On Day 01 of our Boso Hanto tour we visited visited hallowed ground, a Skyline specialist shop, and stopped for the night with some curry and a bit of Honda tourism. Welcome to Day 02, where we continued through the peninsula in the trusty Honda S800 Coupe.
With the roads south giving way into mountain pass rest stops and a michi-no-eki (road station) with a flying roof, we stopped for omiyage and a look at some local farm houses, some perhaps two hundred years old. Local roads disappear into the mist covered mountains here, and you can spend a lifetime exploring, stopping, and talking with the locals.
In one small village a curiously kept 4-door Corolla was slowly falling apart, and over a one-car bridge, the valley opened out into rice-fields and a small shrine located right in the middle.
Stopping a little further down the valley, a combined bus-stop, rubbish drop, temple, and post-box fulfills multiple duties in typical utilitarian Japanese style. Nearby, a field of Mitsubishi-built Jeeps makes an interesting contrast. A Mazda T2000 was parked outside a trucking depot, likely one of their past work trucks.
Staying off the expressways, you can drive from village to village enjoying the smooth open roads, with little traffic except perhaps for the ubiquitous crazy farmer, careening around the corners in their kei-trucks either on two wheels or the wrong side of the road. Sometimes both.
These guys are not to be under-estimated in their craziness for near sideways touge attacks. In all our many years of driving we’ve avoided most, but we’ve still been hit by one in an exploding spray of glass as our side mirrors collided.
In one open rice-field a well maintained minka (traditional common house) and its matching nagaya-mon (long gate) sit, looking suitably postcard-like. Nagaya-mon were built by overlords and farmers with the wealth to display a grand entrance to their properties. Often more elaborate than the main house, they were originally used for guest quarters or livestock. These days, they are often used as storage sheds or perhaps garages, though a few are being reconverted to guesthouses in conjunction with an overhauled main house.
As we stopped at another local Honda dealer to admire a second-hand postal Super Cub, the brutal exhaust and fender grating of a Toyota Mark II in suitable drifter style broke the peace. Though less dangerous than the kei-mounted farmers, the rural postal Cubs too are often driven flat-out by their postal riders. It is not unusual to see them in full-on knee-scraping mode, grinning from ear to ear as they barrel down a touge.
Climbing into the mountains, we took one of the area’s many back roads and passed a typical kei-car dealer, where we were surprised to see a Skyline GT 4-door parked on the front drive. Stopping to take photographs, we asked the single person inside if the shacho would allow us to take photographs. “I don’t know,” was his reply, “I’m delivering parts.”
On closer inspection, and with the departure of the delivery driver, we took some photographs and had a look around. Doors unlocked, keys in ignitions, and no one to be seen. Japan is like that, still. Though un-plated, the Skyline looked as if it would fire right up and come cruising the mountains with us.
With restoration of our own minka on our agenda, we sample and document similar structures in the area. Thus, again, we found ourselves stopping to photograph one and its associated buildings. Down a quaint laneway through accompanying rice-fields, the main house, kura (storage building), and naya (barn) — all nestled into a discrete grove backed onto rolling hills — looked very inviting.
While hardy new buildings are constructed on open spaces, most if not all minka in the area are built in small depressions, forest groves, or secluded valleys — likely to protect from the sometimes heavy storms that blow through the area.
In the time before convenience stores, roadside stops associated with bus stops or larger shops were the norm. Selling cigarettes and drinks both hot and cold, they often include a place to sit sheltered from the sun and rain. While many have fallen into decay, there are still many operating across rural Japan.
Near one such stop, a food storage locker and a kei-truck garage have been cut into the sandstone of the hill. The owner’s house was a short distance down the road.
Taking Route 93 south toward Kamogawa, an abandoned gas stand’s logo recalls the days when Mitsubishi was an energy company in Japan, selling gasoline, trucking farmers propane, and mining coal.
Off the main route, in a small valley, the owner of one red-roofed minka, kura, and naya explained to us his family had lived in the valley since the 1600s.
The nearby school, built in the Meiji Era, is a culturally significant building. Though no longer used as such, it’s maintained by a live-in caretaker who was drying his laundry on the day we called.
