Ah, the Michi No Eki. Or roadside station if you prefer Wikipedia’s English translation. They’re a staple of the Japanese road culture at this point, and bring something a little bit different to the table.
Hang on a bit though. What is a Michi no Eki? Essentially, it’s a service area, but a service area with a difference. They’re designed to promote and sell local produce and products and act as a bit of a tourist information desk and event space, depending on the size and location. The sizes can vary from ones with just a few car parking spaces, in tight spaces by the side of their roads, to ones with vast car parks, which regularly host events, owner’s club gatherings and general meetups.
As for location, as of last month, there were 1,173 of them, all over Japan, and for sure there are a few on expressways and other main roads and near towns, but for the main part, they’re tucked away in the countryside, and sometimes it’s not until you see the familiar blue ‘tree and person in building’ icon you realise you’re near one, then have to see if you have to time and space to make the turn, or find a place to do a U-turn later.
I’ll admit, after years of riding around Japan, I’ve actually started basing some rides around seeing some of them, and getting a feel for what they’re trying to pitch about the local area. I’m going to run a separate page for ones I visit, or be sure to continue mentioning them in posts, but this isn’t going to turn into a ‘visiting all the Michinoeki in Japan!’ thing, because there are too many and I’m not that committed, but I’d like to note some I get to, and comment on any which I think have something to show off from their locality, so here, I’ll just go over a few which are a few different types of Michinoeki.
Why do I even mention them? Well, so many service areas are just generic franchised places, with little to differentiate them
Wadaura – Located on the south east pacific coast in the Boso region of Chiba prefecture, this isn’t a large Michi no Eki, but has a nice small building, a handle called ‘WA-O!’ which is spread around the place, and focuses on the regions historical whale hunting heritage, with some harpoon guns mounted on the grounds, and also a quite impressive whale skeleton construction. And a happy whale logo.
Amagi Goe – is literally in the middle of the Izu peninsula, up in the moutains. It’s on a winding road, and sits next to a river. There’s quite a lot of space here, and a small garden centre, and the required market where you can buy local produce. This is in the heart of a wasabi growing region, so it should come as no surprise that you can buy all manner of wasabi themed merchandise including ice-cream. It’s actually not bad either. It gets quite a few coach loads of tourists too, especially in Autumn, to watch the leaves change colour.
Kurura Heda – This is another Michi No Eki near the sea, but this time, it’s the west coast of the Izu peninsula, and rather that whales, its more about just sea life since it’s still a working port. It’s a bit smaller than other ones, but it’s new, has a nice little cafe – some great toilets – and is near the heart of what is a small town. The inside is nicely decorated too. I came in on the inland road – a straight now down from the mountains, and it made a nice stock, before taking some photos of the port.
So there’s a general view of a few. Again, I mention them as they’re an antidote to heavily franchised service areas, and if you’re new to an area, it can give you an idea of what goes on nearby and might tip you off to things which might be worth going to see which you otherwise you wouldn’t have known about.
As a final aside, I posted this on April 22nd as it was apparently Michi no Eki Day, as decided by Japan’s Anniversary Association, who I suspect are the group which coordinates the ridiculous days announced on my car navigation system on start-up.