On the final day of our cross-Japan trip, we woke up in Okayama with a decision to make. If we stuck to the back roads, we’d end up having to travel straight through the heart of Kobe and Osaka. On any normal day that would’ve been insane enough on its own, but today was a national holiday so things would be exponentially worse. We were already exhausted after nine days on the road, and so after over 2,000 kilometers of surface roads, we hit the highway for the last part of our journey.
Of course, we had to get out of Okayama City. Fortunately, it was still early enough that traffic was light and we blasted through the city streets with ease. Soon we arrived at the toll plaza to get on the Sanyo Expressway, which would take us 140 kilometers east to Kobe.
The highway is a much less visually appealing drive. Instead of snaking around the mountains most highways just bore a hole right through the center, with tunnels up to five kilometers in length. In addition, the highway itself is elevated, preventing drivers from getting a good view of the beautiful scenery below.
However, the Sanyo Expressway is notable for being part of the eastern-most section of Asian Highway 1, which goes from Tokyo all the way to the Turkey-Bulgaria border.
Many expressways also have high sound retention walls surrounding them, which also keep block much of the surrounding view.
Eventually we went bombing into the city of Kobe and that was where the street signs started to get a little incomprehensible. Fortunately, we still had our paper map to keep us on course as we changed over to the Chugoku Expressway. With less than 200 kilometers to home in Nagoya, we started seeing signs letting us know how far away our destination was. A little known fact: Nagoya is an anagram for “home” in Japanese.
The route took us right through the former Osaka World Expo site, with Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun still looming over the highway. The road then curved north out of Osaka and up into Kyoto, where we stopped briefly for lunch.
The rest area we chose just so happened to sit on the southern tip of Lake Biwa, the very lake that was our first stop on Day 01 of our trip! This time, we were on the southern end, but it was the first landmark we’d seen twice on our voyage.
Back on the highway, we put the pedal to the metal and enjoyed the last few miles of our trip. Each of Japan’s many bridges we crossed brought us one step closer to Aichi prefecture and home.
Finally, our exit arrived. After a short drive on local roads, we our trip came to an end when we pulled the Isuzu into its spot in the driveway. We were home.
A final glance at the trip meter showed we had traveled 2,419.8 kilometers to the southern tip of Japan and back. We are also proud to report that we never used satellite navigation once, relying only on six different paper map books — the way nostalgic touring should be!
Our Isuzu 117 Coupé had performed flawlessly throughout. Despite carefully packing a tool kit, we didn’t dig into it even once. As a matter of a fact, I haven’t had to do any work to the 117 since the head gasket replacement before the trip. It’s been dead reliable. I still carry some basic tools in the car though (mostly a motorcycle tool kit with some extra pliers, bailing wire, tape, etc. thrown in), but that’s mostly for peace of mind. I feel better knowing that unless something catastrophic happens, I can handle it on the side of the road.
If you’ll recall, I crossed the Hokkaido-to-Nagoya leg six years ago in an AE86. They both performed flawlessly and reliably the entire way and they both grabbed attention from fellow enthusiasts in nearly the same numbers. The AE86 was a little more spirited on the twisty touge roads (although I did manage to overheat the brakes on a particularly long pass), but the 117 swallowed up the kilometers with grace and ease.
If I had to choose, I’d take the 117 Coupe every time. The AE86 is a blast and a wonderful car, but the 117 Coupe has character, and that can’t be beat. Isuzu knows how to make one hell of a Grand Touring car. Regardless of the model, though, this has been the trip of a lifetime and one we would take again in a heartbeat.
Our route for Day 10 covered 350 kilometers and crossed seven prefectures: Okayama, Hyogo, Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Mie, and Aichi.
Taking a road trip in Japan is vastly different from a taking one in America. In Japan, there is a staggering amount of variety packed so densely that you never really get bored. If you do embark on such a trip, coastal roads like the ones we took are highly recommended.
The mountain roads may seem tempting because they’re like endless touge drives, but you miss out on the many sleepy towns and wonderful pockets of Japanese culture that dot the coast. Also, if you have any car trouble, you’re never really all that far from civilization.
Also, do it in a JNC! Nostalgic cars are universally loved across Japan, even among those that don’t really like cars. People are always coming up to chat about the car, and it’s a great way to meet friends. It might be worth brushing up on your Japanese, though.
Below, you can see the total route from Kitami, Hokkaido to Nagoya, to Kagoshima and back.