One of the best journeys out of Tokyo and to the surrounding prefectures is a two day tour of Shizuoka. The prefecture hosts much natural beauty, including the stunning Izu region. A little bit farther than Izu is some of Japan’s most rural countryside and one weekend we enjoyed a lovely drive into Tamagawa.
The drive out of Shizuoka can be a beautiful journey, traveling through Tokyo’s rainbow bridge and through the central areas of the region; before heading onto the Shizuoka Prefectural Road 64 all the way into the countryside.
One of my favourite parts of this journey is the countryside roads off of the highways. The journey is often littered with small hamlets built around winding, thin streets; thus as we noticed we did not see or hit a convenience store for at least 10km at times.
Once in Tamakawa, we stayed at the excellent camping centre owned by the prefectural government. This is approximately 40 minutes away by car from the Shizuoka central area.
The journey will take at least 2 and a half hours from Tokyo, traveling 180km of beautiful countryside along the way.
Kyushu, as mentioned in our previous article, is one of the most beautiful prefectures in Japan. With hundreds of miles of rolling hills and glorious green countryside; having a visit to this prefecture on your Japan visit itinerary is very worthwhile.
Japan has some of the most safe and modern roads in the world. The roads in Kyushu are amongst some of the most fun to drive. One such journey to take is a trip from Takachiho, in the Miyazaki prefecture, to the North East of Kyushu; Oita-ken. The Oita prefecture is famous for its onsens. Japan is a very seismically active country and Kyushu is particularly volcanic, this therefore makes for some of the most glorious hot springs in the country.
In Takachiho, one of the spots well worth visiting is the Takachiho Shrine. There are not many hotels in the local area, but from the central town to the shrine takes only five minutes and the roads in the area are quiet and fun to navigate. A short walk will also take you to the Takachiho Gorge, which is amongst the most beautiful spots to visit in the entire country. Not often visited by tourists because of the location, with a car this is achievable. The Gorge has an area where you will be able to hire a boat and sail alongside the river and has some of the most excellent photo opportunities.
From there, a trip to Amano Iwato Shrine (882-1621; telephone: 0982-74-8239) takes approximately 15 minutes.
From Takachiho, you can visit Oita in approximately three hours. The roads – despite not being highways – are a joy to drive. Once you drive into Oita, the first port of call would be visiting The Hells (874-000); a selection of hot springs in different shapes, colours and varieties. Beppu itself is a city, so expect the roads to be busy and be on the look out for road signs, if you get lost and off the main streets in the city centre, expect a tricky trip to where you need to be.
One trip worth taking is just outside of Beppu, in another hot spring resort called Yufuin. Yufuin is less touristy, so the hotels are a little cheaper and better quality. A trip from Beppu to Yufuin only takes 10 minutes. With a car this is highly recommended.
At Yufuin, enjoy driving up and down the main street in the town. This is a traditional Japanese village and the shops and architecture are designed in a style of that era. Finally, take a quick stop off at Kinrinko. The lake is famous for its morning mist, but this can only be seen prior to 11am.
Kyushu is arguably one of Japan’s most underrated prefectures. Full of culture, history, tradition, good food and excellent roads; a trip around this beautiful part of the country is best spent at the wheel of a vehicle.
There are many flights from all over Japan into Kagoshima Airport, including a nice early 06:35 flight from Tokyo Haneda into Kagoshima. The flight takes approximately 2 hours and there is a very conveniently placed car rental store just outside the airport.
The airport itself, whilst located relatively close to the centre of Kagoshima, is not best positioned for exploring the local area. In your car you can drive (or take a boat, like we did) onto the famous Sakurajima volcano. This is a very active volcano, with eruptions almost weekly; so be careful when you decide to visit here. The most beautiful thing about Sakurajima is the fact that you can drive allt the way around it. There are beautifully crafted winding roads all the way around the mountain. Whilst you can not approach the volcano at a close distance – for very good reason – you can enjoy the scenary of the area and the beautiful lake from your car.
A short drive from Sakurajima should see you end up at Shiroyama Park, a very interesting tourist spot located in Kagoshima city (899-4316; telephone: 0995-46-1561). With good car parking and excellent facilities, make a morning/afternoon of it here. They have a delicious Tonkotsu Ramen shop here – delightful! There are also some interesting Japanese gardens and vegetable plants here, whilst the trees of fruit are particularly pretty.
