For most foreign tourists, driving is not the form of transportation that comes to mind when thinking about Japan. While the high speed bullet trains get the job much quicker, driving gives sightseeing a new perspective and makes it easier to get off the beaten trail. There is plenty to see on a road trip around Japan from north to south. Stock up on gas and explore the parts of Japan that should not go unnoticed.
“Road to heaven”, a 28-kilometer stretch of road in the town of Shari, Hokkaido, is drawing attention as a new tourist destination. It runs from Minehama in Shari Town to the Daiei area toward the Sea of Okhotsk and as the name implies, if you see the road from the hilltop, it literally looks like it’s heading towards “heaven/sky”. There is a small parking lot for 8 cars to park with an observation deck. And it is dangerous to stop the car on the side of the road, so visitors must not stop on the main road when taking photos. This stunning view is approximately 66 kilometers from Memanbetsu Airport, and 1 hour and 20 minutes by car. Because of the heavy snow, during winter the road is closed. Best season to visit would be somewhere between the end of April to early November. Only twice a year, around March 20th and September 22nd, visitors can see a stunning view of the sunset on the horizon from this road. However, if there is heavy snow the road will be closed but visitors will be able to just take a photo. Keep in mind that there is no accommodation nearby so don’t stay too late till dark for safety reasons.
One of Japan's most spectacular mountain roads, Bandai Azuma Skyline is located within the Bandai-Asahi National Park. This road is also at the base of Azuma-Kofuji, one of the most popular hiking trails in the Azuma Mountains. Just a side note, from the parking lot, the crater of Azuma-Kofuji peak can be climbed in ten minutes and circled in a panoramic 45 minute walk. The Bandai Azuma Skyline is selected as one of the 100 Best Roads in Japan, and the former toll road starts in Fukushima City and winds into the high elevations of the eastern Azuma Mountains before descending towards the Urabandai region. The road's maximum elevation reaches 1,622 meters around the Jododaira area with the breathtaking volcanic landscapes of the Azuma mountain range as well as lush greenery and bright autumn colors. The road is closed during winter season and for more information, visit its webpage here
Chirhama Nagisa Driveway is an eight kilometer stretch on the beach of Chirihama facing the Sea of Japan. This is the only beach where cars can drive right to the edge of the surf. From Kanazawa city, get on the Noto Satoyama Kaido (Noto Village Forest sea road) and get off at Imahama Interchange, from where you can drive to the beach. It’s about an hour ride from Kanazawa. In case of bad weather and high waves, traffic regulation will be enforced by the authorities of Ishikawa Prefecture.
Ever thought about driving across water? The Aqua Line, or the Trans Tokyo Bay Highway, cuts across the Tokyo Bay and into an underground tunnel from Kawasaki in Kanagawa to Kisarazu in Chiba. The Aqua Line has been open for twenty years and is still one of the most popular drives for both the locals in Tokyo and curious out of towners. The Umihotaru rest house is the focal point of the Aqua Line. A resting point in the middle of the sea, visitors can see the Tokyo Skytree, the Yokohama cityline as well as the Yokohama ship ports and airplanes flying to and from Haneda from observation decks. There is a toll entering and exiting the Kisarazu side at the controversial price of 3,090 yen. However, the Aqua Line is a rite of passage for the road tripper in Japan and cannot be missed.
By far the most famous drive outside of Tokyo is around Mt. Fuji’s five lakes. The Fuji Five Lakes (富士五湖, Fujigoko) are made up of Lake Kawaguchiko, Lake Yamanakako, Lake Saiko, Lake Shojiko and Lake Motosuko at the northern base of Mount Fuji. Lake Motosu is the most prominent lake and is featured on both the 5,000 yen and 1,000 yen note. Best known for its reflection of Mt. Fuji, Lake Motosu can get popular in the wintertime, when the clear skies and snow capped peak create the best view. Driving, rather than taking the bus, is a more personal way to explore the lakes. Get there early to avoid the crowds!
