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The ten finest highway journeys in Japan – Lonely Planet

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As an island nation with almost three quarters of its terrain smothered in mountains, Japan appears custom-built for scenic highway journeys.

Whether or not you are swerving alongside the asphalt in Japan’s wild and expansive north, skirting the towering bluffs and wave-battered coasts of western Honshu, or winding via the archipelago of the Inland Sea, you possibly can’t beat the liberty of being behind the wheel. So buckle up for our listing of 10 of the most effective highway journeys in Japan.

Cross Hokkaido by way of a few of Japan’s most scenic stretches of highway © makieni / Shutterstock

Coast-to-Coast Hokkaido

Finest for beautiful northern countryside

Rausu – Hakodate; 434 miles (700km)

Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is a driver’s dream: huge, untamed, sparsely populated and veined with high quality roads (although they’re finest prevented within the snow-dumped winter). The advisable coast-to-coast drive traverses 400-plus miles of open highway from Unesco-recognized Shiretoko Peninsula within the east to the previous colonial port city of Hakodate within the west.

It is a journey finest savored, given the wealth of pure surroundings and worthwhile diversions: the 17-mile pencil-straight “Highway to Heaven” freeway (天に続く道); the calderas and primeval forests of Akan-Mashū Nationwide Park; the Curler Coaster Highway zigzagging vertically via the pastoral farmlands of Biei; and Sapporo, a vigorous leisure hub and the biggest metropolis north of Tokyo.

The Seto Inland Sea alongside the Shimanami Kaidō

Finest for scenic island-hopping by way of suspension bridge

Onomichi – Imabari; 43 miles (70km)

A preferred biking and scenic driving route, the Shimanami Kaidō traces lazy ‘S’ shapes alongside the Seto Inland Sea by way of wind-whipped suspension bridges and island villages misplaced in time. Drivers who transfer at a leisurely tempo can be rewarded with watercolor views of the Inland Sea haze silhouetting the various humpbacked islands contained inside it.

For a detour you gained’t neglect, take a look at Kōsan-ji, a singularly kitschy temple on the island of Ikuchi-jima. This garish non secular monument fuses a litany of architectural kinds, from Italian marble foundations to historical Chinese language iconography.

The mountain roads round Hakone are famously twisty © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Photos

Izu Peninsula to Hakone

Finest drive from oceanside to Mt Fuji highs

Minamiizu – Hakone; 71 miles (115km)

The epic route from Izu Peninsula to Hakone is a favourite amongst driving fanatics. From the Izu Peninsula’s southern tip, the coastal freeway passes via Shimoda, a surfers’ hang-out and historic port city, and Hiigashiizu, website of the fabled moon highway energy spot the place waxing moons hint a beam of sunshine throughout the Pacific, supposedly imbuing any witness with a divine power. Additional north, the highway hugs the shores of Lake Ashi in Hakone from the place you’ll get scintillating views of Mt. Fuji on a transparent day.

End this highway journey in fashion on the Hakone Skyline, a famously twisty tōge (mountain highway) that served as an inspiration for Hollywood film The Quick and the Livid: Tokyo Drift (although the precise mountain drift race scenes within the movie have been shot in LA). The driftway is certainly one of 30-plus “Melody Roads” in Japan – so named for the tactile grooves which emit musical notes as tires roll over them.

The Noto Peninsula Drive: Takaoka to Kanazawa

Nice for dramatic coastal seascapes

Takaoka – Kanazawa; 147 miles (236km)

From the picture-perfect dawn of Amaharashi Seaside to the bracing shoreline of Ishikawa Prefecture, this highway journey throws down a few of Japan’s most interesting coastal surroundings.

The route facilities round Noto, a darkish, rugged peninsula residence to solemn shrines and dramatic seascapes. In west Noto, you’ll additionally discover the Shiroyone Senmaida rice terraces tumbling down towards the ocean, and the port metropolis Wajima with its 1000-year-old morning market. End the journey in Kanazawa, a former samurai stronghold and custodian of Japan’s conventional arts and crafts. The town is residence to a lot of enlightening museums, together with the spectacular twenty first Century Museum of Up to date Artwork.

Make a detour to Kamikura Shrine, the spot the place Japan’s Shinto gods are mentioned to have first descended to Earth © David McElhinney / Lonely Planet

Coastal Wakayama

Finest citadel and sacred trails

Wakayama Metropolis – Shingu; 110 miles (180km)

Wakayama prefecture sits on the bulbous Kii Peninsula south of the Osaka-Kyoto conurbation and is the gateway to the misty forests of the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage path.

