GRAND TOURING: Driving across Japan in a JNC, Day 03

2059 Sanrigahama

During Day 01 and Day 02 of our road trip across Japan, it rained constantly. On the morning of Day 03, the weather finally broke. As the clouds departed to the north, we were headed south, and that meant nothing but increasingly clear skies and sunny weather from here on out. Our goal for today was to take the Isuzu 117 Coupé from Matsue City on the northern end of Shimane Prefecture to Shimonoseki, the southernmost city of Japan’s main landmass.

Matsue City Shimane Art Museum

Before we bid farewell to Matsue City though, it was imperative that we swing by the Shimane Art Museum, located on the shores of Lake Shinji. The galleries were closed, but that didn’t matter; the museum had an outdoor sculpture garden overlooking the lake.

Satoshi Yabuuchi Lake Shinji Rabbits 02Satoshi Yabuuchi Lake Shinji Rabbits

Continuing on the theme established on Day 02 at the Hakuto Shrine, our main reason for visiting the museum was a piece by Satoshi Yabuuchi called Lake Shinji Rabbits. Featuring a dozen bronze bunnies hopping towards the lake, it is said that rubbing the second rabbit in the procession is good luck.

1958 Lake Shinji

Once we had our fill of cuteness, we hit the road with a new vigor that came with clear skies and beautiful weather. We traced the northern side of Lake Shinji, headed for Izumo City. The lake provided staggering views beyond the windows of the old Isuzu.


For the first time since we left Nagoya, the gas tank was finally starting to get low. We stopped at the next lakeside petrol station that we came across, a sleepy little Idemitsu. We did a little math to figure out what kind of fuel economy the 117 was getting. The Idemitsu attendant probably didn’t fill the tank as fully as we had done in Nagoya, but the numbers said that we’d been averaging nearly 14.4 kilometers per liter, or 34 miles per gallon! Needless to say, we were blown away with its performance.

1979 Idemitsu

Elated by our good fortunes, we got back in the car and fired up the engine. Suddenly, it sounded like a comet had hit the car. I nearly leapt out of my seat, my heart racing a thousand miles per hour. Remember, we had just done a head gasket change right before we embarked.

The sound had been deafening, frightening and immediate. We had no idea what happened. The engine was idling perfectly and a quick scan of the gauges showed that the oil pressure was fine, and water temp A-OK. Then I looked up and saw a pole lying against the door of the 117.

1973 Idemitsu Isuzu 117 dent

The roof above the pumps had a pole running along one of its supporting pillars. Over the years, it had rusted at both ends and was held up by only a few flakes of iron oxide. As the engine roared to life the sound vibrations must have shaken the pole loose, causing it to topple first onto the roof of the 117, then bouncing down and landing on the door.

1974 Idemitsu Isuzu 117 scratch

Fortunately, Isuzu had built their cars out of some seriously thick steel, so despite the weight of the pole the damage was minimal. Insurance companies were called and apologies were profusely offered, but we were more depressed than angry. It wasn’t really anyone in particular’s fault. And it was probably about 1/1000th of what the owner of that tree-crushed 2000GT must have felt.

Isuzu 117 Rust

Sometimes these things happen for a reason though, and I saw a chance to turn lemons into Ramune. The 117 had a serious rust spot on one of its quarter panels. It’s a bit unsightly and embarrassing, given how clean the rest of the car is. So while on the phone with Classic Car Nagoya making plans to repair the pole dent, we asked if they’d also fix the rust spot at the same time (since they’d already have a batch of color-matched paint mixed up). The answer came back an emphatic “Hai!”

1986 Izumo

So, a little damage was sustained, but in the end the 117 will be in better shape than when she started. In the meantime, we still had a journey to complete, so we said our goodbyes to the Idemitsu staff and set back out on the road.

1994 Izumo Taisha Shrine

Our main destination for the day was the amazing Izumo Taisha Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Japan. It’s not known exactly when it was built, but it appears in writing dating back to the early 700s. Its massive torii gate alone is already quite impressive.

1996 Izumo Grand Shrine

Passing through the gate leads to a wonderful downhill walkway surrounded by beautiful greenery. This leads to the heart of the shrine.

2000 Izumo Taisha Shrine

The shrine itself is a collection of beautifully constructed buildings and is, interestingly enough, dedicated to Okuninushi. If that name sounds familiar, he’s the man who, according to legend, saved the white rabbit at Hakuto Jinjya, which we saw on Day 02 of our journey.

1997 Okuninushi

As the story goes, after saving the rabbit, Okuninushi became the deity of good relationships and marriage. As such, many young people travel to Izumo Taisha Shrine to pray for love and a happy marriage.

