The heavens had decided to open on the day we visited the Okukuji Daigo road station in Ibaraki Prefecture. A bathroom break necessitated a stop somewhere and there are few places better than one of Japan's much admired - and much appreciated - michi no eki road stations.
Pulling into the carpark with the rain falling down, we couldn't help but notice just how cute the road station seemed to be. The modern facade was in stark contrast to an earlier visit to a fish market road station and it was a shame that we weren't planning anything other than satisfying nature's call.
Lined up with stalls offering fresh produce, Okukuji Daigo's market is typical of road stations in Japan with their commitment to promoting local produce and goods. Oyaki buckwheat dumplings, apple ice cream and green tea are specialities of the area along with beer made from the region's fresh water. Another local food is game fowl and Okukuji Daigo offers crumbed katsu and curried versions of this meat at its eatery. Tofu skin yuba is popular here and the station's salt ramen noodles comes with it as a topping. The local tofu and chowder soba soup is another local treat.
Sitting, as it does, by the banks of the Kuji River, the road station has a pleasantly rural feel to it. However, what sets Okukuji Daigo apart from other road stations in Ibaraki is its hot spring. It's the first of Ibaraki's road stations to offer one and for drivers looking to wash away some built up travel stress, a hot spring is quite literally, just the thing. There is a fee of JPY500, towels are available to rent and the hot spring opens between 11 - 8 pm.
Charming in everyway, even the weather couldn’t hide Okukuji Daigo's mountain river appeal.