From Kagoshima, it’s time to head into Miyazaki, the next prefecture to the East. Driving from prefecture to prefecture takes time, the best possible trip into Miyazaki takes around two hours from Kagoshima. Thankfully, the roads are comfortable and easy to drive.
Our first recommended spot on the roads is Udo-jingu (887-0101; telephone: 0987-29-1001), a gorgeous shrine located on the coast of Miyazaki.
This shrine is particularly famous for those who are not married, with many couples going here to pray for their future together. What is particularly nice is the beautiful scenery of the waves crashing against the rocks just next to the shrine.
A short drive up the coast will bring you to Aoshima in approximately 45 minutes. Aoshima is worth a visit. Despite being difficult to find a parking space – you might end up parking in a local’s garage if it’s busy, and paying 500 yen for the privilege – the walk across the sea to the island is stunning. With the traditional Japanese red gate (torii), this makes a good stop for a picture. On the island itself is an ornate shrine. From parking your car to reaching the island can take about 10 minutes – so leave enough time.
After you’ve finished at Aoshima; one option is to head into central Miyazaki. A short drive indeed, the city has a very nice shrine (Miyazaki jingu) and also many famous restaurants. The local cuisine here in Chicken Nanban, very similar to American fried chicken but much more healthy, one recommended spot for this food is “Ogura Honten”, the very first Nanban restaurant in the area (telephone: 0985-22-2296).
The Izu Peninsula is a popular side trip away from Tokyo for the day, or even for a weekend. A town full of beautiful onsens and ryokans, you are sure to find both enjoyment and a chance to relax amongst Japanese countryside. The area is well served by local train and direct from Tokyo, whilst driving there is also an excellent experience. A journey from Tokyo to Izu (part of the Shizuoka prefecture) will normally take over 2 hours. Depending on which part of Izu you are staying, this could take as long as 3 hours, however. The peninsula is a very large place.
There are numerous options for getting to Tokyo. The first, and perhaps the longest route, is to drive from Tokyo into Yokohama, and then follow the route around Sagami Bay. This will then show you some of the beautiful scenery from around this lovely bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This also goes through Odawara, a good spot to stop off and have a light snack before you head on into Izu peninsula. Alternatively, and perhaps the fastest route, sees you drive through the highways on an approximate journey of around 142 kilometres, passing through Gotenba. This town is famous for its unparalleled view of Mount Fuji from distance, as you drive through the Yamanashi Prefecture. Gotemba is also famous for being a hot spot for shopping, with Tokyoites taking a weekend trip to the Gotemba Premium Outlets.
As the locals swarm to this area on a weekend, be sure to be well prepared for traffic. The road into Izu is sure to be busy and full of tourists and local Japanese people alike, looking for a quick break away from the city.
In Izu, there are numerous places to enjoy and to stop by. On the east coast, you have the beautiful Jogasaki. Overlooking Sagami Bay this truly offers some wonderful driving around the coastal lines.
At the southern tip of Izu you have the beautiful Irozaki. This is very close to Kawazu, which is beautiful during the months of March and April for cherry blossom. The sakura is not just the most famous thing from the area though, as you may have heard that Shimoda, just in between Kawazu and Irozaki, is where Commodore Perry’s black ships landed in 1854. Commodore Perry is of course famous for helping Japan break free from their period of isolation; a time when no foreigner was allowed into Japan or to engage with Japanese people.
Further around the west coast of Izu is the delightful Dogashima and Matsuzaki. This unique and scene coastline is famous for its stunning views of stone formations and cliffs. You can even venture into some of the caves along the coast. Driving around this area will give you a good general feel for the area, but the best way to approach this is via boat, which can be found nearby.
In central Izu, and finally, you have the main town of Shuzenji, most famous for its onsen. This resort is named after the local temple of the same name. Many say that Izu hosts Japan’s oldest hot spring.
If you are planning a trip to Tokyo, do consider a trip around Izu. Nowadays, you can hire a car for around 5000 to 6000 yen, it is also worth shopping around using the excellent Tocoo website.