2003 Izumo Taisha Shrine

The main temple is a gorgeous piece of ancient architecture. The shimenawa, or enclosing rope, serves as a boundary between the mortal world and a sacred space. It is believed that they are able to attract sprits and deities of the Shinto religion. Passing under the shimenawa, one enters a hall of worship.

2007 Izumo Taisha Shrine rabbits

Of course, you can also find plenty of rabbit statues, as Okuninushi became rather popular amongst the bunnies. The Izumo Taisha Shrine is a national heritage site and one of the most diligently preserved places in Japan.

2015 Island shrine

On our way out of Izumo, we managed to grab a photo of something that’s a common sight on Japan coastal roads but which is nearly impossible to get a good picture of. Countless small rock islands dot the coast of Japan, and on quite a few of them a small shrine sits on the peak. The torii gates mark the entrance to a holy spot, but many of these islands are uninhabited and reachable only by boat. Usually, there’s no convenient stopping points or parking areas allowing for a good photo, but this time a traffic signal afforded us a rare opportunity.

2026 Shimane PrefectureDSC02105

Since we had no more planned stops for this leg of the trip, we snaked our way south along the coastal road and let the Isuzu swallow the kilometers. Needless to say, the scenery was breathtaking.

2065 Sanrigahama

After bombing down the coast for about two hours, we happened upon a parking area and paused to stretch our legs.

2061 Sanrigahama

A bit of poking around revealed that we were in a place called Sanrigahama. Aside from yet another stunning parking area, there wasn’t a whole lot of anything else around, except for the crashing waves and an abandoned boat slowly succumbing to the elements.

2097 Hagi Castle

We slipped back into the seats of the 117 and ripped down the coast until we came upon the city of Hagi and a curious scale model of a castle. The real Hagi castle was destroyed in 1874, and all that remains of it today is a rock foundation that has been designated a National Historic site. The model of it was located at the entrance to the town.

DSC02106 Isuzu 117 Yamaguchi Pref

As the sun descended upon the horizon, we too charged towards our goal of Shimonoseki. Village after village scrolled by, a distant cry from the towers and bustle of big cities. We made it just after dark. To be continued…

Our route for Day 03 covered around 350 km, the longest one yet, but we touched only two prefectures, Shimane and Yamaguchi.


Stay tuned for the next installment of our cross-Japan road trip, but until then, in case you missed it, here’s Day 01 and Day 02.

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14 Responses to GRAND TOURING: Driving across Japan in a JNC, Day 03

  1. 02Anders says:

    Loving it… 🙂
    David, you’re really killing me with your adventures.
    As you may or may not remember from when I was active on the forum with my TE61 Trueno, I sorely dream of one day owning a 117. On top of that, my two visits to Japan have firmly planted the seed of one day going on the ultimate roadtrip through Japan – in a classic naturally. You’ve got both covered here. A beautiful 117 and an epic roadtrip.
    Despite no longer owning a JNC of my own, I’ll definitely continue checking in for more of your adventures.
    Happy travels! 😉

    • Nakazoto says:

      Thank you so much!
      Of course I remember you posting about your desires to own a 117, although if I remember, we were both lusting after one of the earlier handmade models, haha. The good thing about my particular 117 is that as one of the later, mass produced models, I’m not afraid to take it on long road trips! This is just the beginning of the road trip life for this car!
      Thanks again!

  2. Censport says:

    Really enjoying this road trip. Will have to follow your tire tracks on a future visit.

    • Nakazoto says:

      Thank you for reading it!
      I think once all the posts are done, we’ll post up a map showing the total route, so anyone who wants to see the same sights can follow right along!

  3. Scotty G says:

    Oh man, that is such a great piece; well done and gorgeous photos!
    And, thanks for the Classic Car Nagoya link!

    • Nakazoto says:

      Thank you very much!
      Classic Car Nagoya is great! They may not do show quality restorations with $25,000 paint jobs, but they do good, honest work and are a bunch of great people to deal with!

  4. Francis de Jesus says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece, it gives us the best of both worlds, japanese classic cars and the beauty of Japan. Looking forward to the next installment.

  5. Skorj says:

    Never before have I seen more usagi in one road trip… Great stuff.

  6. Dankan says:

    I used to teach in Shimonoseki. It’s an odd town. Used to have a major baseball team and is the home of the Japanese whaling fleet. Everyone I taught hated whale though, since they were forced to eat it all the time in school lunches…

    • Nakazoto says:

      Shimonoseki was beautiful, I loved that there was just water everywhere and you could so easily hop in-between the islands. We didn’t have any whale while we there though, haha.

  7. Ant says:

    Another great instalment. Getting a great sense of cruising along and enjoying the sights – I really must tour Japan one day.

    • Nakazoto says:

      Thank you so much for reading!
      It really is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. Once you throw in the fact that there are amazing cars all over and pretty much every road (that isn’t a city road or highway) is a glass smooth race track, it’s one of the best places to tour!

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