One of the greatest things about road trips in Japan are the highway rest areas they have. I know it doesn't sound like the most interesting thing in the world, but rest stops in Japan are truly something else. Here's some pictures we've taken on our travels around Japan of cool sights at rest stops - and a bit of a reasoning why they're so cool.
They're often more like amusement parks than strictly rest areas.
In some parts of the world, a highway rest area is nothing more than a few sketchy bathrooms and maybe somewhere to buy some old, cold/reheated food if you're lucky. Not Japan! This particular highway rest stop is one of the Highway Oasis ones, in Aichi Prefecture. It has the ferris wheel that you see in the picture, carousels, shopping, cafes, and probably the coolest bathrooms I've seen in all of Japan. Seriously, they're deluxe.
Some of them actually have themed set-ups.
This is one rest area we went to that was set up like an Edo village. So charming! In the picture below you can see that they have little food stalls out the front that you can grab a bite to eat from. We've also been to another rest area that had a European theme, and was set up to look just like a little Italian town.
That particular Edo themed rest area was without a doubt one of the busier ones we've visited. I imagine that for people who know it exists, they specifically hold out from stopping at other ones to visit this one, since it's a bit more of a tourist attraction!
They have some killer decorative touches
You can get some really pretty views in some of the most unusual locations.
Seeing the clouds creep across the mountains from the back of this small rest stop on the way from the Naruto whirlpools to Kochi on a foggy, overcast day, was really pleasant.
You can find unique local snacks or handicrafts!
I always like to pop into the stores they have at rest areas, because you can find a bunch of interesting things that you likely wouldn't be able to find in other regions of Japan. For instance, there are certain Kit Kat varieties that are local specialties (like apple flavored Kit Kats in Nagano) that I haven't been able to locate here in Tokyo. Rest areas are often used by the local community as a way to promote their uniqueness and the things that make them stand out from other locations. If an area is renowned for producing excellent soba noodles, you'll probably find packets of those readily available to buy. If they're a region known for producing high quality rice, you'll find bags of it to purchase. It's also a bit of an education in what certain areas of Japan are known for.
I have no doubt that there's even more great rest area stops, and other reasons why people love them, but that's a bit of an insight into a few reasons why I think they're great!