You probably won’t drive for more than 30 minutes in Japan without passing a service or parking area (SA/PA), or roadside station known as ‘Michi no eki’. There are over 1000 of these stations throughout the country and they all provide 24hour access to carparks and toilet facilities. Very, very clean, always stocked with toilet paper and heated toilet seat kind of toilet facilities.
Some Michi no eki are far more elaborate and contain restaurants, public foot baths, vending machines, onsen, gift stores with regional foods and specialities, farmers markets, visitor information centres, free wifi and more. In fact some of these roadside stations have so many things on offer to taste, see and do they’ve become tourist destinations themselves!
Our favourite Michi no eki was a gorgeous station on our way from Nagoya to Shirakawa where we enjoyed a soak in the onsen, slept overnight and woke up surrounded by beautiful scenery and a delicious hot ramen for breakfast.
You’ll find symbols for the facilities available at each stop on the signage directing you to the Michi no eki. Although the carparks and toilets are open 24hours making them a convenient place to park and sleep, restaurants and other facilities usually close by 7pm or earlier.
Finding rest stops:
- Road signs: There is clear signage along main roads tipping you off as to where the next rest stop is and which exit to use to reach them. (As in picture).
- Google maps: Michi no eki can be found on Google maps by looking up ‘road station’ and will usually have some photos on their Google map profiles so you can check them out to some extent online before going. Some Michi no eki are also listed as ‘toll road rest stops’ and appear as green rectangles along main roads on Google maps. Most toll road rest stops are set a little bit away from the toll roads themselves and can be accessed from non-toll roads too, however some are exclusively for toll road users.
- Smartphone Apps: Along with your van, Japan Campers provide customers with an iPad with GPS navigation and multiple apps pre-installed to help find rest stops and overnight parking sites throughout Japan.
We all know the dangers of driver fatigue but many of us have a tendency to just ‘push through’ when we want to make a certain distance in a day. Holiday FOMO can kick in causing us to take on riskier driving situations so we can see and do it all, when realistically there might not be time or the stress and fatigue from rushing will cause us not to enjoy it in the end anyway.
These are the driving techniques that worked for us during our road trip. It’s all very much common sense, but incredibly important when you’re in a foreign country driving through foreign terrain. Don’t forget, a lot of Japan is very mountainous and roads can be extremely windy and narrow, so you really do require 100% concentration when you get into the drivers seat to maintain your safety.
- Take frequent stops. As explained, there are tonnes of places to take a break when driving in Japan, including convenience stores, which are EVERYWHERE. The best thing is, rest stops are never boring! You can see some unique local sights or foods at most stops, take a toilet break, use the free wifi, take a foot bath, etc. etc. Sure we lost 15 minutes or so a few times a day but it was 100% worth it since it allowed us to be more present and have much better concentration throughout the day.
- Alternate drivers every 1.5-2 hours. Obviously you’ll need to have another licensed and insured driver on hand for this one. We noticed a huge difference in our energy levels after implementing this technique a few days into the road trip. We went from being wrecked by about 4-5pm each day from driving for hours at a time each, to feeling energetic and ready to explore wherever we stopped for the evening once we arrived. If you have a second driver, use them!
- Stay hydrated. Super simple and super important! Even slight dehydration will reduce your ability to concentrate and lead to fatigue so drink plenty of water on your way. We also found it really beneficial to make a point of having a hot drink like a matcha, cocoa or tea each afternoon to keep our energy levels up for the last stretch of driving that day. This is very easy to do since most convenience stores sell hot drinks and have free boiling water if you have your own tea bags.
- Don’t go hangry. This one is just as important for your relationship as it is for your driving abilities. Take it from us, a case of low blood sugar or ‘the hangrys’ is gonna lead to nothing but squabbling and a foggy head. Do yourself a favour and eat some decent food, regularly. Japan is not massive on breakfast out so we recommend buying a simple breakfast from a nearby supermarket or convenience store (we usually went for yoghurt, fruit and muesli), so you can fuel up early. Energy sustaining snacks like onigiri and inari rice snacks, sushi packs, fruit, mixed nuts, etc. are also very easy to find at convenience stores if you have a while to wait between meals. Plan ahead to have snacks on hand for whenever you need them.
- Call it a night earlier than planned if you need to. There were a few occasions when we decided to call it before reaching our desired destination because we were feeling tired, or the weather was bad and we didn’t want to push our luck in those circumstances. So we had to stay somewhere we didn’t anticipate on staying – it really didn’t matter, especially when it meant we woke up feeling more energetic and could get moving again first thing the next day.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol. This is really a no brainer, but it’s easy to get tempted in Japan with the range of good quality and cheap alcohol on offer. However, we all know a hangover is not conducive to good concentration or sharp driving. It’s important to know that there is zero tolerance for drink driving in Japan. That means no driving after drinking any alcohol at all. If you’ve had a big night, you might still be affected by alcohol the following morning, so be conscientious of these laws.
We drove on average 170km a day for two weeks and saw quite a lot during our trip, but we also had to abandon a lot of our initial itinerary because we’d been far too ambitious with our planning. Regardless, we felt our trip was a huge success in terms of how much we experienced and enjoyed each day. Also very importantly, we had no accidents of any sort and inflicted no damage to the van so we got our security deposit for the van back in full – yay!