The Onihei Edo-dokoro Parking Area is a rest stop in Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture, on the Tohoku Expressway on the way into Tokyo. It is most commonly called the Hanyu Parking Area despite their best efforts to market it by the name of the character it was called after.
Onihei Edo-dokoro is a bit of a mouthful afterall. And if you aren’t familiar with the character of Shotaro Ikenami’s novels Onihei, it is also quite hard to remember. However, the character is known and loved by the vast majority of Japanese adults. Onihei is a fictional character based on a real life person Hasegawa Heizo. The stories by Shotaro Ikenami were made into movies, TV programmes, stage shows and even manga, so he is a household name.
Sightseeing on the Tohoku Expressway!
Hanyu Parking area is as much a tourist attraction as a rest area. With its Edo period design and ninja show and street performances on the weekend, the Hanyu Parking area has created an added incentive to go by car not train to and from the Tohoku region.
Edo Period Themed Parking Area
The theme of the Edo period goes past the design of the parking area, where the interior keeps with the exteriors image and replicates an edo period shopping area. A lot of the food and souvenirs are also based on commonly served dishes from the Edo period such as Unagi (eel).
And the Onihei characteristic also goes further than the name. There is food sold in the parking area that was taken from Ikenami’s books. For example “ippon udon” literally meaning one piece of udon. And that’s what it is. One piece of udon for 800 yen! Its 50 cm long and 2.5 cm wide. (Read more about Ippon Udon here, external source.)
We use the Tohoku expressway at least three times a year for travels to Tochigi. We usually stop further North at one of the larger parking areas such as Sano to break up our journey. But last year we stopped in the inbound Hanyu Parking area for the first time in about four years and were so surprised by the transformation. We had known they were doing up the parking area five years ago. And had heard and seen tidbits online and in books about the new and improved timeslip parking area. But it is even more impressive in real life. So much so that we went out of our way during our December trip to Tochigi to stop in the Edo-esque parking area again on our way home.
When to visit
When we stopped in January 2018 we were on our way home from Edo Wonderland. It was like we were still in the theme park! It was late in the evening so the buildings were lit up. The parking area really is beautiful by night, but hard to see clearly, particularly the intricate details of the props on site. So we wanted to visit during the day too for a comparison and we accomplished that in December.
If you are visiting the parking area, I recommend that you time it for just before dusk so that you can appreciate the detail in the daylight and then witness the charm when it is lit up in the dark. And if you can make it on a weekend you might be able to see one of the Ninja performances and/or street performances.
Hanyu Parking Area Information
Onihei Edo-dokoro Tohoku Expressway Hanyu Parking Area (Inbound)
Hours: Facilities such as toilets are available 24 hours, restaurant closes at 9 pm.
Address: 〒348-0004 Saitama-ken, Hanyū-shi, Miroku, 五軒１６８６
Plus code: 5HJP+CX Hanyū, Saitama Prefecture
Official Website: Onihei Edo-dokoro official portal site, Japanese language only
Access: First parking area after you cross over the Tone River from Tochigi to Saitama.
Parking: for 148 large vehicles and 114 for cars. 4 car spaces and 1 larger vehicle parking space available for people with lower mobility or disabilities.
Nursery with diaper changing facilities and boiled water available.
The previous parking area is Sano and the next parking area is Hasuda parking area if you stay on the Tohoku. But if you change onto the Ken-o expressway the next parking area is Shobu Parking area.
Driving in Japan
Planning a trip to Japan from overseas? Living in Tokyo and thinking of renting a car for a trip or drive? Here are some things to consider and useful information for driving in Japan.
Driver’s License / Driving Permit
Whether you are travelling to or living in Japan you will need a valid drivers license to rent a car and / or drive in Japan. For visitors from overseas you will need to have a valid driver’s license. For people living in Japan, if you didn’t get your license in Japan, you will need to convert your current license to a Japanese license.
Plaza Homes has excellent information for both long term residents in Japan and short term visitors. Everything you need to know about driver licenses / permits to legally drive in Japan here.
Rules of the Road
The rules of the road are very comprehensive and for the most part similar to many other countries. But there are some noticeable and important differences. For one, when you turning a corner on a green light more often than not pedestrians also have a green light to cross. And they have right of way.
You can buy an English copy of the rules of the road from JAF (Japan Automobile Federation). They also have several other languages available. They have digital and printed formats available. Link to the JAF Rules of the Road handbooks here. A very basic guideline is also available on the Plaza Homes website here.
Nexco Expressway (Highway / Motorway)
The expressway (highway / motorway / freeway in Japan are managed by NEXCO. NEXCO has many sub branches, some of which have their own English pages. Nexco Central tends to have the most generic information covering everything from safety, congestion, rest areas and even trip guides. But for more detailed information on rest areas, also known as parking or service areas, the drive plaza suite is useful too.
The most important thing to note about the expressway in Japan – other than safety! – is the ETC system for the toll booths. You can pay in cash at the vast majority of toll booths, but please note that there are a few “smart” toll booths that can only be used if you have a valid ETC card. Information on the ETC card system in Japan here.