One of the greatest Japanese inventions has to be the Michi No Eki or better known as “Roadside Station”. They are literally everywhere in Japan but unlike their sibling the highway rest stop, the Michi No Eki can only be found in areas where you do not need to pay exorbitant tolls to have the pleasure of visiting. For the traveler on a budget there is nothing greater than the network of Michi-no-eki and Rest Stops that can be found within Japan.
The Atsumi Michi-No-Eki has a seaside park. When we visited it part of it was under the ocean (due to a higher than normal high tide)
Fortunately, for the English speaking individual Japan saw fit to make a Michi No Eki English website which can be found here. Each roadside station is unique, with a plethora of services offered. Some have showers, onsens, museums, restaurants, coffee shops, free WiFi, and shopping – just to name a few of the options. I recently stayed at the Ito Michi-no-eki and it had a masseuse offering all manner of massages for the weary traveler.
If you are looking to navigate to a Michi No Eki, a handy tip is to copy and paste the phone number into Google Maps. Almost every business’s location in Japan is registered by their phone number. If it does not work the formatting may be off, hyphens “-“ and the correct amount of digits are necessary (try adding a 0 at the beginning if it does not work the first time around). It does not always work though, which is a tad frustrating.
The view from the back of my micro camper van at the Ito Michi No Eki.
I should mention that the Michi No Eki are intended for those sleeping in their vehicles, I do not think they would take to kindly to you pitching a tent in the parking lot. I have seen people do it before but do not count on being left alone at night, someone may come along and tell you no. Also for those with kids, it probably is a better idea to pay for a campsite as the Michi No Ekis' tend to be in busy (yet beautiful) areas with no safe places for kids to run and play. However, a few Michi No Ekis' offer camping and parks. So, be sure to check first before giving up.
There are numerous car rental outfits that offer custom camper vans – everything from economy Kei cars to the princely sized Toyota Hiace. If you are already going to be needing a vehicle this mode of lodging can save you a bundle of money.