In the far western outskirts of Tokyo, Okutama-ko (Lake Okutama) has been a popular weekend destination for many years. The scenic touge on the north and south sides of the lake provide a popular destination for weekend motorcyclists and kyuusha drivers accordingly. With weekend work reforming our minka, we decided instead to grab an old camera and use some long-expired film on the cars at Okutama-ko.
Taking the Yamate Tunnel on the Shuto, followed by a stretch on the Ken-O Expressway, we enjoyed clear blue skies, and a clear run of any traffic on the way out.
While technically part of the Tokyo 23-ku, Okutama-ko is 80km or more from central Tokyo and adjacent to the borders of both Saitama and Yamanashi Prefectures. The lake was formed in 1957, when the Tokyo metropolitan government built the Oguchi Reservoir as a fresh water supply for Tokyo.
The construction of a scenic ropeway over the gorge was completed at the same time, and soon made redundant in 1962 when a road bridge was opened across the same part of the previously unaccessible lake.
While the ropeway has remained closed since, its remains, including cars, control station, and waiting room stand in the secluded forests on either side of the reservoir. The only clue to its existence are the overhead wires running unused across the upper reaches of the lake.
We arrived at the parking area, nestled between tree-lined hillsides, to be greeted by rows of kyuusha overflowing from the covered spaces. In typical Japanese fashion, each was lined up perfectly with the car beside it and all were facing the same direction in an impromptu car show.
Unlike the nighttime touge drifters with their S13s and FCs, the Okutama crowd is mainly stock with a focus on domestic classics of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s about motoring, not battles. This is in essence the atmosphere we were aiming for when JNC‘s US crew held the first Touge California earlier this year.
However, the occasional Bubble Era hero, such as the AE86 Toyota and Z31 Nissan shown above, enter the mix. Sometimes track machines like a caged Daruma Celica joins the fray as well.
Sixties sub-liter runabouts like the Honda S600 and Yotahachi are welcome and well-suited for slicing through narrow mountain roads.
Even the humble Tentoumushi, (lowered on a sport suspension, perhaps?) makes an appearance!
A similarly dropped Cedric Special 6 turned a straight-laced executive sedan into a purposeful tarmac machine.
Of course, no kyuusha gathering would be complete without a Hakosuka Skyline or two. However, as can be seen from the Bellett sedan in the background, perhaps the most well-represented marque here is, oddly, Isuzu.
Perhaps the most distinguished example of the marque was an early, hand-built Isuzu 117 Coupe, distinguishable by the bumper-mounted indicators. Several other 117s, Belletts and Geminis attended the session as well.
A number of years ago, the shacho of a nearby Isuzu garage asked his friends and customers to come for a touge run and meet at one of the scenic parking areas near Okutama-ko. The weekend drives continued with a strong Isuzu presence, but as one can see, these days the Sunday crowds consist of a wide range of cars and motorcycles.
While the afternoon skies clouded over, we enjoyed the relatively light traffic back into Tokyo for lunch. Though with numerous restaurants, walks, and other sights that dot the area, a drive back is thoroughly recommended, and not just in an Isuzu.
Skorj is a photographer living in Japan and co-founder of Filmwasters.com.