From the Boso Skyline we joined the Kamogawa Toll Road (two excellent touge). We passed Mishima-ko (Three Island Lake) and the fishing boats available for weekend hire. The mist covered valleys visible coming down from mountains as Kamogawa approaches still house active communities, rice farms, and their local shrine.
On the outskirts of Kamogawa, we stopped and explored a small wrecking and storage yard. Buses, a Datsun 1300 521 truck, Sunny, Honda Life, Suzuki Fronte, Morris Mini, a Nissan Hypermini and a Mexico-built VW Typ-1 all in various states of decay lay about.
A short way down the street, a local oba-san with vast amusement was more than happy for us to photograph her old shopping Mitsubishi Mirage.
On the other side of the road, Kimitsu Town Agriculture Department’s Toyota Dyna Diesel 3000 Number Two looked vaguely like it may still run.
Its accompanying two-door Skyline, however, might only be suitable for donating some glass and plastic trim pieces but was not good for much else, having sat outside for many years. A Triumph TR4 similarly languished in the weeds.
Just inside the city limits, a Honda Beat sat outside an intriguing garage. Inside the garage we imagined a few more cars waiting to be discovered too.
We stopped to purchase some omiyage from the curiously labelled “Drive In” outside Kamogawa.
After that, we drove home for late afternoon, and sat outside the front of our minka. There we enjoyed a few of biwa-cakes and a fresh brewed coffee.
With many of the lesser roads traversing small mountain passes, wildlife is everywhere. It’s not uncommon to see sikka (local deer), monkey, tanuki, owl, and the occasional hakubishin. Appropriate road warning signs for many are posted accordingly.
On return to Tokyo, we enjoyed a clear run back on the new Ken-O extension, and then again the Tokyo Bay Aqualine and the Wangan route past Haneda airport into 23-ku.
With the little Honda twin-cam running out to 10,000 rpm, we enjoyed repeatedly pulling away from the toll-gates and screaming through the many tunnels all the way back.
More detail on Prince GT-B to follow, and for more on the Boso Skyline, this Prince Skyline collection on YouTube is worth the watch.
Skorj resides in Japan and is co-founder of Filmwasters.com
This is great. I always enjoy skorj’s posts and all the antiquities on his trips.
These seem to have been shot with film?
Yes, like most of my stuff – on Kodak Ektar in a Ricoh GR-1: http://japanesenostalgiccar.com/author/skorj/ I hope you enjoy…
Just love your writing. Love your Pics.
Skorj, please keep spoiling us with your great write-ups.
Nice minka. That old school is awesome too.
I think if I lived in Japan, I would have more cars.
And fewer model kits.
Great pix and story, as always!
I’m amazed that people leave things unlocked, or the keys in the car. Seems like the whole area – including its people are kind of a time capsule.
Very nice minka! I don’t see where it needs “restoration,” though. Your “restoration project” is possibly nicer than where I live (no resto planned). Maybe just some period-correct detailing?
Just fantastic as always Skorj.
Are Minka a reasonably affordable option in japan?
Thanks everyone. Rural properties in Japan are indeed affordable. Particularly the older style buildings that need work – modern insulation, new floors, water heaters, and inside toilets. Meiji and Taisho-era – like ours – were built with thatched roofs, no electricity, tatami floors on naked wood, and only shoji for walls. They need sympathetic reformation to make them livable…
It IS wierd to think of not-indoor-toilet in the 21st Century…
Can the updates be layered in without changing the appearance and character of the place, or is that just a compromise that must be done as a part of modern living? I’m thinking the thatch in the inside roof shot is GREAT insulaiton, though I’n also guessing the light showing through is just open to the outside…
Electricity is kind of important today, unless you actually ARE going to be raising chickens, and have a rooster wake you up every morning.
Fireplace for heat?
Yes, we are trying to keep modern conveniences as discrete as possible. The thatch for example is a great insulator – it is over 500mm thick – but the eves are mere low-grade timber with holes. So even after we’ve heated the vast roof space, the heat escapes. We’re looking for a suitable solution…
As to heat, the minka originally had a few open irori, with no chimney, filling the minka with smoke. The blackened beams and thatch have been nicely insect proofed, but an open fire is not something we think is safe these days. We make do with large kerosene heaters instead.
Great pics and writeup but one small nitpick, that’s a JZX100 Mark II, not a Chaser.