In Part 02 of our grand tour through central Japan, we experienced some of the best touge roads the country has to offer. After making it as far west as Matsue City, we decided to head back home to Chiba via a southerly route.
Leaving Tottori Prefecture, our plan was to traverse Hyogo Prefecture for an overnight stay on the outskirts of Kyoto. So, deeper into the mountains we drove. On our first leg, we found ourselves behind a Suzuki Cappuccino, watching helplessly as it quickly pulled away from us on the twisting roads.
The driver, obviously local, more than happily exploited both their knowledge of the mountain climb and the agile, turbocharged three-cylinders in what is possibly the lightest rear-wheel-drive car made in the past half-century. All its upper metal panels, including the roof, hood, and rollbar are aluminum, and the tight mountain corners, we were really throwing our CR-V about trying to keep up. It was great fun to see one of the Bubble Era kei-class sports cars in its natural element, even if we had to watch its rarely used brake lights disappear off into the distance.
After a tank-up at an Idemitsu gasu-sutando (gasoline stand), we ventured off. Except perhaps for a dark green Honda Z languishing beside a truck yard near Fukuchiyama, we found little sign of kyusha in the mountains of Kyoto Prefecture. Unlike the Z we had seen previously on our tour of Yamagata-ken, this one was in serious need of some attention.
Enjoying the quiet mountain villages, the slow meandering roads, and a quiet lunch, we wound our way down into Kyoto City. Stopping many times along the way to photograph the local villages, we were met with diverse and plentiful opportunities to witness Japan’s picturesque countryside.
train lines, rivers, mountain mists, a few Honda Beat, Mazda Carol, Subaru R2, thatched-roof minka, Totoro bus-stops, summer rice fields, kura, twisting mountain roads in and out of the many valleys, and of course the always spectacular and interesting mountain views.
On one stop, we enjoyed the matched colors of a modern third-generation Suzuki Lapin with the “Welcome” sign to a local hairdresser, and on another two four-door Skyline parked outside an engineering works. A Suzuki and Daihatsu dealer marked the outskirts of town and the transition from farmlands to suburban expanses.
Our overnight stay was in the tourist town of Arashiyama, and though after mid-morning the bus-borne hordes from Kyoto became intolerable, the next morning was quiet and relaxing. Without the countless selfie sticks and people yelling at each other, it was apparent how beautiful the riverside town was. If you intend to visit, we thoroughly recommend arriving in late afternoon, staying overnight, and exploring the quiet streets before the arrival of the first mid-morning shuttles from the center of Kyoto.
After many days on the road though, our destination this day was a quiet seaside resort on Hamana-ko (Lake Hamana) in neighboring Shizuoka prefecture. Having slow-explored the southern shores of Kyoto-ken here previously, we joined the Tomei expressway to arrive early afternoon to sit down and relax for a few hours.
Along this length of the Tomei, we passed an Abarth Fiat 500 making more noise than a Lamborghini, we were passed by the low flying missile of a full body-kitted Silvia, and even saw the last murdered-out Celica in Japan.
Our lakeside hotel was a perfect place to sit down with a cool can of chuhai, a good book, and to watch the sun set over Hamana-ko. The next day would be our last on this tour.
Arriving in Yokosuka, off the Yokohama-Yokosuka toll-road, and as we had another day or two before we needed to return to the craziness of Tokyo life, we had a quick yakiniku lunch at the local car ferry terminal, loaded up the well-travelled CR-V, and steamed across Tokyo Bay.
With the Tateyama Cliffs in the background, we arrived 45 minutes later on the strangely exotic looking coast of the Boso Hanto in Chiba Prefecture. We had travelled through Yamanashi, Nagano, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Kyoto, Hyogo, Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Mie, Aichi, Shizuoka, and Kanagawa Prefectures, shot 12 rolls of film (and lost one), stayed at eight different ryokan, traversed another two of Toyota’s suggested 157 greatest driving roads (bringing our total driven to 32), ate many glorious meals, saw even more amazing places, and met countless interesting people. From the ferry, it was a short journey to our minka, where we settled in to to plan the next trip.
This concludes our tour of Chubu and Kinki. In the meantime, in case you missed it, check out Part 01 and Part 02. You can also revist our other Grand Touring installments.
Skorj is co-founder of Filmwasters and you can find more of his work at Cars on Film and here on JNC.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for all the detailed pictures as well as the story to go with it, i love all the grand touring articles and i personally think it should be made into a book ( i would be one of the first to buy it)
The pictures are beautiful and you capture ones imagination and I am sure many wanted to go to Japan and after seeing this truly want to go to Japan now.
