VIDEO| Rest stops, ramen and more as we hit the road from Tokyo to MCAS Iwakuni

VIDEO| Rest stops, ramen and more as we hit the road from Tokyo to MCAS Iwakuni

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

In Japan, expressways connect cities throughout the nation efficiently, like blood veins circulating in our bodies. Using the country’s well-arranged system lets you travel virtually anywhere without worry. With the expressway network, you can visit any U.S. military installations in Japan while enjoying some of the beautiful sights along the way.

Recently, three travel mates and I hit the road on a TDY from Hardy Barracks in Tokyo to MCAS Iwakuni.

Hardy Barracks in Tokyo 

We hit the Shutoko Expressway a little after 7 a.m., then transferred onto the Tomei Expressway for the 530-mile-long journey to the Marine Corps base in southern Japan. We traveled through Shin-Tomei, Meishin, Isewangan, Meishin, Shinmeishin, Chugoku, and San-yo expressways before we exited the express network at Iwakuni Int. at around 5:40 p.m.

Driving to Iwakuni                        

The 12-hour road trip offered various impressive views, but Mount Fuji was unfortunately not one of them due to cloudy weather. Nevertheless, we could see some of Shizuoka Prefecture’s sweeping green tea fields, the enormous cranes and tankers at Nagoya Port, the busy Osaka and Kobe cityscapes, and the postcard-like scenes in Okayama. Towards the end of our journey, we even caught a glimpse of Miyajima Island floating in the Setouchi Sea off Hiroshima.

We stopped at some of the service and parking areas along the way, including the Kakegawa, Tsuchiyama, Tastunonishi and Kodani service areas. Though you may think these are average rest stops like the ones in the States, but Japan’s rest stops are much more. Service and Parking areas (or SA or PA on road signs) offer plenty more than gas and coffee. These areas are places to rest, grab some regional souvenirs and enjoy some impressive meals. So, grab a snack and visit the food courts inside; believe me, you won’t regret it! Some extra-large SAs even offer ultimate relaxation with hot springs to soak in or amusement parks with a Ferris wheel and rides for the kids!

MCAS Iwakuni (Photo courtesy of James Bolinger, Stars and Stripes)

Driving long distances may seem intimidating in the Land of the Rising Sun, but don’t be afraid to hit the road! There’s so much to explore and many rest areas for stops along the way.

Iwakuni City

Hardy Barracks – MCAS Iwakuni: 864 kilometer (530 miles) and 12 hours of driving

Expressways dropped by while driving to MCAS Iwakuni

Shutoko Expressway

Tomei Expressway 

Shintomei Expressway

Isewangan Expressway

Meishin Expressway

Shinmeishin Expressway

Kyotojukan Expressway

Keiji Bypass

Chugoku Expressway

San-yo Expressway

The Service Areas to drop

Kakegawa PA (Shizuoka Pref.)

Tsuchiyama SA (Shiga Pref.)

Tatsunonishi SA (Hyogo Pref.)

Kodani SA (Hiroshima Pref.)


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