Travelling across Japan is a very convenient affair, thanks to its complex but efficient web of trains and shinkansen. We’ve touched on how JR Passes can help you save costs while allowing you to travel regionally or across different parts of Japan. Still, Japan road trips offers a completely different experience. You can really head for the remote destinations that are hard to get to. Not to mention, self-driving allows you to stay within your social bubble, which is more important than ever in today’s times.
Roads in Japan are very well-managed, and drivers are incredibly polite. Speed limits are relatively low, so many Japanese drivers tend to take their time, even on the highways. Renting a car is also very convenient, and all you need is a valid International Driving Permit (IDP). You get to set your own schedule, travel at your own pace, and stop wherever you please. From all that you can probably imagine, Japan road trips can be a very idyllic affair!
Ultimately, what makes Japan road trips so unique is that the country is home to a diverse range of landscapes. You can do a coastal drive, cruise along the countryside, or head up to the Japanese alps. For your next getaway, why not skip the trains, and hop into a car instead? Here are some of the best Japan road trips to help you get started!
1. Coast-to-Coast Hokkaido
Japan’s northernmost island is worth exploring by car, although the roads are best avoided in heavy snow. For those with ample time, this coast-to-coast drive will take you approximately 700 kilometres from Shiretoko Peninsula in the east to Hakodate in the west. It is a road trip best enjoyed slowly, for you are in for a treasure trove of natural and manmade wonders. This includes the ‘Road to Heaven’ highway; the volcanic mountain range, primeval forests and wildlife of Akan Mashu National Park; the Roller Coaster Road in Kamifurano; the city of Sapporo and Noboribetsu Onsen.
2. Hakone Hill Turnpike
This famous twisty mountain road is the inspiration for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, even though the actual mountain drift race scenes were shot in LA. Understandably so, this epic driveway is a favorite among driving enthusiasts. It is also one of 30 over ‘melody roads” in Japan. They are roads with tactile grooves, and they emit musical notes as tires roll over them! The road is usually quiet, but that doesn’t mean we recommend recreating drifting scenes from The Fast and the Furious. Road aside, this area is a geopark which has plenty of ryokans to stay in and hot springs to enjoy.
3. Izu Skyline
Izu Skyline in Shizuoka brings you one of the most spellbinding Japan road trips. This 40.6 km long road provides the best skyline views of the landscape. Running from south to north of the region, a drive here offers views of the iconic Mount Fuji, along with other mountains, the highlands and Sagami Bay coast line. This drive is all about the beautiful photo opportunities. If you’d like to extend it, you can spend a night at the onsen hub of Hakone. The next day, make your way to the IG famous Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Field. Here, the tall grass turns a silvery hue in autumn!
4. Chirihama Nagisa Driveway
Chirihama Nagisa Driveway in Ishikawa is one of the most unique Japan road trips. The eight kilometer stretch of beach along the Sea of Japan is open to private vehicles, allowing people to drive on the beach and along the water edge. Along with enjoying the unique experience of driving on a beach, many people will also park their cars out of the way to collect seashells. A number of food stalls at the southern end of the beach also sell many yummy local specialties such as grilled clams. They close for winter from early December to mid March!
5. Irohazaka Winding Roads
Irohazaka is a pair of winding roads connecting the lower elevations near central Nikko to the higher elevations of the mountainous Okunikko region. The roads compose of 48 hairpin turns, each of which corresponds to a letter of the ancient Japanese alphabet. Every turn is labelled with their respective characters, and on your journey you’ll pass them in alphabetical order. The downward traffic road includes a pit stop from where you can see two waterfalls. The upward traffic road will take you to the Akechidaira Plateau. The plateau offers an observation deck with sweeping views over the Irohazaka and the valley below. Irohazaka is best during the spectacular autumn from late October to early November. But this is also when the route is most popular, and traffic can get very bad. Try to avoid weekends and national holidays and go as early as possible.