Thanks much for the comment Robin. I’ve participated in publishing a few books with my work, and they take more time than I have unfortunately.
Well just know should you ever get the time to publish a “grand touring” book I will certainly purchase a book.
Looking forward to your next “GT”
Just back from Kyoto, can concur with the comments about Arashiyama. Having run out of time the day before, and needing to catch our Shinkansen to Hiroshima before lunch next day, we made a very early start to the bamboo grove next morning without another person to be seen. Our return walk through the quiet back streets was one of the highlights of our trip.
The perfect time! There is more selfy sticks than bamboo in the afternoon…
When I visited Kyoto in 2013 I remember crossing the bridge in Arashiyama under the pitch black cover of night. It was awe inspiring to hear the ancient river running beneath me though I couldn’t see it.
A great experience for sure, and one you have to look elsewhere in Japan for now unfortunately. Lucky, there are tens of 1000s of other places to go.
Another great article Skorj !!
Love the pictures and the descriptions, through your lens, Japan seems to take on an almost mythical aura. I also noticed a lack of people moving about in the pictures, is that deliberate, coincidence or reflective of the society?
Japan often presents a mythical view, but here I just use the magic combination of a slow film and an old single-coated lens.
As to no people, it is a bit of all you suggest…
Looks like a fun tour. I’d eventually like to visit Japan. 🙂
What a treat! Thanks for sharing these great trips and great photos. That Mazda Carol is fantastic, as are all of the gems in these photos.
Yes, the Carol had obviously been hopped up at some point, and was still in someone’s collection, we assume waiting for another day…
Just wonderfull. Your way of showing Japan’s inner beauty is awesome. The picture with Cappucinno running away is my fav. Can You give me link to that pic in higher resolution? For desktop background use 😉
Sure! I will post to Cars on Film tonight…
Thanks, wallpaper set.
Yet another fantastic story told in pictures and writing.
Thanks so much for the story. It takes me back to my family treks every weekend in the 60’s. The little I see of the country is through train windows now. Driving through the rice paddies with the rows of plantings is a visual that sticks with me. In those days, it was from the backseat of a Toyota Corona or a Nissan Cedric. I still have that Polaroid Swinger to this day!!!
P.S. One graphic I wish you could include that might be helpful is a simple map showing your travels.
Once again, a great installment. Thanks!
That’s part of the feel I try and capture here, so thanks for making the observation. I will however not subject you to my Polaroids! Though if you look carefully there’s a few here on JNC.
As to maps, I used to do them, but just got lazy. Here, I let Toyota do the hard work, at least for the touge.
I love these articles….. Beautiful photos!
Thanks for sharing Skorj! Your pics give me a very vintage postcard feeling. It also proves that Japan is not always foggy, all the time, everyday in September..
Thanks. The Fuji film I used, as well as being cheaper, is a lot softer and more vintage in color rendering than the Kodak I’ve used previously. I’ve got permission to spend the extra on Ektar for the next piece though.
The weather was certainly interesting for this trip! Typhoons have been very frequent this season for some reason.
Wonderful, evocative photos as usual Skorj. Though looking forward to the next time you do a grand tour in the S800 rather than the CR-V!
Incidentally, your comment about lightest rear-wheel drive cars in the last half-century did get me scratching my head for a second. A little sleuthing revealed the quoted kerb weight for the Cappuccino is identical to that of the Series 1 Lotus Elise, at 725kg. Surprisingly, both are lighter than that S800 of yours.
But a rear-drive car that definitely sneaks below all three and was still produced less than 50 years ago can also be found in your photographs: The original Fiat 500. The “500” doesn’t just relate to its capacity – it’s pretty similar to its weight in kilograms too!
There’s no doubt the Cappuccino is one of the lightest rear-drivers produced in the last quarter-century though, save the Elise. Don’t think any of its kei sports rivals were that light, nor more recent compact sports cars like the Smart Roadster (from around 790kg) or the VW XL1 eco-car (795kg).
Thanks! The S800 is about to get a run into Chiba tonight. Hopefully it will produce a few photographs…
Interesting about the actual weight specs too, as opposed to my uninformed guesses. Coincidence about the Fiat particularly though as well. I’ll not of course suggest any FR or RR comment, as I had no clue.
No worries – was a thought-provoking comment, so I figured it’d be interesting to dig a little deeper into it. Since writing the post above I did discover that the AZ-1 was a 720kg car, so that actually undercuts the Cappo and Elise. Quite remarkable.
Looking forward to seeing more photos of the S800!