Roadside stations, or Michi no Eki, are getting more popular as they increasingly become not just a stop-off or rest area on a long journey, but often leisure places or tourist spots in themselves.
Each roadside station has its own tourist information and sells locally produced goods and foods. In recent years, many roadside stations have many more facilities like museums, workshop classes, play facilities and rock climbing walls—as well as one of Japanese’s favorite activities, hot springs or onsen. This makes a roadside station an attraction in itself rather than the traditional rest area. With more than over a thousand roadside stations, you can be sure to encounter at least one roadside station on a long road trip.
While on the way to the popular Lake Akan, I chanced upon Mashu Onsen Roadside Station. Conveniently located in the middle of Akan National Park’s three beautiful volcanic lakes (Lake Akan, Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo), it is only a five minute drive or a twenty minute walk from JR Mashu Station. As the area is a historical hot spring area, it is not surprising to find a foot bath in this roadside station, an amazing welcome to rest tired feet.
Mashu Onsen Roadside Station is by no means small. Rich in history, there is a huge exhibition space on the area’s history, a huge picture or photo gallery and an event space. These exhibitions change from time to time, so there will be something new during each visit. At the back of the building, there is a corner with hand-made crafts or products by the locals like necklaces, earrings, hats, gloves and socks.
Although there is no restaurant, food options are definitely not compromised. There is a take-out stall and a few tables to have your meal. Using plenty of “Mashu pork”, the Mashu pork katsu burger is the recommended try. There are others like Mashu soba, Mashu pork bun, and Mashu nuggets. As with the usual tourist places, ice cream is definitely not out of the picture. There are more than 15 flavors available, all made from fresh milk produced in the area. There are souvenirs and food products only available at this roadside station as well.