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Hokkaido Roller Coaster Road1/4
Photo: Matya1234/PixtaRoller Coaster Road, Hokkaido
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Photo: Yoshitaka Sato/PixtaIzu Skyline, Shizuoka
Ishikawa3/4
Photo: Jute Wen/DreamstimeIshikawa
Yamaguchi4/4
Photo: Yyama3270/DreamstimeYamaguchi

6 best road trips in Japan

Looking for a relaxed yet socially distanced way to travel? Hop in a car and take these scenic road trips through Japan

By Kaila Imada
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It's so easy to travel across Japan, thanks to the vast, fast and efficient networks of trains and shinkansen. Still, there's much joy to be had with a cross-country road trip, not least because the road conditions in Japan are so pristine and the drivers so polite that driving is truly enjoyable here. Plus, you get to set your own schedule and travel at your own pace. More importantly, with a country so breathtakingly beautiful, you can make a pit stop as and when you please to explore the off-the-beaten-track attractions along the way. 

Ultimately, what makes a road trip in Japan all the more fun is that the country is home to a diverse range of topography. You can ascend to the top of the Japanese alps or cruise along lush countryside, sunny beaches and rolling plateaus. So, for your next getaway, skip the trains and jump into a car for these scenic road trips through Japan.

RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from Tokyo

Hit the road

Izu Skyline, Shizuoka
Izu Skyline, Shizuoka
Photo: Yoshitaka Sato/Pixta

Izu Skyline, Shizuoka

Route: Izu Skyline to the Sengokuhara Susuki Grass Fields
Total distance: 65km

A beautiful drive that stretches from Ito city towards Atami, the Izu Skyline winds through the mountains and takes in views of Mt Fuji – you can stop for photos at various car parks and lookout points. As the route onlyrequires about an hour to complete, you can extend your road trip through the onsen hub of Hakone before making your way up to the Instagram-famous Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Field, where the tall grass turns a silvery hue in autumn. To make the most of your trip, spend a night in Hakone where you can rejuvenate in one of the natural hot springs the town is famous for.

Pit stops: This drive is all about the photo-ops. Aside from catching Mt Fuji, you’ll want to stop along the shores of Lake Ashi to snap a photo of Kuzuryu Shrine Hongu – the vermillion torii gate rises from the water on the east bank of the lake.

Culture lovers should take advantage of the area’s diverse range of art museums. The impressive Hakone Open Air Museum with its myriad of outdoor sculptures is great for families while the Pola Museum of Art has a sizeable collection of works by French impressionists including Claude Monet and Pierre- Auguste Renoir.

Venus Line, Nagano
Venus Line, Nagano
Photo: Norikazu/Dreamstime

Venus Line, Nagano

Route: Chino to Matsumoto
Total distance: 76km

Take a drive through the Japanese Alps on this scenic road known as the Venus Line. The drive connects Nagano’s central highlands and feels as if you’re cruising through the clouds at a staggering altitude ranging from 1,400 to 2,000 metres. The drive starts from the city of Chino and passes through a number of nature spots before hitting the city of Ueda.

This road trip can be split into a two-day adventure with multiple sights and stops to enjoy along the way. Conveniently located just off the Venus Line trail, Tateshina Onsen makes for an ideal overnight spot as the area is home to some of the best hot springs around. Instead of venturing all the way to Ueda, you could also end your road trip in Matsumoto, artist Yayoi Kusama’s hometown. The city’s art museum is filled with her iconic art, naturally, and the black Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s top historic landmarks. Note that during winter, parts of the Venus Line road are closed due to snowfall.

Pit stops: The Kirigamine Kogen Plateau is the highest point on the Venus Line trail and boasts gorgeous wildflowers and lush vegetation throughout the seasons. For winter travellers, the Shirakaba 2 in 1 Ski Field is a great spot for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Closer to Matsumoto, the Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum boasts over 300 installations and sculptures dotted over the grassy hillside.

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Yamaguchi
Yamaguchi
Photo: Yyama3270/Dreamstime

Yamaguchi

Route: Yuda Onsen to Tsunoshima Island
Total distance: 76km

A drive over the scenic Tsunoshima Bridge is a must if you’re in Yamaguchi prefecture. A modern-day engineering marvel, the bridge stretches 1,780 metres across the crystal clear waters of the Sea of Japan, making for beautiful views from either direction. The drive from Yuda Onsen town takes about 90 minutes non-stop, and easily makes for a leisurely day trip. Once you’ve reached Tsunoshima Island, you’ll want to spend some time at the stunning beaches and swing by the Shiokaze-no-Sato rest stop for souvenirs and fresh seafood.

