Unique travelling culture in Japan
Written by Hafizah Khusni
With the richness of nature in Japan, taking a long drive along mountains, visiting towns and villages while enjoying the beautiful and breathtaking four season scenery are one of the activity to enjoy. During this long drive, if you are not on highways and taking national road (also known as the national road), you will see plenty signs of ‘Michi no Eki’ along your drive.
So what is Michi no Eki? Michi no Eki (道の駅) literally means ‘Roadside station’. In response to increasing motorization, former Japanese Ministry for Construction decided to promote the creation of 24-hour public service area. Michi no Eki is a rest area found across the national road that would provide free parking area, toilets and useful information especially on local products and local attractions. Since April 1993 the work on construction of Michi no Eki has been worked on and now, in 2016 there are already 1093 Michi no Eki that are being built and registered in every prefectures in Japan.
As the building construction is managed by the local government and the facility is managed by private organization, every Michi no Eki has its own uniqueness especially in appealing of local’s attraction. In Sano city, there is a Michi no Eki called Domannaka Tanuma (ど真ん中田沼). Tanuma is the name of a district in Sano city, while Domannaka means ‘right in the center’. Tanuma district of Sano city is the center of the Japanese Islands, thus the unique naming for the Michi no Eki.
I went to visit the Michi no Eki Domannaka Tanuma the other day. There are stalls serving local gourmet such as the popular Sano’s specialty; Imo Furai. There are also nice looking bread shop, Chinese restaurant, gelato shop, dango, takoyaki and many more. All of them are not halal certified, yet Sano city is currently putting their effort on it especially in raising the awareness on halal itself and also the preparation of halal foods for Muslims tourists visiting tourist attraction spots like the Michi no Eki.
One of the major attractions of this Michi no Eki is the Ashiyu (足湯). Ashiyu is an onsen foot bath and here you can enjoy it free of charge! The source of the onsen water of this Ashiyu is from Tanuma Onsen. Anyone can get their tired leg being immersed in the onsen water to refresh yourself again after the long drive.
They are enjoying the Ashiyu! My baby’s legs are not able to reach the water yet though :p
There are also plenty of limited time event held in Michi no Eki Domannaka Tanuma every year. The time I went there the other day, there are Doctor Fish Spa treatment at the Fureai Hall. It only costs 500 yen per person to try for 8 minutes. ‘Garra Rufa’ is the actual name of the fish but they are known world-wide as Doctor Fish because of their habit of nibbling on people’s dead skin cells. Other possible effects that can be expected if you try this spa treatment is ‘peeling effect’ from nibbling and removing dead skin cells, ‘massage effect’ from the vibration that occurs when the fish is nibbling and also ‘relaxing effect’ from the relaxing stimulation that occurs when the fish is nibbling. This limited time event only available from May until the end of September.
Visitors trying Doctor Fish Spa treatment
I remember the first time I came here was November last year. I was on the way back from Karuizawa enjoying autumn colors with my family. We planned to have halal ramen for dinner at Nikkoken in Sano and we passed by this Michi no Eki and decided to stopped by as I wanted to freshen up my baby because I know Michi no Eki is always providing a comfortable toilet and baby room. My thought was right! And after we have done, we spend a few minutes enjoying illuminations here. During late autumn and winter, they would held garden illumination made from 10,000 light bulbs and LED lights here at Domannaka Tanuma. It was so beautiful and despite being free of charge!
Garden illumination at Michi no Eki Domannaka Tanuma
The other thing that I think attracts visitors the most especially local people are the cheap vegetables and fruits! At Michi no Eki Domannaka Tanuma you can buy fresh locally harvested vegetables and fruits. Besides that, you can also buy souvenirs and other specially selected products from around the country and products that can be found only in Tochigi prefecture. These sections were packed with local people and also visitors coming from outside that day since it was Respecting the Elders Day; a public holiday in Japan.
Some of the freshly harvested vegetables that are being sold
Speaking of facilities, besides the comfortable toilets and baby room like mentioned above, there are also EV stand provided. Electric vehicles driver can stop by and recharge your vehicle here. The charger provided is a 50 kW type quick charger and you are able to charge your vehicle for about 30 minutes. Be alert that this stand opens only from 9:30 am until 7:00 pm.
EV stand at Michi no Eki Domannaka Tanuma
For smokers who want to refresh yourself, you can smoke in the designated area provided. In Japan, you can’t smoke in public places as you wish. However, many designated smoking area are provided to prevent bothering the non-smokers and also to control cleanliness of the environment. At the beginning of my arrival in Japan I was so impressed how people in Japan can follow this rule. Now I am already getting used to it and thought every country should apply this rule too!
Smoking area at Michi no Eki Domannaka Tanuma
Michi no Eki are not just a place to stop off during your long journey. Rather, Michi no Eki themselves might be the one providing fun and memorable leisure during your journey exploring Japan.
Michi no Eki – Domannaka Tanuma
- 366-2, Yoshimizucho, Sano-shi, Tochigi, 327-0313, Japan