Ever taken a drive through the Japanese countryside and seen sign after sign pointing to things called “roadside stations” but neglected to let your curiosity get the best of you and instead passed on by?
Well, I’m here to make you regret that decision by explaining just what these vaguely named “roadside stations” are, and why you’ll want to stop by every single one you see.
What are Roadside Stations?
“Roadside stations” (in Japanese, 道の駅 michi no eki, literally “road station”) are combination rest stop, parking area, farmers’ market, local eatery, information center, and bathroom, all in one. They started to crop up in the 90s as part of a government initiative to promote local tourism.
Why are Roadside Stations Great?
If you’re out for a drive in a new area, roadside stations are a great place to stop and get a feel for the local culture. Because they feature all the produce, crafts, and foods that make that area famous, they do a good job of encapsulating all there is to enjoy in a region. Roadside stations also offer further tourist information
Where are Roadside Stations?
Roadside stations are located along roads (duh) all throughout Japan. As of July 2020, there are 1,180 roadside stations fairly evenly distributed throughout Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Keep an eye out for big blue signs with this snazzy logo:
Roadside stations also tend to have extremely long names. A cursory search turned up:
- 道の駅 たかねざわ 元気あっぷむら Michi no Eki Takanezawa Genki Appu Mura in Tochigi
- 道の駅おおすみ弥五郎伝説の里 Michi no Eki Osumi Yagoro Densetsu no Sato in Kagoshima
- 道の駅恋人の聖地 うたづ臨海公園 Michi no Eki Koibito no Seichi Utazu Rinkai Koen in Kagawa
- 道の駅かみゆうべつ温泉チューリップの湯 Michi no Eki Kamiyubetsu Onsen Churippu no Yu in Hokkaido
- 道の駅東近江市あいとうマーガレットステーション Michi no Eki Higashi Oumi-shi Aito Magaretto Suteshon in Shiga
Quite the mouthful, eh?
What’s the difference between a Michi no Eki and a Bussankan?
A Michi no Eki is a facility that has been certified by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transit, and Tourism. A bussankan (物産館) is more of a famers’ market that offers a lot of local specialties and produce. Because Michi no Eki very frequently have something akin to a bussankan on site, and some bussankan are similar to Michi no Eki in size and function, they can sometimes get confused.
Because a Michi no Eki has a certain set of services it needs to provide in order to be certified as a Michi no Eki, you can rest assured you’re going to find a great variety of stuff to enjoy there. Bussankan, on the other hand, can run the gamut from full-featured tourist facilities to small shops offering a few products from local farmers. Either way, they both make good places to stop when visiting a new area.
So that’s all there is to know about roadside stations! Each roadside station has its own unique charm to it and give a real sense of what products and culture an area is most proud of. So next time you see the blue and white symbol on a road sign, be sure to stop and shop!
Roadside Stations in Kumamoto Prefecture
As of Nov 2020, there are 33 official Michi no Eki scattered all throughout the prefecture of Kumamoto. Here are their addresses and a short description of what they offer.
Oguni Yu Station
Miyahara 1754-17, Oguni-machi, Aso-gun
Known for its UFO-like glass building, tasty ice cream and dairy products, and local soba.
Shochino 1602, Namino, Aso City
Focused on all things soba, with make-your-own soba, premade soba, and even soba ice cream! Also check out the traditional kagura dance.
Kyokushi Kawabe 1886, Kikuchi City
Features local vegetables and famous Kyokushi beef. Fireflies light up the sky in May.
Hikimizu 759, Ozu-machi, Kikuchi-gun
An enormous bussankan plus food stalls offering local favorites. Yokayoka is a restaurant specializing in Aso’s famous Akaushi wagyu beef.
Arase 1239-1, Sakamoto-machi, Yatsushiro City
Located along the mighty Kuma River, Sakamoto offers plenty of local produce and country-style cooking.
Einoo 1910-1, Shiranui-machi, Uki
Sitting on the coast of the quiet Shiranui Sea, this Michi no Eki is famous for its citrus fruit, seafood, and onsen.
Kotsuura 1955, Ariake-machi, Amakusa City
Situated on the shores of the Ariake Sea, Michi no Eki Ariake offers fantastic views of Mt. Unzen and Shimabara over the water in Nagasaki Prefecture. Ariake also offers convenient access to Shirogahama Beach located next door.
Iwano 4186-130, Kahoku-machi, Yamaga
Located in the woods at the perfect spot to rest on a trip between Kumamoto and Kurume in Fukuoka Prefecture. Offers plenty of seasonal local produce.
Shichijo Melon Dome
Okada 306, Shichijo-machi, Kikuchi City
Famed for its melon-shaped dome roofs, the Melon Dome, as you probably guessed, offers all kinds of melon-based delights, as well as highly prized Shichijo rice and other produce.
Toyomizu 3393, Shisui-machi, Kikuchi City
Shisui is named after the region where Confucius was born, and so the local area features numerous Chinese-inspired buildings. The farmers’ market also offers a great selection of local items.
