GRAND TOURING: Driving across Japan in a JNC, Day 08


In the previous installment of our cross-Japan trip, we began the northeasterly journey back home, but on a different route that would hug the southern coast of Japan. As such, we’d voyage from Kyushu to Shikoku, two of the four islands that comprise Japan’s main landmass. Distancewise, the goal was modest compared to previous days’ legs, meaning we’d have plenty of time to take it easy and give our 1978 Isuzu 117 Coupé a rest from the breakneck paces we’d be putting it through. 

2725_Nissan Cedric Cima Y31

Since we had some time, before leaving Oita City we stopped by a place I’d always wanted to visit: Second Beat Classic Car Service. Founded in 2001, it was named after the idea of resuscitating old cars, or giving them a “second heartbeat” in life. 

2726_Daihatsu Fellow Van Second Beat

There was only one person working on this particular day, and in fact the shop we visited wasn’t the main headquarters. Nonetheless, we knew we’d arrived in the right place when a little kei van caught our eye. He allowed us to poke around with camera in hand, looking over all the classic cars they were in the process of restoring

2728_Daihatsu Fellow Second Beat

From the rear I actually had a hard time placing the Daihatsu Fellow Van, as it looks extremely similar to all the 360cc kei vans of the period, but its distinctive front gave it away. For reference, a civilian version in blue was parked near the shop entrance.

2733_Nissan Fairlady Z S130 2741_Nissan Fairlady Z S130

A pair of silver Fairlady Z awaiting some work was notable because an S130 that only seats two is surprisingly difficult to find in Japan. The majority seem to be 2+2s. Neither of these examples were the freshest ones out there, but they wasn’t far off from being a great driver.

2731_Toyota Corona T120 Hardtop 2732_Toyota Corona T120 Hardtop

Beside the Z was a beautiful T120 Toyota Corona hardtop. While not a car that I’m overly familiar with, but the all stock look with a set of steelies is right up my alley. The fuel filler cap location is both clever and charming, too. If there was one car there that I could have taken home, the Corona would’ve been it, and it would have made a great garage-mate for the 117.

With no roof or doors, an old Mitsubishi Jeep was appealing in its pureness of functionality. Even more than its utilitarian aesthetic though, I was captivated by an array of old Yazaki gauges mounted in the instrument panel

2738_Nissan Fairlady Z S30

Inside the garage, a deep blue beauty was the star of the show. It was explained to us that when the owner purchased the vehicle, the exterior was in great shape but the mechanicals were completely shot. Second Beat repainted the engine bay and properly rebuilt the motor, a story eerily suspicious to the premise of Wangan Midnight.

2740_Toyota Celica GT-Four ST165

Deeper in the garage was a Toyota Celica GT-Four receiving some major work. Apparently, its owner drove the wheels off of it, racking up a massive number of kilometers. The old and tired engine was getting a complete rebuild, and with a GT-Four that means you have to remove just about everything. Its parts were splayed all across the shop, waiting for their turn under the knife.

2729_Nissan Skyline R30 sedan

Waiting its turn in the garage was a nondescript R30 Skyline sedan, which turned out to be the personal car of Second Beat’s shacho. However, the customer always comes first and it’s been relegated to sitting outside under the awning to make way for clients’ cars inside.

2747_Second Beat Classic Car Service

After wandering around the premises for a bit, we were invited in for tea. We took off our shoes, happily stepped inside, and were rewarded with a treasure trove of memorabilia and vintage parts. In particular, a set of gold Hart Racing 4-spokes nearly had me pulling out my wallet out and throwing it at the shopkeeper.

2755_RS Watanabe 8-Spoke

Of course, no kyuusha shop is complete without a set of Watanabe wheels hanging about.

2752_Vintage National TV

In another corner lurked a vintage cathode ray tube television, which was cool enough on its own, but imagine our surprise when he turned it on and (after it warmed up) began playing normal television signals with no problems! A digital-to-analog converter runs it into the UHF port, allowing the shop to enjoy old black and white-style TV with modern day commercials.

2759_Nissan Compression Tester 1960s

To go along with the TV, there was a collection of old cameras and transistor radios as well. The creme de la creme, however, was an original Nissan compression tester from the 1960s. The mechanic confirmed it still works as well as the day it was built!

2761_Oita Prefecture

We finished our tea and thanked the man for his hospitality. We would have loved to stay all day, but we had a boat to catch.