Pit stops: A road trip through Yamaguchi prefecture wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Akiyoshidai plateau and the Akiyoshido Cavern. The area is known for its rolling green hills dotted with limestone rock formations which were created by volcanoes and the shifting of ocean plates millions of years ago. Akiyoshido especially is worth a visit as the giant limestone cave gives you a glimpse of the underside of the area’s unique topography and more natural rock formations.

Sake fans, put Ohmine Shuzou New Brewery on your list. Here you can shop for premium sake made from local rice and fuel up at the on-site café before continuing your drive.

Ishikawa
Ishikawa
Photo: Jute Wen/Dreamstime

Ishikawa

Route: Kanazawa to Chirihama Nagisa Driveway and the Noto Peninsula
Total distance: 117km

After spending a few days exploring the historical town of Kanazawa, rent a car and head up north through Ishikawa prefecture’s Noto Peninsula. Located 40km north of Kanazawa, the Chirihama Nagisa Drivewayis a popular destination for road trippers as you get to drive on a sandy beach. The 8km-long driveway is best enjoyed during sunset. Head further up the peninsula and you’ll come across the coastal city of Wajima, which makes a good overnight stop if you want to stretch out your journey.

Pit stops: A must-visit for those passing through Wajima is the Wajima Morning Market, which has been a fixture in the city for over 1,000 years. Here you can browse over 200 stalls of fresh seafood, farm produce and handicrafts. One of the most scenic spots in Wajima is the Shiroyone Senmaida Rice Terraces, which are often illuminated in the evening from October to March.

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Wakayama
Wakayama
Photo: Sean Pavone/Dreamstime

Wakayama

Route: Wakayama city to Seigantoji Temple
Total distance: 175km

Just south of Osaka, the beautiful Wakayama prefecture is often overlooked. The coastal drive from the city of Wakayama to the renowned Seigantoji Temple, a Unesco World Heritage Site with a stunning 133m waterfall in its backyard, takes just over three hours andoffers some picturesque ocean views.

If you’d rather take your time, opt for a two-day excursion and spend the night at one of Wakayama’s idyllic beach resorts. We recommend Shirahama for its expansive white sand beach, which stretches over 600 metres. Just don’t forget your swimsuit.

Pit stops: South of Wakayama city, you’ll run into the historical port town of Yuasa, the birthplace of soy sauce in Japan. The charming streets are still lined with well-preserved heritage buildings dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868). Hit up the Yuasa Soy Sauce Company for a guided tour of the soy sauce brewery. Aside from the beach, Shirahama town is also known for its hot-spring onsen, especially the open-air Saki-no-Yu. Trust us, you’ll want to take a soak when the weather starts to cool.

Hokkaido Roller Coaster Road
Hokkaido Roller Coaster Road
Photo: Matya1234/Pixta

Hokkaido

Route: Sapporo to Roller Coaster Road and Patchwork Road
Total distance: 148km

Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido is home to picturesque landscapes, open stretches of farmland and some of the best ski slopes come winter. It’s also particularly well suited to a road trip as a car can get you to the scenic countryside not reachable by public transport.

Two of Japan’s most beautiful drives happen to be in Hokkaido and they are connected, making it easy to hit up both on one leisurely day trip. The stunning Roller Coaster Road takes you over undulating hills flanked by pristine farmlands. Head north and about 12km later, you’ll reach the scenic Patchwork Road, known for patches of farmland which resemble a colourful quilt.

Pit stops: En route to Roller Coaster Road from Sapporo, you’ll pass by Farm Tomita, known for its vibrant flower fields and fragrant stretches of lavender in summer. Don’t miss the famed lavender flavoured soft-serve ice cream.

Another worthwhile detour before reaching Roller Coaster Road is the Shirogane Blue Pond. Living up to its name, the man-made pond is brilliant blue in colour, thanks to the presence of aluminium that has seeped into the water. For flower enthusiasts, there are a few farms worth visiting along the way, including Shikisai-no-Oka and Zerubu Hill.

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