Translated by Lester Somera
Japanese Encyclopedia: Service Areas and Parking Areas
Japan's nationwide highway network affords a tourist with a car total freedom. If you decide to rent a car, stop at a service area for some unique hospitality.
Written by ニコ
Have you ever driven down a highway in Japan? You will find service areas (SAs) and parking areas (PAs) along Japanese highways. These were originally created as rest stops for drivers, but now these well-equipped facilities serve as tourist attractions in their own right.
This article will introduce the basics of SAs and PAs, as well as the latest information about these places.
What Are Service Areas and Parking Areas?
Long drives take a mental and physical toll on drivers, and can become the cause for accidents. SAs and PAs were created so that drivers could take breaks, and these areas were with restrooms and shops selling necessary travel goods.
While SAs and PAs serve the same purpose, only SAs are linked to gasoline stations, so they are somewhat better-equipped.
These days, the differences between the two are getting less and less noticeable as PAs offer more and more of a complete experience. Service areas can be found every 50 kilometers, while parking areas can be found every 15 kilometers.
What Do “Nobori” And “Kudari” Mean?
The sides of Japanese highways are thought of as either “nobori” (ascending) or “kudari” (descending). This stems from how people used to refer to going toward Kyoto as “ascending,” and going away from Kyoto as “descending.” These days, people also say that the roads going toward Tokyo are “ascending.”
With regard to highways, people use “ascending” and “descending” to talk about travel from a given point of origin. For example, the Meishin Kosoku Expressway starts at Komaki City in Aichi, then heads toward Nishinomiya City in Hyogo. You would say that the road to Komaki is ascending, while the road to Nishinomiya is descending.
Incidentally, if a given highway has an SA on one side, it will have one on the opposite side (the ascending or descending side, depending on which direction you’re going) as well.
It is not unusual for the facilities at SAs on opposite sides to be different, so if you’re looking for a specific one, make sure to check beforehand which side you need to be on.
Japan’s First Service Area
The first service area in Japan was the Otsu SA along the Meishin Kokudo Expressway, on the highway from Ritto to Amagasaki.
This SA, Japan’s oldest, was renovated in 2006 (on the ascending side) and in 2013 (on the descending side). Both SAs have interiors produced to give off a Japanese feel, with stores where you can enjoy Japanese sweets and famous bento lunches from an array of well-established shops.
On the roof of this Otsu SA, there is an an observation deck which has been set up to evoke the image of a yacht floating on Lake Biwa. From the deck, you can get an unbroken view of Lake Biwa and Mt. Hiei. The night view is extremely popular, so there is a steady stream of visitors, even in the wee hours.
A Careful Selection Of The Latest Popular SAs and PAs
Modern SAs and PAs have become sightseeing spots in Japan.
One example is the Kariya Highway Oasis, located in Kariya City in Aichi. The Oasis is home to a large Ferris Wheel and a space to unwind known as the Deluxe Toilet, a facility that overturns heretofore existing ideas of what a service area bathroom should be.
Another place of note is the PA in Hanyu City in Saitama located along the Tohoku Expressway, which features a full recreation of an Edo period townscape, inside and out.
The Gourmet Scene Is Fully Featured, Too!
SAs and PAs also offer local, delicious food! Let’s introduce some of this SA fare.
This black soft serve ice cream is from the Kyoto-Arashiyama PA. This item was cooked up using the local specialty product, bamboo charcoal. You can also enjoy coal-black curry and baumkuchen here.
There is an amazing item at the Miyajima SA in Hiroshima: lemon ramen, which contains a whole lemon. The thick soy sauce-based broth pairs with the refreshing acidic bite of the lemon to create an addictive flavor.
Marvel At These Fully-Equipped SAs and PAs
There are still more unique SAs and PAs to go!
You can find Ashigara Kintoki-Yu at the EXPASA-Ashigara SA in Gotemba in Shizuoka, an onsen hotel with carbonated hot springs. From here, you can get an amazing view of nearby Mt. Fuji, and it’s almost as though the SA is a real sightseeing destination.
The final SA we would like to mention is also from Shizuoka. The NEOPASA Suruga Bay-Numazu SA features dog runs for pets and dog-friendly cafes, which makes it extremely popular with dog lovers.
If you’re taking the highways to get to your destination, by all means, drop into the closest service area to see its unique and special appeal for yourself.