To a lot of Tokyoites, Chiba-ken is nothing more than the place go to if you are flying into or out of Narita airport. On the train or bus, you pass unsavory industrial areas, docks, recycle depots, and a few sprawling shopping malls. The northern shores of Tokyo Wan — home of the Wangan Route — house the smelly Nippon Steel works, flammable fuel refineries, gas storage depot, and other unattractive facilities such as Tokyo Disneyland.
The southern two-thirds of Chiba Prefecture, though, are known as the Boso Hanto (Boso Peninsula) and include mountainous areas, castles, rice farming, nihon-shu (sake) breweries, a number of national parks, and a history dating back to the Jomon Period (12,000 BC). The name “Chiba-ken” means literally “Land of a Thousand Leaves”, and the area lives up to its name throughout the year.
Easily accessible in an hour or so from Tokyo via the Tokyo Bay Aqualine, it was an easy choice when we were looking to buy an old thatched-roof minka (farmhouse) for slow restoration. When we are not working on the minka, we like to take the time to tour Boso Hanto, enjoying the history, sights, and delicious meals to found on the less-traveled smaller roads.
Like many areas of Japan too, the touring brings with it some spectacular driving roads — skyline and touge — the smallest of which suit a slow fast car like the Honda S800. We had the Coupe too, perfect for carrying just enough for a few days away.
Upon filling up at our local Shell sutando (gasoline stand), we enjoyed some late summer and early fall drives on sparsely populated roads perfect for the S800’s live rear axle and peaky little engine. Smoothly paved and twisty, they wound through forest groves, bamboo thickets, and mountain tunnels, each corner bringing a new view and interesting stops.
The Mt Kanozan Jinyaji Jinja, dating back to the 1600s, is a great stop for a ramen lunch and some omiyage (souvenirs). A passing Silvia fresh off the touge was also enjoying the area.
We stopped one day to inspect a red-roofed minka the same as ours. This one was the guardian of an old shrine, its komainu (lion-dog) statues looking out over the nearby rice fields.
Passing harvested fields as the farmers burned off their rice stalks, we stopped at the Mishima Jinja, home to a famous samurai clan and their annual katana-wielding matsuri. During the festival, children of the area practice the swordsmanship with wooden swords and the adults parry with real katana and slice bamboo trunks with a single strike, a spectacular event. We parked the S800 next to the twinned trees in the Jinja parking area with evidence of a recent typhoon littering the grounds.
In the northern reaches of Chiba-ken, we took the time to visit a well-known Prince and Nissan shop. Our task: to inspect a few GT-A and GT-B with intent to purchase. The shacho lives next door, has a garage full of interesting cars, and though we spent an hour or more looking at possible purchases, we spent even longer looking at his wife’s hakosuka GT-R, a kenmeri 2000GT, and the owner’s Prince S54 Skyline GT-B.
Over tea, the shacho explained his number 41 replica was a GT-B, but because the homologated cars were all GT-As specced-up with the triple twin-throated Webers and other race bits, his GT-B also wears a GT-A compliance plate.
Some may notice S54A body number 11 — the compliance plate from one of the original GT-A which ran against the Porsche 904 at the 1964 Japan Grand Prix. Even for a non-Prince otaku like me, this was impressive.
Parked next to his number 41 replica was an original Michelotti-designed Skyline Sports. A great looking car, and one hopefully to feature in further detail soon too.
Outside on his lot were stored a wide range of Prince & Nissan machinery: a Prince Miler truck, GT-A and GT-B bodies that have seen better days, a mint 1967 Gloria Super, a H II-spec GT-A, Datsun Cherry X-1, and a BRE replica Bluebird Coupe
Parked inside was an original Kyoto 5-plated GT-B, the single digit meaning it is very, very old.
Along the way as well were the usual Japanese food stops, notably a regular visit to a consistently succulent hire-tonkatsu (deep-fried roast pork cutlet) in Kamogawa. We also frequent a Nepalise-run Indian restaurant for an occasional curry, too.
Recent work on the Honda included a full re-wire of the headlight loom and the installation of some Koito H4 high-power headlamps. Driving country roads at night we were pleased to see that the new system performs much better than the feeble yellow-tinged OEM sealed beams. It’s a thoroughly recommended modification for anyone contemplating driving an old car regularly, especially past sunset. With the sun going down, the local Honda dealer made a nice backdrop for the S800.
To be continued…
Skorj resides in Japan and is co-founder of Filmwasters.com