| Centrip Editorial Board

Top Service Areas to Stop at During a Road Trip in Central Japan

Service areas (SA) along Japanese highways are more than just pit stops for restrooms and gas. Outside, rows of food stalls offer a taste of local flavors that add to the joy of travel. Inside, regional products are neatly displayed, and food courts serve up specialties from the area with careful preparation. Some even have Starbucks with breathtaking views. These SAs offer an immersive experience that enhances any road trip through central Japan.

In this article, we'll introduce some must-visit SAs along your road trip through central Japan. Stopping at SAs can be one of the highlights of a driving vacation. They offer a chance to experience regional cuisine, pick up local products, and immerse yourself in the local culture. Use this guide to plan delicious meal stops and shopping excursions that will make your road trip even more enjoyable and memorable.

Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway E41: Seki SA & Nagaragawa SA

Seki SA on the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway

When driving from Nagoya to Gujo (lively with all-night dance festivals in summer and winter sports in winter) or the Hida Takayama and Shirakawa-go areas that draw tourists from around the world, the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway is the most convenient route. On the way from the Takayama area towards Nagoya city, Seki SA is the perfect spot to take a break.

A variety of knives and cutlery are sold here
Seki's nail clippers are extremely sharp

Seki has long been renowned for its blade-making, with Japanese swords praised for being "unbendable and always sharp". Even today, various blades like kitchen knives, utility knives, pruners, and scissors are still crafted here. At Seki SA, you can purchase these celebrated local products.

Tenderly steamed Hida beef
Hida ramen, the classic Hida dish

The restaurants and food court offer a chance to try delectable specialties from the Hida region. For beef lovers, the Hida Beef Seiro-mushi with tender, simmered Hida beef is a must. Noodle fans will enjoy the Takayama Ramen with its clear, flavorful broth. The Hida Beef Curry Bread stuffed with spicy curry and beef, and the Seki Milk soft-serve ice cream made from local milk are also popular.

Curry breads are great for when you want to fill up a little.
The famous Seki Milk soft-serve ice cream. Outdoor seating area for meals and beverages.

Note that the Seki SA can only be accessed when traveling from the Takayama area towards Nagoya. When going from Nagoya to Takayama, the Nagaragawa SA is recommended instead.

Chuo Expressway E20: Enakyo SA

The Chuo Expressway connects Nagoya's Aichi Prefecture inland, following a route reminiscent of the ancient Nakasendo trail walked by travelers during the Edo period. As you journey from Nagoya, this path leads to enchanting sights like the beautifully preserved post towns of Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku, Achi Village famed for having one of the best starry night skies in Japan, the sprawling natural wonder of the Senjojiki Cirque, and the mystical Lake Suwa.

Enakyo SA on the Chuo Expressway (Aichi and Osaka-bound)

Along the Chuo Expressway, one SA we highly recommend is the Enakyo SA. Only about an hour's drive from central Nagoya, it provides a convenient rest stop whether you're heading out or returning from your travels.

Premium Unagi Kabayaki Ju (Grilled eel over rice)
Ena G Rice a play-on-words for Energy using the regional name

The food court at the Enakyo SA offers hearty local fare like the Premium Unagi Kabayaki Ju, grilled eel over rice in a box, and the voluminous Ena G Rice dish. Fuel up on these satisfying meals before continuing your sightseeing adventures.

Many sweets using local chestnuts are sold in the facility
Meiho Gelato made from local milk is also popular

Be sure to also try the Japanese chestnut gelato which generously features this regional specialty ingredient. Sweet treats and snacks made with locally-grown chestnuts, including kuri kinton (candied chestnuts), are popular souvenirs sold at gift shops. Picking some up makes for a delicious reminder of your travels through this area.

Chuo Expressway E20: Suwako SA

Suwako SA on the Chuo Expressway (Tokyo and Yamanashi-bound)

After about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Enakyo SA, crossing over Okazaki JC (Junction), you will soon arrive at Suwako SA. Suwako SA is a service area situated in a picturesque location overlooking Suwa Lake surrounded by mountains. From the restaurants and Starbucks within the service area, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the lake and the towering mountains beyond.

Lake Suwa from the observatory at the service area

Dining while gazing at the beautiful scenery is a moment of pure bliss. The recommended menu is the renowned local specialty of Nagano Prefecture, soba noodles, known for their exquisite flavor and healthy qualities. For a delightful combination, savor it together with another Nagano local dish, oyaki.

The soba noodles are a specialty of Nagano Prefecture.
A set menu with oyaki, a local cuisine of Nagano

Furthermore, as a local craft, lacquerware produced in the Kiso area in the southern part of Nagano Prefecture is also available. Lacquerware is an essential element of Japanese culture, and its elegant beauty lies in the simplicity of its decoration. Sturdy yet lightweight, it makes for a perfect souvenir. Find your favorites among items like tea bowls, chopsticks, and bento boxes.

Lacquerware, essential for Japanese cuisine, is sold as a souvenir
Walnuts and caramels are a favorite snack in this area

In the area surrounding Suwako SA, you can indulge in high-quality hot springs such as Kamisuwa Onsen. Additionally, there are cultural experiences like sake brewery tours and visits to the four shrines of Suwa-Taisha (Suwa Grand Shrine), allowing you to immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Japan.

Nagano Expressway E19: Azusagawa SA

Azusagawa SA on the Nagano Expressway (Tokyo and Aichi-bound)

From the Okaya JC on the Chuo Expressway, you can branch off towards the Nagano Expressway instead of heading towards the Suwako SA. Continuing north on this route brings you to the city of Matsumoto, home to the National Treasure Matsumoto Castle, and opportunities for snowshoeing at Norikura Kogen, Further along lies Nagano City with its famous Zenkoji Temple, and the acclaimed snow resort town of Hakuba (exit at Azumino IC) representing Japan's top winter destinations.

You have to try the Shinshu Salmon Burger when you visit Nagano

For a break along the Nagano Expressway, the Azusagawa SA is a convenient stop. This distinctive lodge-style building with a red roof is where you'll want to try the Shinshu Salmon Burger. Salmon aquaculture in the landlocked Nagano Prefecture has become so renowned that Shinshu salmon was even served at the 2023 G7 Foreign Ministers' dinner, cementing its status as a regional specialty brand.

Matsumoto Temari, a lovely chocolate
The popular Tenshu-ishigaki sable cookie with an image of Matsumoto Castle.

Local products popular at the Azusagawa SA include items associated with Matsumoto City. Matsumoto Temari, inspired by the traditional craft of Temari balls in Matsumoto, transforms this aesthetic into confectionery. They're so charmingly cute that you might hesitate to eat them, but the cashew nuts coated in chocolate are irresistibly delicious.

Shin-Tomei Expressway E1A: Okazaki SA

Okazaki SA
Roast Beef Bowl at Okazaki SA

Higashi-Meihan Expressway E23: Gozaisho SA

Gozaisho SA (Aichi-bound)
Akafuku, a specialty of Mie Prefecture at Gozaisho SA


We introduced the service areas located alongside several expressways. Each service area features unique local specialties and restaurants, offering new discoveries every time you visit. On your way to your planned destinations, consider adding a stopover at some of Japan's service areas to get a taste of areas you might only pass through and enrich your travel experience.

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