Growing up in Canada, I was no stranger to long road trips, whether to visit relatives or take a trip to Montreal to listen to some jazz. Along the way we’d pass many freeway rest areas. They were always clean, but they lacked any character whatsoever. No matter which one you stopped at, they were all the same-McDonald's, Tim Horton's, Swiss Chalet and Dairy Queen. Basically our choices were burgers, donuts, chicken or ice cream. They weren't bad, just not interesting...
So imagine my surprise when I moved to Japan to find that its highway rest stops are great spots to munch on regional specialties or pick up local souvenirs. And if you happen to visit one particular parking area, you can even go back in time.
This special rest stop is located in Hanyu City in Saitama Prefecture. The Hanyu parking area, recently underwent renovations and had its grand re-opening recently. But rather than offering the standard rest stop fare, the planners decided to do something unique.
They decided to recreate an Edo Period checkpoint.
During the time known as the Edo Period, Japan was ruled by a feudal government. In this era, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, the government kept close watch on the movement of people from one region of the country to the next, establishing a system of checkpoints along the system of roads leading to the city of Edo. One such outpost, the Kurihashi Checkpoint, was set up near to where the Hanyu parking area is today. Inspired by this, those in charge of the rest stop’s renovations set about recreating an Edo Period townscape.
The newly overhauled parking area has been rechristened the Onihei Edo-dokoro, with Onihei being a reference to the lead character in Shotaro Ikegami’s Onihei Hankacho franchise which contains 24 volumes chronicling Edo Period law enforcement officer Onihei as he protects his town from thieves, arsonists, and other unsavory types.
Arriving at the rest stop, you might think you've wandered onto a movie set. Everywhere you look, you can see the features of an Edo Period town, complete with traditional tiled roofs, a fire watch tower, wooden signposts, and hanging lanterns.