Eta 455, Nagomi-machi, Tamana-gun
Conveniently located just 5 minutes from Kikusui IC, this roadside station features a restaurant, bussankan, onsen, campground, and even a canoe area!
Ohira 152, Yamato-cho, Kamimashiki-gun
Located deep in the woods and featuring an extremely rare Seiwa Bunraku puppet theater offering regular performances of this local traditional performing art.
Shimoichi 184-1, Yamato-cho, Kamimashiki-gun
This Michi no Eki faces the Tsujunkyo Aqueduct, a huge stone arch waterway that irrigates neighboring rice fields.
Ono 875-3, Hikawa-machi, Yatsushiro-gun
Offering peaceful views over rice fields and the islands of Amakusa, Ryuhoku also features a wide variety of fresh produce and local foods.
Ichibu 1544-banchi 1, Nishiki-machi, Kuma-gun
Home to Kurando Park, a nice place to take a walk and enjoy the quiet outdoors, plus a farmers’ market with all kinds of local produce at a great value.
Tanoura 657, Ashikita-machi, Ashikita-gun
Located near Otachimisaki Park, which offers stunning views over Amakusa and the Yatsushiro Sea. Its restaurant Tabakuman specializes in local dishes made with locally caught fish.
Komoriuta no Sato Itsuki
Shimode 2672-banchi 53, Itsuki-mura, Kuma-gun
Itsuki is located deep in the mountains of Kuma, and this facility offers information on local history and the environment, as well as local foods and an onsen.
Shimooda-machi 3084-banchi 1, Uto
Features splendid views of Uto’s famous Okoshiki Shore and the towering peak of Mt. Unzen across the Ariake Sea. Also features a lot of locally grown citrus and a wide variety of seafood.
Kurokawa 1440-1, Aso City
Conveniently located along Route 57 and next to Aso Station, this roadside station features local specialties like takana and Akaushi beef. Bicycle rentals are also available at Aso Station.
Tsukinoura 54-162, Minamata
Located inside Ecopark Minamata, with a focus on the environment and healthy living. Check out the rose garden when it is in bloom in spring and fall.
Kugu 757-banchi 3, Matsubase-machi, Uki
Just off the Matsubase IC, this large Michi no Eki offers plenty of Uki’s famous fruit (including strawberries, melons, pears, and dekopon oranges), plus many other local favorites.
Ima 297, Yamato-cho, Kamimashiki-gun
In addition to common services like shopping and dining, this Michi no Eki even offers lodging so visitors can spend a couple nights in the quiet Japanese countryside while still having food and information services right on site.
Amatsuki 1000, Ashikita-machi, Ashikita-gun
Located between Ashikita and Amakusa, this Michi no Eki offers specialties like local vegetables, handmade manju, and mochi.
Misato Samata no Yu
Samata 705, Misato-machi, Kamimashiki-gun
Stop by here to enjoy some of Kumamoto’s finest onsen and pick up some fresh local produce and crafts after you finish your bath.
Naka 11582-banchi 24, Oyano-machi, Kamiamakusa
Famed for its fresh Amakusa seafood and tasty kaisendon, this Michi no Eki also offers a wide variety of services for tourists, including information and bus services.
Ushibuka-machi 2286-banchi 116, Amakusa City
Ushibuka is a tiny town all the way on the southern tip of Amakusa, and this Michi no Eki offers all the seafood and marine activities that makes Ushibuka a must-visit.
Hisaishi 2870-banchi, Minamiaso-mura, Aso-gun
Kugino offers spectacular views of Aso from the southern side, as well as make-your-own soba, plenty of local produce, and is home to a variety of smaller locally owned restaurants and shops.
Mizube Plaza Kamoto
Kajiya 1257-banchi, Kamoto-machi, Yamaga City
Located next to a waterside park that offers canoe rides, Mizube Plaza Kamoto also features an all-you-can-eat restaurant and a fantastic onsen facility with saunas, outdoor baths, private baths, and more!
Suika no Sato Ueki
Iwano 160-1, Ueki-machi, Kita-ku, Kumamoto City
Ueki is Japan’s top grower of watermelon, so this is the place to be during watermelon season! (April to June)
Zashiki 443-banchi, Ashikita-machi, Ashikita-gun
In addition to its famously delicious dekopon oranges, this Michi no Eki offers a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, Ashikita beef, and local specialties.
Sakitsu 1117-10, Kawaura-machi, Amakusa City
The village of Sakitsu is a registered World Heritage Site, and this Michi no Eki offers all kinds of information into the unique history and culture of this quiet community.
Amakusa Iruka Center
Futae 4689-20, Itsuwa-machi, Amakusa City
Just of the coast of where this Michi no Eki is located live around 200 dolphin. Dolphin watching tours offered from here are famous for having over a 99% chance of seeing dolphins!
Akaishi Ikehara-machi 1425-banchi 1, Hitoyoshi
Offers a wide variety of activities and workshops for both young and old to enjoy. Also neighbors a campground and outdoor BBQ area.