The 100-plus-mile coastal highway skirts by Wakayama’s Sixteenth-century feudal citadel and the onsen (scorching spring) resort city of Shirahama the place night suns set behind the moon-shaped gap of Engetsu-to Island. The toothy rock options and hovering cliffs of Kushimoto within the south will equally vie in your consideration, earlier than the route culminates in Shingu on the Mie Prefecture border, the place Kamikura Shrine marks the spot upon which Japan’s Shinto gods first descended to the earth.

Central Western Japan: Shimane to Kyōtango

Nice for cool geology, chill shoreline and an historical shrine

Iino-Ura – Ine; 221 miles (355km)

The 220-mile scenic drive from Iino-Ura (Shimane) to Ine (Kyōtango) snakes between dense forests and a sparsely populated, green-swept shoreline. Alongside the best way you’ll hit Izumo, residence to certainly one of Japan’s oldest shrines (Izumo Taisha), the glowing bay of Lake Shinji in Matsue Metropolis, and Japan’s solely massive dune system at Tottori’s San’in Kaigan Geopark.

Within the Kyōtango area rolling hills and crystal blue waters set the scene in your closing vacation spot: Ine, a picture-book village famed for its funaya (fishing boat homes) constructed on stilts above the shore.

The highway to Mt. Aso, Japan’s largest energetic volcano © trofoto7 / Getty Photos

Kyūshū: Mt. Aso to Cape Sata

Finest for absorbing subtropical volcanic vibes

Mt. Aso – Cape Sata; 200 miles (322km)

Drive via the rolling grasslands of Kumamoto to search out Japan’s largest caldera and energetic volcano, Mt. Aso. The Aso Panorama Line provides the most effective course, weaving alongside the caldera’s outer rim and perpetually casting its gaze towards the belching volcano within the center.

From Aso, head south alongside the backbone of Kyūshū towards probably the most southern tip of Japan’s 4 fundamental islands, Cape Sata. Earlier than you arrive on the observatory pinned to the Pacific coast, take into account an evening at one of many many onsen cities en route, or an in a single day keep within the laidback subtropical metropolis of Kagoshima to get pleasure from some black pork, sweet-potato shōchū (distilled liquor) and views of volcano Sakurajima seemingly floating on the bay.

Tohoku

Finest for exploring Japan’s rural backroads

Fukushima Metropolis – Aomori Metropolis; 208 miles (335km)

Tohoku, a area whose identify means “northeast”, is webbed in immaculate driving roads which carve via its nationwide parks, virgin forests, and the cities and cities nonetheless recovering from the 2011 Nice East Japan Earthquake.

The 200-plus-mile journey from Fukushima to Aomori swerves previous the green-coated islets of Matsushima Bay – mentioned to have put the Seventeenth-century father of Japan’s haiku poetry, Matsuo Bashō, puzzled – and the foamy seascapes and knobbly sea stacks of the 1000km-long Michinoku Coastal Path. Prime detours embody the winding highway to the massive volcanic crater lake at Mt. Zaō in Miyagi Prefecture, and the highway circumnavigating Aomori’s pristine Lake Towada, whose serene waters you possibly can paddle by kayak.

Shikoku’s 88 Temples Pilgrimage

Finest for meditative magic, secret surf spots and solitude

Naruto – Sanuki; 745 miles (1200km)

It could appear antithetical to embark upon a pilgrimage on 4 wheels. However with 88 particular person temples to find alongside 745 miles of terrain on the Shikoku Henro (Pilgrimage) – devoted to the founding father of Shingon Buddhism, Kōbō Daishi – you’re going to need all the assistance you will get.

Getting into from Kobe alongside the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge with a fundamental span of 1.2 miles, is advisable for jaw-dropping sea-to-coast vistas. The temple route traverses all 4 Shikoku prefectures, passes via its most bustling port cities, and encourages loads of stops for bucolic forest walks, onsen soaks and brief temple sojourns. If you happen to get misplaced, preserve your eyes peeled for white-clothed pilgrims replete with bamboo strolling sticks trudging alongside the roadsides.

Tsushima

Finest for distant historic websites and remoted magnificence

Cape Tsutsu – Kankoku Observatory; 43 miles (70km)

With restricted entry to public transport and abounding in lush coastal surroundings, a highway journey is ideal for exploring Tsushima, the titular island setting the scene for the critically acclaimed 2020 PlayStation sport Ghost of Tsushima.

Although solely 43 miles north-to-south, the small island bisecting the Korea strait is teeming with pure and artifical wonders: the Kaneda Fortress ruins, the lonely Watatsumi Shrine, islet-littered Aso Bay, and the Korean-style Kankoku Observatory on the island’s northern tip, which, on a transparent day, offers views of Busan in South Korea. Day hikers can summit certainly one of Tsushima’s forested peaks, whereas its rivers and seashores provide loads of inviting spots to calm down alongside your island drive.

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