Need a break from your commute on the expressway? Detour onto a toll-free Service Area exit when you see these symbols. (Photo: Jessica A Paje)

Take a Break: Japanese Rest Stop

Travelers on an expressway are in for a treat

Need a break from your commute on the expressway? Detour onto a toll-free Service Area exit when you see these symbols. (Photo: Jessica A Paje)
Jessica A Paje   - 5 min read

When your journey along an expressway in Japan calls for a break, follow the green signs with the eye-catching “P”, “i”, or “☕” symbols and exit carefully. More commonly known as an expressway Service Area (SA) by motorists, some of these areas are quite impressive and can provide new travelers with a great introduction to what Japan has in store. After a two-hour drive from Yokosuka and an hour to spare before I had to be at the Arrivals section of Narita International Airport, I decided to take a break at Shisui Exit. Although not as sophisticated as the SA’s near Mt. Fuji, Shisui is still a nice retreat for travelers on the road. It’s the little things that count!

The most amusing symbol I’ve seen on an expressway is the “☕” or Tea Cup. This means a café is available and at a minimum, the SA offers a wide selection of beverages at affordable prices. At Shisui North bound, a Starbucks café is conveniently located at the end of the parking lot. Or, grab a drink from one of the many, genius Japanese vending machines. Would you like your drink in a bottle, hot or cold, or iced in a disposable cup? Green tea, roasted barley tea, fruit juices, soda or coffee, the choices are endless. Be sure to check out the ice cream and snack food selection, too!

“P” is for Parking. Commercial vehicles, private owned vehicles, and motorcycles are all welcome and there is hardly ever a shortage of space. And it’s free! Put it in park for a nap, to walk your pet, or head inside the facility for a nice snack break. If you’re driving an electric vehicle, you can typically find charging stations at most other SA’s.

“i” is for Highway Information. View current traffic conditions on a digital monitor. At Shisui North bound, you can even view the current flight status for arrivals and departures from Narita International Airport. If you're South bound, pick up maps and guides to destinations within the local area at the warm and friendly Information desk or “?”. If you see a black cat advertisement, you can learn more on the popular and efficient luggage courier called Takkyubin (Black Cat Courier).

“Spoon & Fork” symbol. Try some ramen! But first get hands-on experience placing your order through a ticket machine. Don’t let the Japanese menu intimidate you. To calm your fears, you can refer to the English guide located off to the side – a photo book. If it looks yummy, it probably it is. You really can’t go wrong when ordering by picture. Just keep an eye on the number of red chili peppers in the corner! When you’re ready: insert yen, make your selection, tickets will be dispensed, give ticket to food counter clerk. If you’re not quite ready for noodles, go for a beef & rice bowl (gyudon) at Matsuya; look for the sign with a large red circle with a yellow & blue dot in the middle. Or, find comfort in a French pastry, hamburger at Moss Burger (South bound), and an ice cream cone.

The “Shopping bag” symbol can mean a gift shop or convenience store. At Shisui North bound, pick up some kawaii souvenirs like keychains, cell phone accessories, and boxed cookies. If the city you're traveling through has a mascot, you'll find a plethora of knick knacks promoting the kawaii character. Or, stock up on things like onigiri (rice balls), fruit, candy, and drinks for the long commute ahead.

Warning. This next symbol may cause nausea, but it really is worth highlighting when you’re in Japan. It’s the universal “Female toilet/Male toilet” symbol. I can’t speak for all of the gentlemen out there, but I can tell you how fabulous the women’s public facility is. It’s immaculate, spacious, has large mirrors, a hand washing area, separate vanity area, and it is high tech. It is everything a girl needs to freshen up (including the awesome, warm-seat bidets)! If you’re a mother to small children, there’s a family restroom, a private nursing room, child safety seats in the stalls, and convenient miniature urinals. If you're inclined to immerse yourself into traditional customs, challenge yourself to the Japanese toilet.

Last but not least, the universal “Gas Pump” symbol. If you need to refuel, the gas station is located at the end of the parking lot. Posted price is per 1-liter. Make sure you have enough yen to cover the total cost in case your credit card is not accepted. Also, this is your last chance to grab something on the go from the gas station’s convenience store.

I hope you had a restful break and learned a few things about Japan’s customs, cuisine, and SA’s in general. It's a safe and convenient way to stop when traveling on an expressway. You can also avoid paying additional tolls by detouring here than having to exit at a secondary thoroughfare. Drive carefully and safe travels on your next journey!

Jessica A Paje

Jessica A Paje @jessica.paje

Originally from San Diego, California, I lived in Yokosuka, Japan, for 5 years. In 2010, I arrived with a new outlook on my future. Mainly, to refocus on family and let my curiosities take us to places we’ve only dreamt of. Along the way, we’d hopefully develop new friendships and simply collect ...