Why So Popular!? Saitama’s Hanyu Rest Stop Reproduces Edo TV Drama Set
Evolution of Highway Rest Stops
I am sure you are aware that highways are equipped with rest stops here and there for long-distance drivers to take a break, dine, buy souvenirs or obtain traffic information. In Japan some of them are called “parking area (PA)”.
Until a few years ago many PAs were simple facilities designed to offer places to take a quick break. However in recent years Japanese PAs offer onsen hot springs and foot baths, places to play with animals, beautiful views, unique souvenirs and special dishes you cannot get elsewhere. Each PA has evolved by exerting ingenuities as if they were a theme park for sightseeing rather than a place to rest.
This time I am introducing a particularly unique rest stop among such evolving PAs.
Hanyu Parking Area
The Tohoku Expressway connects Kawaguchi City of Saitama Prefecture to Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture, and Hanyu PA is the first rest stop after the inbound from the Tohoku region enters into Saitama Prefecture, heading for downtown Tokyo. This rest stop is located away from tourist destinations in Tochigi or Tokyo, and most drivers heading to a sightseeing destination or heading home merely passed this place in the past. But today this place is crowded every day not only with Japanese tourists but also with international travelers.
Full Reproduction of Townscapes from the Edo Period
Japanese townscapes of the Edo period (1603-1868) are reproduced in Hanyu PA and a pretentious gate in the traditional building style with large lanterns welcome drivers. It catches people with a big surprise when they have just stopped by only to use restrooms, to eat or to take a break.
Once you step into the facility the early evening sky spreads on the ceiling, and you find souvenir stalls as if they came from a traveling fair or restaurants that came out of Edo.
In many places reproductions are made only to be viewed from the outside, as the exterior walls are made in the traditional Japanese style while the inside of the buildings are very modern. But here in Hanyu PA the reproduction is not limited to the exterior walls; the inside of the buildings and even décor details are faithfully reproduced. This thoroughness extends even to painting modern equipment such as vending machines so that they will not disrupt the landscape.
Modeled on Popular TV Period Drama “Onihei Hankacho”
Hanyu PA is not just a reproduction of any town of Edo; it is a reproduction of the town where the main character of the TV drama “Onihei Hankacho” lived, which was popular in Japan.
“Onihei Hankacho” is a period TV drama that set its stage during the Edo period in Japan and its main character Heizo Hasegawa known as Onihei, cracked down on arson, theft and gambling, which were deemed as grave offenses at the time. If likened to a modern example, it is a drama featuring the head of a special team that deals with heinous crimes that regular police force cannot handle.
Period dramas of “good defeats evil” are very popular to Japanese people and the series aired on TV for as long as two decades, having been loved by many.
Look at This Attention to Details!
Can you guess what is in this photo?
This is a water storage facility during the Edo period in Japan, which was established in various places of a town to put out fires. Japanese houses at the time were wooden houses and they were very vulnerable against fire. Thus water was placed around the town for fire-fighting. In such details you can explore realistic history and traditions.
Best Souvenirs at Hanyu Parking Area
The atmosphere of souvenir shops makes you feel you are at a traditional Japanese fair. These stores are very popular to tourists as many souvenirs are unique and hard to find elsewhere, coupled with the atmosphere.
Because the buildings are modeled after “Onihei Hankacho”, many souvenirs are related to the story. Other products include various traditional goods in Japan, such as wagashi Japanese sweets, pickles, tabi socks, gold-lacquered covers for smartphones, etc. the tenugui hand towels with traditional Japanese patterns are especially very popular for souvenirs.
In the restaurants, you can eat the same food as the meals served in the drama of “Onihei Hankacho”. In addition the menu offers a variety of traditional dishes loved by Japanese people since the Edo period, such as eel, soba noodles, tempura, kuzu-mochi arrowroot cakes, and amazake sweet sake.
The most recommended food is ground meat cutlet with a mark of “鬼”, “oni” from “Onihei Hankacho”. A patty of flavorful meat coated with bread crumbs fried to a toasty crisp is truly delicious.
You can also eat “Ippon Udon”, a local dish in Japan. This udon is different from the ordinary udon noodles as a bowl of noodle comes with only 1 thick noodle in udon soup. It is a very unique style of Udon and I recommend this dish, too.
This time I introduced Hanyu PA, one of the evolving highway rest stops in Japan. Famous theme parks in the world reproduce sets from movies or dramas and we can enjoy the world within the story. But Hanyu PA is a rest stop built on a highway, and anyone driving by can take advantage of it. It is now a place of hot topic that a rest stop between tourist destinations turned itself into a sightseeing spot.
Tohoku Expressway Hanyu PA (Inbound to Tokyo) “Onihei Edo Dokoro”
Address: 1686 Miroku Aza Goken, Hanyu City, Saitama Prefecture, Map
Location on the highway: 5.4 km from Tatebayashi IC (the Previous IC) and 1.2 km to the next exit, Hanyu IC
Parking capacity: 148 large cars and 114 compact cars