2773_Kokudo Kyu-shi Ferry2779_Kokudo Kyu-shi Ferry

A short 30-minute drive later and we were at Saganoseki, staging for ride on the Kokudo Kyu-shi Ferry. This vessel would take us from Kyushu, across the Iyonada Sea to Shikoku. If we were to traverse this same distance by land, it would require a nine-and-a-half hour drive over nearly 700 kilometers.

2797_Kokudo Kyu-shi Ferry 2820_Misaki

Instead, the ferry ride carried us and the Isuzu peacefully over just 31 kilometers of water in about 70 minutes, all while we retired above deck to a rather nice waiting area.

2835_Sadamisaki Peninsula2837_Sadamisaki Peninsula

The ferry made landfall on the Sadamisaki Peninsula, the narrowest in Japan. We had just had 100 kilometers until Matsuyama, our destination for the day. With another meandering coastline at our side, we rolled down the windows and took a leisurely drive on the winding road before us.

2861_Ehime Prefecture2863_Ehime Prefecture

Upon arriving on the Shikoku mainland, we snaked up the coast heading east towards Matsuyama. National Route 378 turned out to be a phenomenal road that twisted and turned with the rolling coastline. Sadly, as is often the case, slow-moving cyclists spoiled any real fun.

2869_Isuzu 117 & C5 Corvette

It was well past noon before we happened across a Lawson kombini for lunch. While stopped in the parking lot, a mad and exceedingly loud Corvette showed up. The driver was quick to give me a nod of approval and we talked about how his buddy used to have a 117 many years ago and how much he loved that car. Apparently, there are many friends to be made in rural convenience store parking lots.

2881_Matsuyama Toyota MR2 SW20 2882_Nissan Sunny Truck B120

Before long, we made our return to civilization, marked by an SW20 MR2 and sanitora as we neared the cities of Ehime Prefecture.

2887_Matsuyama Ehime

Matsuyama City, much like Nagasaki and Hiroshima, uses above ground trams. Mixed with buses, motorcyclists and other cars, it made for a harrowing drive through a very beautiful city.

2889_Matsuyama Castle

As we made our way downtown, we got a pretty good glimpse at Matsuyama Castle sitting proudly atop the tallest hill in town. In ancient times, Matsuyama was home to many of Japan’s poets and writers. Today, it is famous for a thriving noh theater scene, as the birthplace of Iseki tractors in 1926, and is considered the international center of haiku. To be continued…

Our route for Day 08 covered 119 kilometers (150 kilometers including the ferry ride) and covered two prefectures, Oita and Ehime. 


Stay tuned for the next installment of our cross-Japan road trip, but until then, in case you missed it, here’s Day 01Day 02, Day 03, Day 04, Day 05, Day 06, and Day 07.

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6 Responses to GRAND TOURING: Driving across Japan in a JNC, Day 08

  1. Jim Simspson says:

    Another great installment… yes the kombini in Japan are nothing short of amazing… real food priced reasonably and what an assortment usually… Nothing like American convenience stores and similar at the same time… a very cost effective way to get a quick meal on the go

  2. Nigel says:

    Another great Chapter, some nice cars at the Second Beat shop. (Four door R30 and a Y31 Cima ).

  3. Subeman says:

    Misspelled Ehime. Not a big deal though. Love the pics! I used to live in Matsuyama some time ago. LOVED IT! Great place, great people. Miss it big time. I’d love if you could post more pics of Matsuyama. Thanks for the great driving journal and keep it coming.

  4. Censport says:

    One of my American friends lived in Mastuyama for five years. I’ve wanted to check it out for myself, but the closest I’ve been so far is Okunoshima and Miyajima. Looks beautiful.

    By the way, have you ever run across tram rails on a motorcycle?

  5. John Moran says:

    Not sure if it was the R30, the Z collectibles, or Marilyn, but something about that shop got my heart racing. Did you get a peek under the hood of the blue Z? Mentioned the 2-seater S130s were less common – also thinking slicktops were more the exception.

    Only passed through Matsuyama a couple times when I lived on Shikoku, but it had a good feel. Might have it confused, but think you could see the castle lit up at night from Route 11. Speaking of confused and Route 11, it seemed to go 6 different directions in the city I was in. Still not sure how anybody found anything before GPS.

  6. Alex says:

    Love this series.. makes me want to buy a 117!

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