When traveling in Japan, there are a number of quick and easy ways to see the whole country. You can take the Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train that excels at speed and comfort. There are also a number of budget airlines including Peach, Air Asia, and Skymark Airlines that can make your trip quicker, but force you to sacrifice some amenities for a lower cost.
But if you have the time, there is no better way to travel around Japan than by hitting the open roads. Just like the US, there are many quirky best-kept secrets accessible only by car that are worth visiting. Some of the best places that really connect you with the locals are the roadside rest stops called Michi no Eki (literally “roadside stations“) that are perfect for taking a toilet or sleeping break, but are also hubs for local food, crafts and history.
Want to find the best roadside stations to visit? The travel website Trip Advisor has assembled a list of the best Michi no Eki for 2015, so gas up the car, it’s time for a road trip.
Japan’s Michi no Eki are government-designated rest areas usually located on the highways with 24-hour access to parking and restrooms. When the first ones were built in 1993, there were only 103 stations in the whole country, but that number has risen to over 1,059 in 2015. Not only are they a great place to take a much-needed driving break, they are also the perfect place to support the local community by purchasing produce, snacks, and souvenirs to take back home.
Each of these roadside stations has their own special brand of uniqueness to them, but the top five received their rankings due to a little something extra they have that’s worth checking out.
#5: Michi no Eki Kyoda Yanbaru Bussan Center (Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture)[tweet https://twitter.com/aisare9/status/626304018990637056 align=center]
If you are on the way to the Churaumi Aquarium, be sure to stop at the rest area that is all about Okinawa. You can find almost every popular Okinawan food here, including sata antagi, the local donut,and Okinawa soki soba. The produce available here is priced at a fraction of the cost of grocery stores and different communities have booths with fruits and vegetables from their respective areas. There is even a huge map in English to provide additional information about the surroundings, as well as English-speaking staff to help with any questions you might have.
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#4: Michi no Eki Meiji no Mori – Kuroiso (Nasushiobara City, Tochigi Prefecture)
Tochigi isn’t on most people’s short lits of places to visit, and many just pass right through on their way to Tohoku or Tokyo. However, this besides being known for gyoza, Tochigi has a Michi no Eki tucked away in the corner that is worth a quick stop.
The rest area houses a local grocery store, a Western-style residence and a huge garden. The shop sells local fruits and vegetables as well as Nasushiobara milk, produced at the farm with the most milk cows on Japan’s main island of Honshu. The Western-style residence is the former home of Shuzo Aoki, the first Japanese Ambassador to Germany, Netherlands and Austria, but the best part about this rest area is the large garden. Different seasons have different flowers blooming and each is as beautiful as the last. This aren’t just a couple of rows of flowers either, but fields of sunflowers or cosmos that you can get completely lost in.
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#3: Michi no Eki Munakata (Munakata City, Fukuoka Prefecture)
You will find this roadside station when driving between Fukuoka City and Kita-Kyushu City. Located close to the seaside, this quaint Michi no Eki takes full advantage of its plentiful source of seafood from the Genkai Sea. If you want a chance to buy some of the freshest fish you will ever find, then you are going to have to get there early. It is not uncommon to find many people lined up outside the shops before they even open and most stores will sell out during lunch time.
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#2: Michi no Eki Dadauma no Mahoroba (Asago City, Hyogo Prefecture)
Dadauma no Mahoroba is found on National Route 483, also known as the Kitakinki-Toyoka Expressway. This unique rest area features buildings that are inspired by ancient government buildings from the Kofun Period (250-538 AD). Besides offering local foods and products, visitors will be treated to plenty of ancient history during their stop at the educational museum located on site. It has a number of items excavated from nearby burial mounds, such as magatama (curved, comma-shaped) beads, as well as corners for trying your hand at putting together ancient-style pottery.
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#1: Michi no Eki Inakadate (Inakadate Village, Aomori Prefecture)
RocketNews24 readers will be familiar with the number one Michi no Eki in the country, since this famous roadside station is the location of the fabulous rice field art. Those looking to get a good view of the rice field can pay 200 yen (US $1.70) to ride an elevator to a raised platform, although it is still difficult to gauge the scale of the art from pictures taken there. Besides art, this rest area has restaurants, local produce vendors, playground equipment and plenty of space for large vehicles. They didn’t name this the number one Michi no Eki without a good reason.
There are plenty of other great roadside stations you can visit while driving around Japan. Here are the rest of the Michi no Ekis that round out the Top 20.
#6 – Michi no Eki Minato Oasis Uwajima Kisaiya Hiroba (Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture)
#7 – Michi no Eki Akabane Roko Station (Tahara City, Aichi Prefecture)
#8 – Michi no Eki Itoman (Itoman City, Okinawa Prefecture)
#9 – Denen Plaza Kawaba (Kawaba Village, Gunma Prefecture)
#10 – Michi no Eki Kurume (Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture)
#11 – Michi no Eki Doshi (Doshi Village, Yamanashi Prefecture)
#12 – Michi no Eki Phoenix (Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture)
#13 – Michi no Eki Akkeshi Gourmet Park (Akkeshi Town, Hokkaido Prefecture)
#14 – Michi no Eki Niseko View Plaza (Niseko Town, Hokkaido Prefecture)
#15 – Michi no Eki Aso (Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture)
#16 – Michi no Eki Subashiri (Oyama Town, Shizuoka Prefecture)
#17 – Michi no Eki Kaze no Ie (Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture)
#18 – Michi no Eki Nango (Nichinan City, Miyazaki Prefecture)
#19 – Michi no Eki Tomiura Biwa Kurabu (Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture)
#20 – Michi no Eki Furari Tomiyama (Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture)
While they didn’t make the top five in the country, each rest area offers a one-of-a-kind experience that really brings you closer to the community. It might just be a 10-20 minute break on the drive for you, but these stops across the country really help put the spotlight on some of the less-traveled hidden gems of Japan.