Roadside stations or “michi-no-eki” as they are known in Japanese, are the most wonderful roadside service stations that can be found all over Japan.
Every roadside station is unique in its design and provides free parking, clean toilets and information about the local area. Most roadside stations also have an amazing collection of local souvenirs and fresh produce and a restaurant or cafe serving local specialities.
Since every roadside station is different, each one provides different facilities. Some are very simple and provide the basics such as toilets and a vending machine but we have also seen roadside stations with onsens, museums, campgrounds, kid’s play areas & art galleries.
With over 1000 roadside stations located on the side of national highways and on the outskirts of big towns all over Japan, they provide the perfect rest area for people who need to take a break while travelling.
Since we live in our van full time, a common question we get asked is “is it allowed to stay the night in your van at a roadside station in Japan?”
We have spent over 50 nights at roadside stations in many different prefectures in Japan and in this blog post, I will share our experiences of staying the night at roadside stations in Japan.
Is It Allowed To Stay Overnight At Japanese Roadside Stations?
You might have seen signs at roadside stations saying “don’t stay for a long time” and this might have made you feel worried or scared about spending the night at a roadside station. Before starting our van trip, we also were unsure if it was possible to stay the night at a roadside station.
As I mentioned above, we have now spent over 50 nights at different roadside stations and have realised it is allowed BUT a certain etiquette needs to be followed.
Etiquette to follow:
1. Arrive Late & Leave Early
Roadside stations are usually open from around 9am to 5pm so we always try to arrive at the roadside station around closing time since the parking area is usually much quieter. This means we can buy anything we want from the shop and still have 1-2 hours left of daylight before it starts to get dark.
In the morning, we always try to leave before the roadside station opens. We respect the signs saying “don’t stay for a long time” and would feel uncomfortable doing so since during the day the car park becomes busy with customers and staff might start to get annoyed that we are taking up valuable space in the car park.
When we stay at a roadside station we usually try to buy some ready-made food which does not require any cooking for example rice balls. However, sometimes we do cook and we always make sure to cook inside the van so it is not obvious.
The roadside station is not a campground so we always try to respect the other people who are using the roadside station.
Washing the dishes in the toilet bathrooms is a big NO. There are sometimes signs in the bathrooms which say this and it makes sense since the next person who uses the sink doesn’t want to see leftover pieces of your dinner inside the drain!
We try to avoid using as many dishes as we can when we stay at a roadside station. Some tips include:
- Eat directly out of the pot or pan.
- Use plastic wrap to cover the plate or bowl then dispose of the plastic wrap.
- Share the same bowl and chopsticks if you are travelling as a couple.
- Use wipes to clean the dishes.
We usually store the dirty dishes in a bucket and look for a park or campground the next day where we can wash them.
4. Don’t Set Up Tables, Chairs Or A Tarp
This might seem obvious but we have seen some people do this. We always try to stay inside our van and remain inconspicuous.
By setting up a tarp or tables and chairs, the staff at the roadside station might believe you are treating the car park as a campsite and get annoyed.
Do Many People Stay Overnight At Japanese Roadside Stations?
Yes! It is actually very common and there has always been at least one other car, van or camper van staying the night whenever we have stayed at a roadside station.
We have realised that summer is definitely the most popular time for van life travel in Japan and during the summer months we have seen 30+ vehicles staying the night at some roadside stations.
Is It Safe To Stay Overnight At Roadside Stations?
We have always felt very safe staying at roadside stations. Japan is a very safe country and most roadside stations have CCTV cameras which gives us peace of mind in case anything bad was to happen.
We always lock our doors when we are sleeping for security purposes.
What Are The Benefits Of Staying Overnight At Roadside Stations?
Roadside stations are a great option for people travelling by camper van in Japan for the following reasons:
- It’s a free place to spend the night.
- 99% of the time, the toilets are clean with heated toilet seats, washlets and hand soap.
- There are vending machines.
- There is a tourist information desk.
- There are usually a range of other facilities available as I mentioned above.
What Are The Cons Of Staying Overnight At Roadside Stations?
There are some negative points about staying at roadside stations in Japan which I will share below:
- There is usually nowhere to wash dishes.
- Sometimes trucks and cars are coming and going in the night so it can be noisy. Earplugs and a sleeping mask are recommended.
- Roadside stations are sometimes located near busy roads or train lines so it can be noisy.
- It’s best to arrive late and leave early.
What Is Our Overall Verdict?
Overall, roadside stations are a great option as a place to spend the night while travelling in Japan by camper van, especially if you are moving everyday and will be arriving late and leaving early.
Click here to see the official roadside station website which has a map of all the roadside stations around the country.
We usually stay in a mix of different locations such as roadside stations, campsites and random locations.
However, our preferred place to spend the night in our van is always free campsites since we love cooking and like to set up our tables and chairs and wash our dirty dishes immediately after we use them.
We also usually want to spend the day working in our van and this is not possible in a roadside station car park!