If you have ever traveled outside of Tokyo, you may have noticed signs for a michi no eki along various roadways and highways. What is a michi no eki you may ask? The word translates to “roadside station” and represents the 1030 government designated rest areas found all over Japan. There are 114 of these roadside stations in Hokkaido alone! The michi no eki is not only designed to provide a resting place for road weary travelers but they are also intended to promote local tourism and trade. Often the shops inside of the michi no eki sell local produce, snacks, souvenirs, and other goods. The michi no eki has become so popular that more than 500 million people annually use them.
These roadside stations started to come into existence in 1993 whereby the local government constructed the building and private organizations assumed the role of managing the facility. The level of services provided are left entirely to the locals which result in some very unique rest areas. Some of the michi no eki incorporate hot springs, play facilities and museums into their facilities whereby there has been an increase in the number of visitors taking a drive just to visit these rest stations themselves!
Aside from the amenities provided, the “local gourmet” is also one of the reasons for the increased popularity of the michi no eki. People drive in seeking to sample the local dishes made using home-grown, seasonal ingredients, the fresh fruits and vegetables, and seafood. Further, baked goods that were once only familiar locally, gain a reputation through word of mouth, the internet and personal reviews once they have been purchased at the michi no eki or given as omiyage (souvenirs from one’s travels) and in many cases result in orders pouring in from all over the country.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that these roadside stations are located in rural areas outside of the largely populated such as Tokyo, very few people in these facilities if any, speak English. But the spirit of “OMOTENASHI” still prevails; the mindset to entertain and welcome guests visiting from surrounding areas or overseas. The locals will do their best to help you even if you do not speak a word of Japanese.