What’s highway SA?  Why a hot shopping destination now?

Japan has highway (expressway) of over 9,000 kilometers in total length, and along the highway, rest areas are located every 20 kilometers. About one in three of them are large “Service Area (SA)” and rest of them are small “Parking Area (PA)”.
Their “basic functions” are, parking spaces, rest rooms and gas stations; but recently, Japanese SA concept is rapidly evolving to a leisure complex that provide travelers with unique and memorable shopping, dining, relaxation, and entertainment experiences.

Originally, Japan Highway Public Corporation (now dissolved) needed to build SA along the highway simply because Japanese regulation prohibits to build any store in road shoulders. Back then, SA merely provided the “basic functions” to fulfill drivers’ very basic needs.
However, after the breakup and privatization of Japan Highway Public Corporation in 2005, new private highway companies actively started to rejuvenate SA to attract more consumers to grow their retail sales.
SA market became a very attractive new business opportunity for retail chain store developers. As a result, retail brands fiercely competed to acquire a good new store location in renovated SA especially with the large and famous SA, that encouraged retailers to invent differentiated, attractive services for SA.

Hamamatsu SA bound for Tokyo, Shin Tomei Expressway: piano design is tribute to YAMAHA, started up in Hamamatsu.

Hamamatsu SA bound for Tokyo, Shin Tomei Expressway: piano design is tribute to YAMAHA, started up in Hamamatsu.

The most famous SA Shopping Mall in Japan is…?

Undoubtedly, the most famous SA in Japan is Ebina SA operated by Central Nippon Expressway Company (NEXCO Central). Its customer transaction is 60,000 per day on average, and annual sales is said to be #1 in the world exceeding annual 10 billion yen (about 90 million US$).
Ebina SA is famous for offering gourmet dining experiences at its restaurants, food court, bakery and cafe, where many famous food service retailers are offering special menus only available at Ebina SA. They also offer variety of special services such as baby and elderly assistance, sightseeing information, home-grown souvenir, local product market, business solutions, cozy powder room, convenience store, banking and postal services, lottery stand, etc.

Japan's largest and most famous EBINA SA Service Area by NEXCO Central

Ebina SA, Tomei Expressway. Source: NEXCO Central

The hottest new SA shopping mall project in Japan is…?

Surugawan-Numazu SAUndoubtedly, the hottest and the largest-scale new SA project among recent development is the opening of the Shin Tomei Expressway by NEXCO Central; the brand-new highway connecting Tokyo and Nagoya opened on April 14, 2012.  The same day, 3 new SA opened along Shin Tomei, that are Surugawan-Numazu SA, Shizuoka SA and Hamamatsu SA.  The new highway and SA have been attracting many travelers ever since.

Suruga Bay view at Shin Tomei Expressway Surugawan-Numazu SA from its spacious dog run area and coffee shop terrace

Suruga Bay view at Surugawan-Numazu SA from its spacious dog run area and coffee shop terrace

One of many attractions of Shin Tomei is the glorious view of famous Japanese landscapes including Mount Fuji, Suruga Bay and Hamana Lake that travelers can enjoy from many different perspectives. SA along Shin Tomei are carefully designed to offer the best window view and photo spots of these landscapes.

Special menu at Surugawan-Numazu SA: grilled Shizuoka ox tangue with Shizuoka grown wasabi. Source: NEXCO Central

Special menu at Surugawan-Numazu SA: grilled Shizuoka ox tangue with Shizuoka grown wasabi. Source: NEXCO Central

Also, gourmet dining experience is another major attraction of Shin Tomei. SA offer the best-selected local and global food at their restaurants, food court, bakery and cafe, and many famous food service retailers are offering special menus only available at Shin Tomei SA.
Examples of Shin Tomei SA special menus often introduced by media are; grilled Shizuoka ox tangue with Shizuoka grown wasabi (picture), Suruga Bay sea food sushi, grilled Hamana pork, Hamana eel bowl, Shizuoka Gyoza (dumpling), Shizuoka orange cake… to name a few. Travelers can enjoy such special, delicious local foods without exiting the highway.

…And many more unique highway SA can be discovered

Hot spring facility at Kariya Parking Area (Highway Oasis). Source: NEXCO Central

Hot spring facility at Kariya Parking Area (Highway Oasis). Source: NEXCO Central

There are many more highway SA in Japan that are attracting massive tourist transactions. Some even have Ferris wheel and hot spring (e.g. Kariya Parking Area, picture), or bath and hotel (e.g. Ashigara SA). Many SA have dog run and markets that sell local products.

SA in Japan today is not merely a rest area, but is almost an independent tourism destination, motivating the tourists to travel more on highway. Furthermore, it continuously evolves with new concepts in order to continuously attract the media and consumer attention.