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Whoever said it’s better to travel than to arrive must have been traveling in Japan. Just ask the folks who hit the road earlier this month for the o-Bon summer holidays. Sure, the nightly newscasts were filled with horror stories of bumper-to-bumper traffic, but motorists and their families knew that relief lay as close as the next rest area, where they could refuel, refresh — and finally let the kids out of the car.

Over the past few years, expressway pit stops have become destinations in their own right, as operators have transformed the plazas — known as SA (service areas) or PA (parking areas) — into mall-like venues. At the same time, the nationwide infatuation with local cooking known as B-kyū gourmet (B-grade cuisine) has led motorists to stop by for a taste of authentic regional dishes. Here are some notable rest areas within easy reach of Tokyo where travelers can fill up both their gas tanks and their stomachs.

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