As an island nation with nearly three-quarters of its terrain smothered in mountains, Japan is truly an ideal destination for road-trip enthusiasts. Here are the most popular routes for Japan road trips that you must definitely explore on your next vacation in this country.
COAST-TO-COAST HOKKAIDO, JAPAN
With its wide-open spaces, national parks, active volcanoes, forests of silvery beach, forlorn coastlines and remote fishing towns, Hokkaido is ideal for road trips. The recommended coast-to-coast drive traverses more than 400 miles of the open road from UNESCO-recognised Shiretoko Peninsula in the east to the old colonial port town of Hakodate in the west. This journey will provide you a wealth of natural scenery and worthwhile diversions, including the 17-mile “Road to Heaven” highway, the primeval forests of Akan-Mashu National Park, Sapporo, a lively entertainment hub and the largest metropolis north of Tokyo and many others.
|– From Rausu to Hakodate|
– Distance: 434 miles
THE MT. FUJI DRIFT
If you are a driving enthusiast, then make sure to check out the epic Mt. Fuji drift. The coastal highway passes through Shimoda, a surfers’ haunt and historic port town and Hiigashiizu, the site of the fabled moon road power spot where waxing moons trace a beam of light across the Pacific. Finally, you can finish this road trip in style on the Hakone Skyline, a famous mountain road that serves as an inspiration for the Hollywood movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
|– From Minamiizu to Hakone|
– Distance: 71 miles
As Japan’s largest caldera and active volcano, Mt. Aso offers the best course, weaving along the caldera’s outer rim and perpetually casting its gaze toward the belching volcano in the middle. From here, you can head south along the spine of Kyushu toward the most southern tip of Japan’s four main islands, Cape Sata. Make sure to spend a night at one of the many onsen towns en route or a pit-stop in the laid-back subtropical city of Kagoshima.
|– From Mt. Aso to Cape Sata|
– Distance: 200 miles
SHIKOKU’S 88 SHRINES PILGRIMAGE
If you want to embark upon a pilgrimage on four wheels in Japan, the Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage with 88 temples is a must on your bucket list. Entering from Kobe along the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge with a main span of 1.2 miles, you will marvel at an array of jaw-dropping sea-to-coast vistas. The temple route traverses all four Shikoku prefectures, runs through its most buzzing port cities and encourages plenty of stops for bucolic forest walks and short temple sojourns. If you get lost, keep your eyes peeled for white-clothed pilgrims replete with bamboo walking sticks trudging along the roadsides.
|– From Naruto in Tokushima to Sanuki in Kagawa|
– Distance: 745 miles
Located on the bulbous Kii Peninsula south of the Osaka-Kyoto conurbation, Wakayama prefecture is the gateway to the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail. This coastal road passes through the onsen resort town of Shirahama, where evening suns set behind the moon-shaped hole of Engetsu-to Island. Here, you will be mesmerised by the toothy rock features and soaring cliffs of Kushimoto in the south before heading toward the Mie Prefecture border, where Kamikura Shrine marks the spot upon which Japan’s Shinto gods first descended to the earth.
|– From Wakayama City to Shingu|
– Distance: 110 miles
VENUS LINE, NAGANO
Starting from the city of Chino, the drive passes through a number of nature spots before hitting the city of Ueda. It connects Nagano’s central highlands and feels as if you are cruising through the clouds at a staggering altitude ranging from 1,400 to 2,000 metres. This road trip can be split into a two-day adventure with multiple sights and stops to enjoy along the way. You can end your road trip in Matsumoto, artist Yayoi Kusama’s hometown. Note that parts of the Venus Line road are closed due to snowfall during winter.
|– From Chino to Matsumoto|
– Distance: 76 miles