Yes, there are otaku for highway rest stops, too! 

Those who have been to Japan or lived in Japan may know, but those who have never taken a road trip in Japan wouldn’t understand the pleasure of stopping by a “Michi no Eki”, or “Road Station” (also known in English as a “roadside station” or “rest stop”).

Japanese rest stops can be a destination in and of themselves! Full of delicious restaurants, tourist attractions, and cool shops and local markets selling region-limited souvenirs and delicacies, Japanese Michi no Eki, which are sometimes even themed, are more than just a place to stop for a bathroom break.

What’s more, we spoke to a self-professed “Rest Stop Maniac” who told us that there’s so much variety that, even after visiting more than 400 rest stops, some still surprise him. Our advisor was YouTuber and comedian Su-zan, who in his spare time travels to rest stops together with his friend Danpei as part of their YouTube channel “Haikei, Michi no Eki Kara” (“To You, From a Rest Stop”).

In talking with us, Su-zan shared 10 rest stops around Japan that actually managed to be astonishing. What could be so surprising about a rest stop? Let’s find out!

・Michi no Eki Tomihiro Museum (Gunma Prefecture)

Su-zan: “This is a rest stop, but it’s mostly a museum. When I went, it sort of tore down my conception of what a rest stop even is. I wondered if anything could just call itself a rest stop.

“On the other hand, the view from the back of the building of a dam was really gorgeous with its fall foliage, which was very soothing.”

・Ito Marinetown (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Su-zan: “Ito Marinetown, as you would expect from its name, offers a lot of seafood, including a pile of raw fish over rice so huge it’s like what you’d see in a manga. But that’s not all that’s great about it; the buildings are cute, it has a hot spring, it’s really spacious, and there are spots with terrace seating that overlook the ocean. It has the whole package, with looks, hot springs, scenery, a good location, delicious food, and shopping.

“For me, it really hammered home the idea that rest stops are always evolving, and I really felt like it had a lot to attract people. Plus, you can go there on a day trip from Tokyo, so I highly recommend it!”

・Irago Cristal Porte (Aichi Prefecture)

Su-zan: “Any Rest Stop Maniac could tell you about Irago Cristal Porte. It’s actually just a ferry terminal, but it calls itself a Michi no Eki, and so will we. Unfortunately, because business slumped, the restaurants and local markets were all closed and torn down.

“Still, a building near the remains of the shopping area contains restrooms, and at the back of it, there’s a spot with a stamp to add to your Michi no Eki stamp collection book. It’s an extremely profound place. It’s also at the very tip of the Atsumi Peninsula, so going there feels like a bit of an adventure.”

Michi no Eki Tomizawa (Yamanashi Prefecture)

Su-zan: “This area is famous for growing bamboo shoots, so it uses one as its symbol. They are so enthusiastic about it that they have a huge bamboo shoot monument standing in front of it. You can really feel their passion for bamboo shoots.”

“They even use bamboo shoots in the restaurants. A bamboo shoot burger, bamboo shoot manju–if it can be done, they’ll do it. Their determination really got me fired up. They’ve recently renovated the place, but the bamboo shoot monument is naturally still going strong.”

・Michi no Eki Inawashiro (Fukushima Prefecture)

Su-zan: “This rest stop, which is near Inawashiro Lake, has the most delicious saucy katsudon (fried pork cutlet over rice)! The combination of a sauce so good no one could hate it with a nice thick katsu is perfect. Rest stop food is generally pretty good, but this went above and beyond with its classically authentic flavor.

“The location is also amazing, with a view of Inawashiro Lake and Mt. Bandai.”

・Michi no Eki Donari (Tokushima Prefecture)

Su-zan: “If you’re looking for a place with food that’s good but in a weird way, you’ll want to go to Michi no Eki Donari in Tokushima. Their “Pancake Udon”, which is udon noodles topped with a pancake, really shocked me. They also offer “Udon Pancake”, which is udon sandwiched between two pancakes.

“They are always changing up their menu whenever they see fit, so I can’t help but feel like they put a lot of effort into it. As a comedian, I cannot disavow anyone who puts in the effort. This rest stop is truly one in a million.”

・Michi no Eki Kugami (Niigata Prefecture)

Su-zan: “This is the rest stop that was the most surprising for me. It’s recently been completely renovated and redesigned. There’s a small truck parked inside with an array of vegetables, rice, and camping gear on sale in and around it. Very unique.”

“Plus, behind the rest stop, there’s a beautiful space to relax that looks like the event space of a campground. They even have a coldwater spring that doubles as a footbath, which is perfect for the summertime. It’s at the forefront of the evolution of rest stops, and the food there is really good too. To be frank, it’s the best.”

・Michi no Eki Echigo-ichifuri-no-seki (Niigata Prefecture)

Su-zan: “This is basically just a Yamazaki Shop [not to be confused with a Daily Yamazaki]. I was really surprised that the main attraction of this rest stop was a single convenience store.

“Still, in the second-floor information center, you can watch trains pass before a backdrop of the expansive Japan Sea. You’d be hard-pressed to find another Yamazaki shop like this one! Oh, wait, I mean a rest stop!”

・Michi no Eki Narai Kiso-no-ohashi (Nagano Prefecture)

Su-zan: “What exactly is a rest stop? I don’t think anyone who’s stopped here hasn’t wondered. Why, you ask? Because at this rest stop, there’s nothing but a bridge.

“Well, there is some kind of local market nearby, but it’s not associated with the rest stop, so logically speaking, the bridge is the rest stop. You may not understand what I’m talking about, but neither do I. The only sure thing is that this is, in fact, a rest stop.”

・Michi no Eki Utsunoyatoge (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Su-zan: “Compared to the ones I’ve introduced so far, this one looks the most like an ordinary rest stop, but it’s actually extremely unique. It’s spread out over the road in three parts. Two of those parts are in Shizuoka City, while the other is in Fujieda City.

“In other words, this single rest stop exists in two cities. Yes, such a rest stop exists. I thought I knew everything about rest stops, but in the end, I was just as naive as the rest of us.”

・Michi no Eki Minami Alps Village Hase (Nagano Prefecture)

Su-zan: “In Nagano, there is a rest stop in the middle of the mountains only known to a select few. It’s called ‘Michi no Eki Minami Alps Village Hase’, and the reason why it’s such a secret is that the bread they sell there is unbelievably delicious but so popular that if you don’t get there first in the morning, there might not be any left by the time you get there. Us Rest Stop Maniacs call it ‘the phantom bread.’

“I was lucky enough to get to try it. It surpassed all of my expectations. Especially since the location isn’t easy to get to, I found that to be a pretty astounding experience.”

Fascinating. It sounds like rest stops can come with a lot of surprises. On the other hand, with so many out there, they’re all bound to be unique in some way. According to Su-zan, there are 1,200 rest stops all across Japan, and he’s only been to a fraction of them. Perhaps there are even more shocking ones out there? At the very least, what we understand is that there are no rules when it comes to rest stops in Japan!

But not everyone is into shock factor, especially not on a road trip when all you want to do is stop for a bathroom break and maybe a bite to eat. So for those who feel that way, here’s a list of the 10 best rest stops as ranked by customer satisfaction. Some of Su-zan’s surprise spots are on this list too!

Related: Twitter/@bellyou24, YouTube/Haikei, Michi no Eki Kara
Top photo © SoraNews24
Insert images provided by Su-zan

[ Read in Japanese ]