In the July 22nd edition of The Insider, we introduced the free toll road certificate for Oirase residents, including military family members living in off-base Oirase housing. For those who have not read the article, please go to this page to learn the information and review the map. With or without the certificate, it is beneficial to know useful service areas and what they offer on the toll roads in Japan when you begin your road trip.
In contrast to the American highway, which you may have to get off the highway upon filling gas, taking a break from driving, dining etc.; there are various services available on the toll roads in Japan. Nowadays, the facilities are more developed to have distinctive styles and services based on local areas from region to region. On the toll roads, you will see two different signs. One is Service Area (SA,) and the other is Parking Area (PA.) PA is a smaller facility, which provides you with rest rooms, a gift shop, sometimes a convenience store within 15-25 km. Then, SA is a larger facility with more services, such as a gas station, restaurants, public bath and so on within 50-100km. You also may find a dog run, a nice cafe like Starbucks, or sometimes even camping and lodging services.
Once you start driving on the toll road, you also should know which direction you are heading. In Japan, the toll roads are linked to the capital city, Tokyo. This is why you see the signs NOBORI (上り/upward) and KUDARI (下り/downward) when you try to find the highway exit. For example, you drive out of Misawa to Morioka, you will be on NOBORI. Then, if you are coming back, you will be on KUDARI. Going up to the city (京へ上る/ Kyo e Noboru) and coming back from the city (京から下る /Kyo kara Kudaru,) this has been a custom from the old ages. Next, you can check the very informative free magazine called Highway Walker. You can find it at each service area. Although the magazines are written in Japanese, there are seasonal tourist information with great photos, food and restaurant guides, gift ideas and easy-to-look maps. It is nice to learn about some authentic local foods and plan ahead where your next stop is in order to make your road trip more comfortable and enjoyable. Characteristically, most of SA and PA on upward differ from those on downward. They are not set in the same city. For instance, in America, once you get off the exit for the rest stop, you can explore the towns before you get back on the road. However, on the toll road in Japan, unluckily you are unable to check the other direction's service areas without getting off the toll road and driving back father down; in short, you must stay on the toll road until you reach the final destination and can only check one side of facilities, then vice versa for your return trip.
If you are using the benefit of the certificate for a long drive, you may want to stay on the toll road until you finally get to the destination. Then, there are neighboring lodging called Highway Oasis (HO) available without getting off the told roads. At Kinshuuko SA on AKITA EXPRESSWAY (EXPWY,) the camping site will be free if you use onsen (hot spring) within the facility of Tougeyama Parkland Oasis. (You must bring your own tents since there are no-rentals.) On HOKURIKU EXPWY, you can park your car at Tokumitsu PA and walk to Seaside Matto. Rest Inn on the toll roads can be found at Ashikaga SA (upward) on TOUMEI EXPWY, Taga SA (downward) on MEISHIN EXPWY, and Sano SA (upward & downward) on TOUHOKU EXPWY and Dannoura PA on KANMON EXPWY (downward.) Check out the photos and more information on the map guide. Enjoy your summer!
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