Lake Kawaguchi Rental Villa Tozawa Center - Vacation STAY 46680v
2578 Oishi, Fujikawaguchikocho Lake Kawaguchi Rental Villa Tozawa Center
Shoji Mount Hotel
301 Shoji Fujikawaguchikomachi Yamanashi
If the weather conditions are perfect, early in the morning from late October till November-ish, stunning panoramic view of the autumn foliage and the sea of clouds can be seen from the Onyu Pass along route 781 in the Takashima area of Shiga prefecture. From JR Adogawa station, the pass is about 70 minutes drive. It's an unexplored pass, but it's worth a visit aside from Makino Metasequoia Tree-Lined street in Shiga prefecture which is designated as “Top 100 Tree-lined streets of Japan”.
朽木小入谷 283 Takashima
Extending 16.3 kilometers from Ise to Toba, Iseshima Skyline is not free but will cost 1,270yen for a regular car. However, it's worth the pay to go through this road to not only see the panoramic view and Mt. Fuji on clear days, but also, enjoy various attractions at the drive-in on the top of Asama Mountain. Plus, the observatory has a footbath where you can soothe the tired fee while enjoying the scenery too. The twilight hours with the sky turning perfect purple to orange, gazing over the illuminated city below is a must not be missed photo opportunity. It's about 20minute ride from the nearest train station, JR Toba station. For more information check its webpage here.
An exhilarating drive on a mountain with an altitude of over 1,000 meters, Shikoku Karst a.k.a “Switzerland of Japan” is a mountain plateau on the border of Ehime Prefecture and Kochi Prefecture. The area is separated into three parts; Tengu Highland, Keyakidaira and Mezurudaira. It is designated as one of the three greatest karsts in Japan and this unique karst plateau was created by limestone being eroded by rain and groundwater. The landscape on the Shikoku Karst is idyllic, with vast expanses of land, endless blue skies and herds of grazing cattle. To get to this pristine natural hideout, it's about a 2 hour ride from Kochi or Matsuyama.
Tsunoshima Ohashi Bridge is the second longest bridge in Japan that connects the main island of Honshu with the hidden island, Tsunoshima in Yamaguchi prefecture. It is 1,780-meters long and it is known for its perfectly straight length and then sloping curves spanning over the shining emerald green sea. For an instagrammable photo, be sure to stop by Amagase Park right before crossing over the bridge. The viewing platform on the west side of the park offers views of the entire Tsunoshima Bridge while the far side of the park offers a stunning view of the bridge against the main island. Every night after sun down, the bridge will be lit up and create a magical view. From Yamaguchi Ube airport, the bridge is about 90 minutes drive.
Hotel Nishinagato Resort
2045 Kanda, Toyokita-cho, Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi
The grand scenery of Minami-Aso can be seen from the Tawarayama Observatory after driving through the gorgeous grassland scenery of the central cone group and the outer slopes of the caldera rim.This Tawarayama Pass is also known as Minami-Aso Yasuragi Road. It is a bit confusing to drive here however, from Kumamoto City, take Prefectural Road 28 looking at Moe-no-Sato on the right. Drive toward Minami-Aso but do not go all the way to the Tawarayama Tunnel. Instead, about 2km before the tunnel, there is a junction where the road splits into two, one going straight and the other going right up the hill. Take the one that goes up the hill on the right. After some winding road, you’ll find the parking at the Tawarayama Observatory on the right.
Okinawa, home to one of the best beaches, hosts many scenic spots driving around the pristine white beaches and cobalt blue ocean. Of all, Irabu Ohashi Bridge, the longest toll free bridge that connects the main Miyako Island with Irabu Island is a not to be missed driving spot. The view from the bridge is the epitome of spectacular scenery with no obstacle on either side of the bridge where drivers can enjoy driving in the blue seascapes of Miyako Island. The bridge is about a 30 minute drive from Miyako Airport.
Hilton Okinawa Miyako Island Resort
550-7, Hirara Kugai, Miyakojima City OkinawaREAD MORE
- Miyako Island: The heavenly island full of charms