All the more reason for a Japanese road-trip.

While they may get none of the glamour or attention of political elections, or the equally important AKB48 general election, the results are finally in for this years Trip Advisor Top Twenty roadside service stops.

As we discovered with the news that a roadside services was the location of choice for the unveiling of Baskin-Robbins’ first, and so far only, ice cream vending machine, these roadside stops (known in Japanese as “michi no eki” (“road stations”) aren’t just a quick stop to empty bladders and fill stomachs, they’re fun days out for all the family with amusements and sometimes staggeringly beautiful scenery.

Of the over 1,100 roadside service stops that were reviewed on Trip Advisor, here we introduce the top five.

5. Kirara Taki, Shimane Prefecture

Located in the western part of Honshu, the largest of the Japanese islands, Shimane Prefecture is a little bit off the beaten tourist track despite boasting a beautiful castle, the former home of Lafcardio Hearn, and one of the best roadside stops in Japan. What makes Kirara Taki so special? Certainly the chance to relax in the onsen hot springs and the huge choice of fresh seafood help, but best of all, if you fancy a swim, or a sunbathe, it’s all within spitting distance of a beautiful beach on the Sea of Japan.

4. Tarumizu, Kagoshima Prefecture

Next we head to the southernmost tip of the island of Kyushu. Located not far from the active volcano Sakurajima, Tarumizu Rest Area provides some stunning views. But there’s more than just the vista, as Kyushu is home to several hot springs, one of which can be found at the rest area. Help yourself relax and recuperate from your drive by sticking your weary feet into hot water as you gaze out over the bay. It also has a dolphin-viewing restaurant so you can keep an eye out for the stunning marine creatures as you dine.

3. Furari Tomiyama, Chiba Prefecture

The only one of the top five to be an easy drive from Tokyo, Furari may not be able to compete with the panoramic views of some of the others but it makes up for this where it counts: food. Trip Advisor’s users all raved about the two-storey roadside station with a huge selection of freshly caught seafood, locally-grown vegetables, locally-produced ice cream and other dairy products, and the sheer choice of other souvenirs. There are also several fruit picking seasons throughout the year where visitors can pick, or even help produce the delicious local produce.

▼ Learn the 66 different ways to apply ketchup to a corn dog

2. Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture

Just as it does with castles, Okinawa hits above its weight when it comes to roadside station competitons, with three in the top twenty (as many as vast Hokkaido). At Itoman Rest Area you can mingle with the locals and fill your stomach to bursting with fresh fish and local delicacies. Trip Advisor users were particularly flowing with praise for the serving sizes. Turn up on the right day, and you may even find yourself part of one of their eating competitions or witness to a dancing performance.

1. Nango, Miyazaki Prefecture

The Trip Advisor results show that what Japanese people favour when it comes to roadside stations is food, hot springs, more food, scenery and yet more food. Another Kyushu roadside station, Nango Rest Area, clinched the top spot with its abundance of sub-tropical souvenirs such as fresh mangos, dekopons (a lumpy orange-like citrus fruit) and the tableau which greeted visitors’ eyes as they looked out along the Miyazaki coastline.

As for the rest of the top 20:

6. Niseko View Plaza, Hokkaido
7. Awaji Rest Area, Hyogo Prefecture
8. Funaya no sato, Kyoto Prefecture
9. Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture
10. Akita-ko Selion, Akita Prefecture
11. Kaki no Sato Kudoyama Rest Area, Wakayama Prefecture
12. Tajima no Mahoroba, Hyogo Prefecture
13. Den-en Plaza Kawaba, Gunma Prefecture
14. Hohoku, Yamaguchi Prefecture
15. Uzushio Rest Area, Hyogo Prefecture
16. Nakasatsunai, Hokkaido
17. Ogimi Rest Area, Okinawa Prefecture
18. Shichijo Melon Dome Rest Area, Kumamoto Prefecture
19. Shiretokorausu, Hokkaido
20. Yanbaru, Okinawa Prefecture

So if you want to fill up on delicious local specialities while taking in the sights and mingling with locals, here are twenty spots worth a visit that not many foreigners will ever see. Not every michi no eki is a farmers’ market in disguise though, some can take you back in time, or to Korea.

Source: Trip Advisor
Featured image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Kirara Taki, Tarumizu, Furari, Nango ©SoraNews24, Nango (2)
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