Japan’s national expressways comprise some 9,000 kilometers of mostly tolled highways. Along these motorways lies a comprehensive network of over 850 service areas (SAs) and parking areas (PAs) where weary drivers can unwind and find some refreshment. These convenient rest spots are typically simple pull-off areas, some with limited amenities such as restrooms, gas, basic food options or traffic information—but in recent years, many have evolved as retail, cuisine and entertainment complexes where travelers can park and dine on local delicacies or browse markets for fresh regional produce.
The busiest of Japan’s SAs, with parking space for over 400 vehicles, is Ebina SA in Kanagawa Prefecture, where drivers can stop for gas and sample the city’s renowned melon breads. At the unique Umihotaru PA, built on an artificial island midway along the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line Expressway in Chiba Prefecture, motorists may be tempted to brake for shio ramen noodles with asari clams or an asari clam burger—surrounded by stunning 360-degree views of Tokyo Bay. Ashigara SA in Shizuoka Prefecture, one of the largest in Japan, incorporates a hotel, a public bath—and even a dog park with agility equipment.
Highway Oases are the latest expressway trend
“Highway Oases” are the latest expressway trend, one that involves leisure parks and other attractions attached to SAs and PAs. These expanded Oases are also accessible from public roads. One of the most popular is Kariya Highway Oasis in Aichi Prefecture. Known for its luxurious rest rooms, it has become a destination on its own, complete with an amusement park, Ferris wheel and hot spring, while its food court offers up Nagoya specialties like misokatsu pork cutlet. Travelers enjoy scenic views of Mt. Fuji at the Fujikawa SA in Shizuoka Prefecture, connected to a major commercial facility called Fujikawa- Rakuza that features a planetarium, exhibition gallery, restaurants and farmers market. Kawashima SA is linked to Oasis Park, a large multiplex leisure park in Gifu Prefecture, where visitors can experience an aquarium or explore a giant maze in a water eco park. With imaginative options like these, Japan’s revamped SAs and PAs are tempting locals and passing motorists alike to pull over and do more than just get gas and coffee by enjoying a relaxing highway “getaway.”
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