1. What is Michinoeki?
Michinoeki literally means “Roadside station”. It is a roadside rest area for those driving in Japan. Roadside stations are located along normal roads or highways, usually in countryside, not in big cities like Tokyo. They provide free parking space, restrooms, regional information, shops and restaurants.
When you take long drive in Japan, you will often see signs for “Michinoeki ” like the above photo. It is a government-designated rest area. They are intended to promote local tourism and trade. Shops sell local produce, snacks, souvenirs, and other goods.
There are around 1,100 of them spread all over Japan. They are popular spots used by more than 500 million people a year. Sales of shops have been increasing and improving local economy and life.
These roadside stations have been constructed since 1993. Most of them are located in scenic mountainous regions, or along the coast. Farmers near a roadside station bring their fresh vegetables or fruits to sell. Fishermen near a roadside station sells their fresh fish. So, roadside stations are a kind of markets for local people and travelers. They are popular spots to visit to rest and shop local produce at reasonable prices.
Using a mechanism whereby the local government constructs the building and private organizations manage the facility, the content of the services is left to local creativity and ingenuity. Consequently, the rest areas stand out as unique operations.
3. Roadside stations in Chiba Prefecture
I live in Chiba Prefecture which is located east of Tokyo. Many foreign travelers visit Chiba Prefecture, because Narita Airport, Japan’s largest international airport, is located there. Its western area is close to Tokyo, many people commute to Tokyo. The southern area is countryside. There are a lot of sightseeing spots such as mountains and beaches. So, there are about 30 roadside stations in Chiba prefecture. Four of them are shown below.
(1) Michinoeki Hota-shogakko
This michinoeki is located in Kyonanmachi town on the south side of Mt. Nokogiri in the Boso Peninsula. The unique point of it is that it uses facilities of the Yasuda elementary school which had 120-year history and was closed down in 2014 due to the falling birthrate of Kyonanmachi town, about 8500 people.
The gymnasium was converted to be a farmer’s market. The 2nd floor classrooms in the existing school building were transformed into a simple accommodation facility for visitors. The buildings were linked by the front veranda to create a space where you can freely stay and interact with everyone. With this, it became a more comfortable disaster shelter than a gym floor. The bathrooms were also newly installed.
(2) Michinoeki Furari
“Furari” is unique that it could be accessed by both the highway and the local road. On the first floor, they sell local fish and vegetables. On the second floor there are restaurants and a food corner as well as the tourist information office.
My favorite restaurant is the sea food restaurant which offers sushi and sea food plates using local fresh fish and vegetables. It is also nice to eat ice cream cones at the food corner. I often buy pretty flowers on the first floor because the area is famous for flower production.
(3) Michinoeki Tomiura
It is located in Tateyama city which is the southernmost part of the Boso peninsula and a popular sightseeing place, because the city has beautiful beaches and mountains. At the Michinoeki Tomiura, there is a beautiful flower garden where you can enjoy drinks and ice cream. They sell specialty fruits called biwa or loquat.
(4) Michinoeki Chikura Shiokaze Ohkoku
Shiokaze Ohkoku means sea wind kingdom. It is located by the coast facing the Pacific Ocean. There is a large retired fishing boat in which you can get in to see inside and look the ocean view from the deck. There are some restaurants which serve fresh seafood including sushi of tsuna, abalone and lobster.
So roadside stations are worth visiting.
(1) Pamphlets of Michinoeki in Chiba such as Tomiura, Furari, and Hota-shogakko
(2) Michinoeki official website (https://www.michi-no-eki.jp/stations/english)