Taking a Rest at a Roadside Station

Profiles of Japan’s signature rest stops

It goes without saying that Japanese public transport is top-notch, from speedy bullet trains to clean and reliable subways and local trains. However, if you don’t want to be at the mercy of a public transit schedule, or would like to go a bit further off the beaten path, driving is the way to go. This goes double for Iwate, where spectacular scenery and a relatively lower population density make road trips a great option.

The process of getting a Japanese driver’s license, or an international driver’s permit, varies quite a lot case by case, so I won’t get into it here – perhaps a future article will cover it. In the meantime, I want to talk about the practical matter of finding a spot to rest on your journey.

If you’re on the road for a long time, you’ll inevitably run across a michi-no-eki, usually translated directly into English as “roadside station.” These aren’t bare-bones rest stops, but they aren’t truck stops either. These are small, wooden structures that use every bit of their space to provide regional specialties, souvenirs, and more depending on the spot. Many include restaurants and vantage points to enjoy the view, and some even have showers and facilities to spend the night. Because of all they have to offer, while roadside stations cater to tourists, it’s not unusual for local people to frequent them as well. Michi-no-eki carry in-season produce from local small farmers, so it’s a great way to shop sustainably. Plus, the bus route in some municipalities includes a stop at the michi-no-eki, so even if you don’t drive it’s possible to enjoy them.

Each michi-no-eki reflects the pride of the town they’re in, so even if you’re just passing through it’s possible to get an authentic experience of the area, however quick. However, not all michi-no-eki are able to provide multilingual information to international visitors, so it’s best to be able to read a little, bring along a Japanese-reading friend, or have a phone app at the ready.

As someone who enjoys road trips, I’ve been to plenty of michi-no-eki across northeastern Japan, mostly in Iwate. In fact, I’ve already mentioned one in another article – specifically, the one in Tono. All of them have their own unique appeal, and there are two near the ILC candidate site that are a good representation of what roadside stations are all about.

First off, here is Mizusawa Michi-no-Eki.

Exterior of Mizusawa Michi-no-Eki.

Located in Oshu on National Route 343 – which runs through Oshu to the coastal city of Rikuzentakata – this convenient roadside station offers an excellent view of the Kitakami Mountain Range and part of the Kitakami River system. It’s the perfect background for stretching your legs or relaxing in the gazebo.

The outdoor view on a nice day

Seasonal vegetables are often on display just outside, and inside is an array of snacks and souvenirs, many of which use rice, reflecting the important role of rice farming in this area. This includes, if you dare, inago-no-tsukudani (crispy rice grasshoppers!) This is a traditional, cultural dish of grasshoppers cooked in soy sauce and sugar, and it isn’t hard to find in rice growing regions of Japan.

Inago-no-tsukudani (ready to be eaten by themselves or on rice.)

Alternatively, you can try sesame seed ice cream, Iwate’s signature senbei rice crackers, or sit down for a bite in the restaurant on the second floor.

Moving a bit further south, we have Genbikei Michi-no-Eki, in Oshu’s neighbor city Ichinoseki. This roadside station is on a main road in Ichinoseki, and is a bit larger than the one in Mizusawa. It offers the city’s famous mochi in many forms, as well as a variety of handmade crafts. These days, it’s common to see homemade masks for sale as well.

Triangular landmark outside of Genbikei Michi-no-Eki: notice the mochi pots!

Speaking of crafts, nambu tekki ironware are offered at quite a lot of michi-no-eki in southern/central Iwate. This is a kind of ironware made with a technique dating back hundreds of years, and Iwate is famous across Japan for it. In particular, these bell chimes are part of the soundscape of southern Iwate.

Nambu tekki chimes from Genbikei Michi-no-Eki.

There’s really no end to the types of michi-no-eki out there: these are just a couple in southern Iwate alone. If you travel further north, you’ll find one that’s a refurbished former schoolhouse; on the coast, a newly built roadside station signifies the recovery efforts from the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, and the list goes on and on. They range in size and amenities, but at every one, you can learn a lot about the region from what products are a point of local pride, and from the information they hope that visitors will remember. Wherever you’re from and no matter your destination, michi-no-eki are ready to welcome you.





日本では、街中を車でドライブしていれば、頻繁に道の駅を見かけます。これは英語で“roadside station”と直訳されます。単なる休憩所またはトラックステーションではありません。道の駅は小さい木造の建物で、地方の特産品やお土産があり、施設によっては他のサービスも提供されています。例えばレストランや展望台を楽しめ、ある場所はシャワーや宿泊施設など実施しています。しかも道の駅は、地方の農業者の季節の野菜なども販売されており、近所の人も道の駅をよく利用します。また、ある市町村ではバスが道の駅に止まるので、車をもっていなくても道の駅に行くことができます。



[写真 道の駅①]

[写真 風景]

[写真 いなごの佃煮]


[写真 道の駅②]

[写真 南部鉄器]