“Michi No Eki” Evolving into More than Resting Space

Susami Town / Jiji Press
Michi no Eki Susami is seen in Susami, Wakayama Prefecture, in November 2021.

YAKAGE, Okayama Pref. (Jiji Press) — “Michi no eki” roadside rest stations have evolved from mere places for drivers to take a break to tourist attractions and hubs for communication and disaster management for local residents in the 30 years since the first such facilities appeared.

A total of 103 facilities were registered as the first batch of michi no eki stations on April 22, 1993. The total number of stations has since increased and stood at 1,204 as of February this year.

According to the National Michi-no-Eki Association, the facilities rack up combined sales of about ¥250 billion per year.

Although michi no eki stations initially had only restrooms and parking space at best, some facilities now have hot springs and amusement parks, making it possible for visitors to spend an entire day in them.

However, some michi no eki stations are struggling financially due to a drop in visitors or heavy burden from spending on facilities. There are cases of stations wearing thin due to competition with other stations or other commercial facilities.

Some are now staying afloat on subsidies from local governments.

Meanwhile, “Michi no Eki Sanyodo Yakagejuku,” which opened in 2021 in the town of Yakage, Okayama Prefecture in western Japan, is attracting attention for its unique approach.

It is located at the center of the town, and comprises only a parking space, restrooms and a simple information board.

The station was made with the hope that visitors will shop and dine in a neighboring historic town district.

By effectively making the michi no eki the entrance to the entire area, more people began using the nearby shopping district.

“The michi no eki has led to the opening of new stores,” a town official noted.

Jiji Press
A shopping street around Michi no Eki Sanyodo Yakagejuku is seen in Yakage, Okayama Prefecture, on Friday.

Some michi no eki have introduced enhanced disaster management functions, as Japan faced many natural disasters in the last three decades.

The town of Susami in Wakayama Prefecture built in 2015 a michi no eki equipped with a stockpiling facility and evacuation center in an area not expected to suffer flooding from tsunami that may be caused by a possible powerful earthquake occurring in the Nankai Trough in the Pacific Ocean.

The michi no eki is bustling with users in normal times as it also has a restaurant and a hot spring facility.

The land ministry aims to strengthen the functions of michi no eki as hubs for local communities. It hopes to see the use of stations not just by tourists, but by local residents for shopping. Operating child-rearing support facilities at stations is also being envisaged.

The ministry intends to offer support, such as financial aid for establishing necessary facilities.

Michi no eki stations, which began as places made simply for drivers to rest, have evolved to have various functions. But questions have also been raised as to whether they are truly contributing to local regions.

“I hope people are reminded of the aim of michi no eki, which is to send out information about regional characteristics through resting,” former land ministry official Hisakazu Oishi, one of the architects of the michi no eki system, said.