Last autumn, my daughter and I decided we wanted to take a trip one weekend, but as we have a large dog, we were disinclined to go to a hotel. We decided to take a road trip with the dog to Niigata and stay in out van. This was the first of several trips we have now made, and was our introduction to the wonders of Michinoeki. Generally we drive and as we are getting tired or it is getting dark, we start looking for one nearby and head there. Most days we arrive after dark, with no real idea of where we are or what is around us, to wake in the morning to beautiful scenery!
Michinoeki come in many shapes and sizes, from tiny one building ones in the mountains, far away from civilization, to huge, sprawling ones with many shops, restaurants and even hot springs!
Quite a few people stay overnight. Some are in campers or vans, like us, but others are just in little cars with the seats leaned back. Everyone is friendly and there are always greetings in the morning as we head to the restrooms or walk the dog.
On our trips, we try to eat local food as much as possible. Going to the shops and restaurants at the michinoeki is good for that. This fall we were able to eat a course serving a local fish in Gunma and rhubarb ice cream in Nagano, among others.
You can also buy lots of local foods in the shops. Rice in Niigata, seasonal fruits in Nagano, yuuba in Gunma, seafood in Izu, etc.
If you are out driving, even if you don’t stay, I recommend stopping into a Michinoeki to get a taste of the area!