As our compatriots in California enjoy themselves on the Touge California this weekend, we do a little driving of our own, in the sixth installment of our cross-Japan tour. On Day 05, we stowed our 1978 Isuzu 117 Coupé to explore Nagasaki on foot. It was both wondrous and moving, but after a full day on our feet through the hilly city, we were happy to be back in the driver’s seat again.
We worked our way out of Nagasaki with the beautiful sun shining brightly overhead. Like Hiroshima, it has above-ground trams, a curious conveyance to share the road with. Driving becomes an exciting game of dodging both cars and trains.
While navigating the maze, we managed to snap a pic of an old Honda CB400 Super Four in the bed of a brown Mooneyes-style Toyota Hilux.
To avoid a backtracking around the Ariake Sea, we headed for Taira town on its western edge. We skirted the coastline until we came to the terminal for the Ariake Ferry.
The ferry skips across Shimabara Bay to Nagasu, cutting out a four-hour drive around the northern end of the Ariake Sea’s. Upon arrival at the terminal, we lined the 117 up at the staging area and went inside to get some lunch.
Once our boat, the Ariake Future, one of three run by the Ariake Ferry company, docked and offloaded the cars coming the opposite way, we pulled the 117 in among columns of boxy kei vans and locked her up for the 45 minute journey across the bay. Passengers could then retire to one of the upper decks for a scenic view or food.
As the boat set off, so did the seagulls of Nagasaki Prefecture. Using air currents generated by the ferry, they glided with the boat, swooping in for food thrown by passengers. The shop on the boat even sold seagull food, and the birds would fearlessly fly right up to humans and take the food straight from our hands.
As the ferry pulled up in Nagasu town, the gate dropped and now it was our turn to offload past rows of waiting cars. Once on solid ground again, it was time to finish a life goal of mine — driving to Kagoshima, located at the southwestern tip of Kyushu. Reaching it would complete a cross-country trip spanning the length of Japan.
We still stuck to the coast for the majority of the trip, tracing the southern edge of the Ariake Sea. The road meandered back and forth between the coast and the foothills of Mt Kunimi, providing a nice array of beautiful scenery along the way.
This also marked the first time since we landed in Kyushu that we really managed to get out of the city and into true countryside. Once we were really out in the middle of nowhere, we ended up behind two scooters in traffic. At first, we paid no mind, but at second glance the riders and couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15 years old. In Japan, you can’t get your 50cc license until age 16, but most high schools forbid their students from taking their license test until they graduate. If we take a closer look at the license plate on the scooter, we can see another plate below it.
I blurred out some identifying information lest these poor kids getting in trouble at school, but the two kanji at the top of the lower black plate are for the local high school. So, not only are these kids riding scooters, which is extremely rare, but they’re riding scooters sanctioned by their school! When the school provides transportation because they don’t have a bus that runs that far, you really know you’re in the boonies.
Before we made the final run into Kagoshima, we made one last pit stop at Akune michi no eki, or “road station.” Really, it just means a rest stop that has a small supermarket inside with local foods. Still, this particular michi no eki was situated right on the coast, giving a picturesque view of the East China Sea.
After stretching our legs and snapping pics, we set back off for the final stretch. Along the way we spotted an S2000 in the opposing lane of traffic that had replaced the H logo with a classic Honda emblem, evoking the original S600 and S800 cars. A very cool addition.
We effortlessly swallowed up the remaining kilometers and pulled into Kagoshima city, tired and excited.
I’d done it! It took six years and two different cars, but I had now driven from Kitami, Hokkaido, one of the northern-most cities in Japan, to Kaogshima, Kyushu, one of the southern-most. The total trip covered nearly 4,000 km of shita michi (back roads), umi doro (coastal roads) and touge (mountain roads), in which some of the most picturesque and exciting stretches in the world are contained.
Of course, our journey isn’t over. Unlike when the leg from from Kitami to Nagoya, this trip isn’t a one-way run. We still have to get back to Nagoya. But first, I think we earned a nice cold beer and a glass of ume shu. To be continued…
Our route for Day 06 covered 285 kilometers across three prefectures: Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima. You can see our route below.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our cross-Japan road trip, but until then, in case you missed it, here’s Day 01, Day 02, Day 03, Day 04, and Day 05.
You can also ship your 117 to Okinawa and continue the trip.
I so wish I could have, but it wasn’t in the cards for this trip!
That’s if you’re up for it of course.
I can only hope you realize how much we readers are enjoying your trip… Thanks so much for sharing, this is way cool. I have been all over Japan and love the people, culture and of course the food, but not traveled as extensively as you guys… Very fine indeed. Can’t wait for my next trip over.
Jim, you stole the words right out of my keyboard.
Thank you so much for the kind words and for taking the time to read my story! We actually just moved back to the US, but I’m already planning my next trip back to Japan. It’ll be different without my car, but my little 117 Coupe is now tearing up the streets of Texas!
My wife and I are planning to go to Japan soon. And would be happy to see just a fraction of what you have seen. (Looking forward to more of your road trip).
Thank you so much! One of the best ways to truly experience Japan is to just hit the road for a few days. There’s so much that we didn’t get pictures of during the trip that was just amazing!
Another great read in the continuing exploits around Japan.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my journey!
So jealous. The 117 is such a sexy classic, and you are driving it across Japan. I couldn’t be more jealous.
I actually shopped for the perfect car for this road trip for about 6 months before getting the 117. I looked at an old S110 Silvia, a Lancer Turbo (the boxy one), a 200ZR-II, an AE86, and even thought about something like an old Gemini. I’d always wanted a 117 Coupe, but always thought they were way out of my price range. This one however fit in the budget and kind of fell into my lap! A whole lot of luck got me the best ride for the trip!
I actually own 2 of the earlier Isuzu 117’s here in the states and would like to sell one but not sure how to go about advertising it out here… The one I want to sell is a very nice car albeit not perfect.
It is a 1975 XC twin cam 1800 with twin side draft carbs runs and drives very well in very good cosmetic condition albeit not a show car. I do not wish to do anything out of line or cause problems… This is a wonderful site and most enjoyable. any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.
Color me jealous! I really want to get another 117 to build a race car out of, but that’s pretty far down the list of cars that need building (I’ve got an Isuzu Bellett that needs work, a Cosmo Sports that needs building and an RX-7 that needs new engine, all of which need to get done first, haha).
Send me an email and maybe we can figure out a good place to advertise your 117 Coupe!
(My e-mail being my username at gmail dot com)