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Shin-Tomei Expressway: Surugawan-Numazu Service Area

One of the nice things about road transportation in Japan is the presence of Service Areas (SA’s or rest stops) along expressways. Each SA houses restaurants or food courts, coffee shops, souvenir shops, outdoor food stalls, gasoline stations, and most importantly, plenty of clean restrooms. Some even have parks, dog walks, shower booths and beds for napping. Without getting off the highway drivers and passengers can stop by these establishments and take as much rest as they need.

Two or three times a year we take a long drive along the 東名高速道路 Tomei Expressway connecting Tokyo with Nagoya and other areas in central Japan. The SA’s along the Tomei highway are pretty good: my favorites are 海老名 Ebina and 浜名湖 Hamanako. They offer rest as well as enough shopping and eating choices; the problem is that during peak travel season or long weekends the highways are jammed and the SA’s become pretty crowded.

Road sign indicating Nagoya via the Shin-Tomei Expressway.

Road sign indicating Nagoya via the Shin-Tomei Expressway. It was raining and our car's windshield was dirty. Sorry for the water splotch on the sign! The new sign was all nice and shiny but I gave the pic an oldish feel 🙂

So we were looking forward to the April 2012 opening of the 新東名高速道路 Shin-Tomei Expressway. 新 “shin” means new, so it’s the new version of the good ol’ Tomei highway.

Tunnel on the Shin-Tomei Expressway

Lots of tunnels on the Shin-Tomei Expressway. They are brightly lit with LED lamps. The emergency exits have such large, clear labels they can't be missed.

The Shin-Tomei took 25 years to build (from planning to operation), at the cost of 2.6 trillion yen! Its main purpose is to alleviate heavy congestion along the Tomei. Another purpose is to create a totally new experience for drivers and passengers: to help them enjoy the drive and actually look forward to stop by the SA’s not out of need but of want. That is, the SA’s themselves become a travel destination: a place to spend money on.

We visited a couple of SA’s along the Shin-Tomei’s 下り線 kudari-sen (road leading away from Tokyo), and a few more along the 上り線 nobori-sen (going toward Tokyo). I’ll write about them each in a series of articles. Here’s the first:

Blue Sky and Sea at Surugawan-Numazu SA

We were floored by how spacious this new SA is.

A view of the Surugawan-Numazu SA.

A view of the Surugawan-Numazu SA. The entire complex is larger than shown in this pic. It was raining and we didn't have an umbrella so we had to stand in a shaded area, unable to move away to take in the entire structure.

Apparently, each SA has a theme, and for 駿河湾沼津 Surugawan-Numazu it’s the deep blue sea. It’s not just the presence of blue everywhere. Even the ceiling was shaped like undulating waves.

A view of the food court and shops

Top: A view of the food court and shops. Bottom left: You can see an information booth or concierge on one side, staffed by ladies wearing cute hats. Bottom right: a row of vending machines. A couple of them have a small screen where you can view the innards of the machine, showing you in real time just exactly how your drink is being made 🙂

Makes a lot of sense, because the views of the sea here are lovely. Numazu is a city along the sea and known for its fish markets, lively places where you can buy fresh catch (I’ve been to one a couple of times and the food’s great!).

Ahoy, ship! A view of the food court.

Ahoy, ship! A view of the food court.

So I wasn’t too surprised with the theme of this SA. The restaurant complex is all blue and white and nautical. I loved the different shades of blue, as well as the mix of semi-circular tables, striped upholstery, and blue-tinted accent lights.

Here you can sit along the windows, or move back in if you don't like the view.

Here you can sit along the windows, or move back in if you don't like the view.

There are tables along the expansive glass walls where customers can sit and enjoy the ocean view.

A table shaped and painted like a surf board.

A table shaped and painted like a surf board.

Too bad it was cloudy and rainy when we were there. I could just imagine how the blue sea and a clear sky would look amazing from this viewpoint.

Something for everyone.

Something for everyone. Top: A view of the sea (not visible here due to cloudy, foggy weather) while enjoying a cup of coffee. Bottom left: Those that want a view of the sea without glass in between can sit outdoors (when it isn't raining). Bottom left: Parents playing with their toddler at a small kids area within the food court.

The water cooler served two kinds of tea. So you could buy a meal from your restaurant or coffee shop of choice, and avail of the free tea.

Lots of free tea!

Lots of free tea!

Buy Local

Hard to choose when everything looks so yummy.

Hard to choose when everything looks so yummy.

The shops across the food court featured local products, cakes, and fish (and octopus and squid)-flavored food.

The Usual, but Better

One of the features of the new SA’s are large-screen information terminals. Here drivers can check weather conditions, traffic jams, accident alerts, and other highway data.

Information terminals inside the service area

Information terminals inside the service area. The bottom pic shows the amount of solar power being generated.

The Surugawan-Numazu SA harnesses solar energy through solar panels on its roof. According to their system’s information screen, the generated solar power covers about 60% of the SA’s needs.

I was unable to take photos of the restrooms, but they were actually the most awe-inspiring. Surugawan-Numazu SA has incredibly spacious, shiny white restrooms. Being new, it’s all sparkling clean and actually smells totally non-restroomy, if you know what I mean. Definitely the best SA restroom I’ve ever seen. Wanna have a real rest? Go visit the restrooms!

Making the Most of the New SA’s

Be sure to ask for a map of the new highway. Each SA has a concierge or information booth, so on your first stop ask for a map.

Map all crumpled up on my lap.

Shin-Tomei map all crumpled up on my lap.

Also, some SA’s have a floor guide, so be sure to ask for this, too. The larger service areas have parks, dog runs, observation decks, baby feeding/diaper rooms, and even “premium toilets”, so it’s a good thing to orient yourself while you are in the food court drinking coffee.

Up Next

In the next installment, we’ll take a look at another SA along the 下り線 kudari-sen. In this series of articles we’ll see three other new SA’s on the 上り線 nobori-sen (road leading to Tokyo) at night. We’ll read more about the other eco-SA features of these establishments. Also, a short take on the the contradictions of driving a car (increasing one’s carbon footprint) and stopping by an establishment that is all eco, but whose main purpose is to encourage people to get out more using their cars.

I Would Love to Hear from You!

So, what do you think of this article? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments section below.

External Link

Shin-Tomei Expressway – official site

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  1. 新しい道路は走りやすいですよね。

  2. Wow, these SAs are impressive.
    The free tea is cool (but would probably necessitate an extra toilet break!).
    I remember our pit stop at the NLEX the other weekend and how uninspiring it was. All the eating places were the usual franchises. Couldn’t get away fast enough.

    • beverlyclaire /

      Thank you, slf! Perhaps one or two restaurants in the food court are chain establishments, but the others seemed to be local. I liked that there were plenty of local products sold, things you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Gives the traveler incentive to browse and look for local stuff to try out 🙂

  3. I was researching about the Shin-Tomei and discovered your site. Very informative! Thanks.

    • beverlyclaire /

      So glad you found the article helpful! I had originally planned to write a series on the Service Areas along the new highway, but thought nobody would be genuinely interested in stuff like that. Now you’ve given me the incentive to write more about this topic 🙂

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