi-no-Eki, which means roadside station in Japanese, are the ideal way to recharge your batteries and learn about the area you're passing through on your journey. These roadside stations offer far more than service stations you may be used to, usually showcasing their area with a sampling of delicious regional produce. They can be found in every prefecture, from Okinawa to Hokkaido, and number more than 1,000 in total. If you intend to get behind the wheel in the Land of the Rising Sun, these pit stops will be indispensable.
What are Michi-no-Eki?
Michi-no-Eki are a system of government-designated rest stops launched over 20 years ago with the intention of making life easier for those heading out on the open road. Get a taste of local food, pick up some fresh local produce, and discover a wide range of local craft. Michi-no-Eki offerings vary tremendously across the nation. Whether it's apples in Aomori or trout sushi in Toyama , there will be a distinct local flavor to the food on offer at each location.
Each Michi-no-Eki offers free parking and immaculately maintained toilet facilities, which are in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Other valuable conveniences include vending machines serving hot and cold drinks, free wifi, and shower facilities. Many also provide a place to charge your electronic devices, ATM services, and changing facilities for infants. Enthusiastic guides will supply you with local information on each and every location you may want to visit. They will also be more than eager to help you get back on track if you need directions, as well as pointing the way to the most popular local sites of interest. Michi-no-Eki frequently play a large role in the local community, with frequent events and performances taking place there. Each and every one is different, so be sure to check out as many as you can.
The Hachioji Takiyama Michi-no-Eki is the only one in Tokyo, found in the western part of the metropolis. The highlight is the genuine farmer's market, packed with local produce.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Nikko, a hugely popular destination in Tochigi Prefecture, is home to the Michi-no-Eki Nikko Kaido Nikoniko Honjin. There's a commemorative museum dedicated to the life and work of the esteemed locally born composer Toru Funamura, in addition to shops and restaurants.
If you venture up to Japan's northernmost prefecture, you have the opportunity to participate in the Hokkaido Michi-no-Eki Stamp Rally. Hokkaido is vast and filled with over 100 Michi-no-Eki, each of which has its own stamp for you to mark your book with.
In the city of Ito, found on the peaceful eastern shore of Shizuoka , there is a Michi-no-Eki with a soothing seaside spa in which you can have treatments while taking in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
On the coastline of Kushimoto in Wakayama lies a remarkable natural rock formation known as Hashiguiiwa, meaning “bridge pillar rocks.” The nearby Michi-no-Eki allows you to access this extraordinary natural monument. Legend has it the rocks were assembled by the revered Buddhist monk known as Kobo-Daishi.
The open road
Taking a Japan road trip is a great way of immersing yourself in the country, with Michi-no-Eki offering a taste of the prefecture you're in. One benefit of a road trip in a private car is not being tied down by train or bus schedules. You'll set your own itinerary, and proceed according to your own pace. This is especially beneficial if you're traveling as part of a group, as well as if you're traveling with a hefty amount of luggage. One particularly appealing route is the Japan Romantic Road , which runs from Uedain Nagano , down through the striking mountain passes of Gunma, and all the way to Utsunomiyain Tochigi . The scenery and topography along the 350-kilometer route is captivating. The route does not attract too many overseas visitors, so you will get to witness a side to Japan seldom seen by travelers. It will take several days to complete the entire stretch, and it's a time investment which is very much worth it.
Taking the wheel
Driving in Japan is an immensely enjoyable experience, as you can visit remote areas not easily accessible by the country's otherwise comprehensive public transportation network. When exiting the bustling urban metropolises, your exploration of the serene and tranquil countryside will demonstrate the contrast between modernity and the relaxed pace of life in rural areas. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that less populated locales may not have English-language road signs, so familiarize yourself with Japanese road signage before you depart. Renting a car in Japan is a relatively easy and straightforward process, but you must ensure that you possess an International Driving Permit before doing so. There are numerous rental companies, so shop around to find the best value for your needs. Well-established rental companies include Nippon Rent-A-Car, Hertz, and Times Car Rental.
For more information on Michi-no-Eki, go to www.michi-no-eki.jp
All information is correct as of March 2019.