Spring break in Japan. Usually around the end of March, is the end of the school year. It’s a time where students can relax, teachers can have some time off, and cherry blossom trees bloom. I made sure I had a whole week free to see an island of Japan that I hadn’t yet seen much of. Kyushu! Kyushu is Japan’s 3rd largest island with a population of about 13 million people.
Kyushu is home to Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, and Oita Prefectures. You can also find many mountains and volcanoes around the island. On this road trip, I visit each prefecture, or rather I drive through each prefecture, and see the main tourist attractions.
The road trip started at 08:00 on April the 28th. I was going to be doing this road trip using no toll roads. This meant that it was going to take a long time, but most certainly worth it. The non-toll roads in Japan flow so well, it nearly feels like you’re on the water. Apart from the potholes and bumps all over the place of course.
I got up and filled the car with petrol straight away. 131 yen per litre, a very reasonable price.
The morning roads were quiet, something that’s a common sight when driving the normal roads here in Japan. Green trees and rice fields everywhere you looked. The morning plan was to drive a few hours and meet my friend in a small city called Gotsu. He’s also from NZ and imported his car back to Japan while he is living here.
We had some pancakes and then admired our cars for a bit. Aaron came to Japan on the same plane as me some 4 years ago, then started working only a few hours away from my house. In this time I could count on my right hand how many times I’ve seen him. Boys will be boys I guess.
A Mitsubishi Galant VR4 is his weapon of choice. It’s the only one I’ve seen in Japan since living here. He’s had it for a long time, only a few years old at the time of purchase. Both of our cars look rather innocent from behind, but the front is purely business. After an hour or so chilling out it was time to hit the road again.
Still being on the island of Chugoku, I needed to pick up some speed and make it to Kyushu. 4 hours or so to get to Shimonoseki City which translates roughly to the ‘below connecting city’. Most of which was along the coast.
The rain had started to hit and the sky had gone an angry shade of grey. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the views though. Absolutely beautiful driving roads, all along the coast. Many small islands poked their heads from the oceans along the way to say hello.
Fatigue had kicked in, I needed to make my first stop to refuel my body from sitting for many hours. Lawson has a great selection and is my favourite konbini out of the main 3.
The roads left the coast and went inland towards Shimonoseki. The roads narrowed up and the trees became dense. The rain still pelted my windscreen as I drove further South. I reached Shimonoseki around 18:00, just as the sun said goodbye for the day. It was now time to go under the ocean using the Kanmon Tunnel, which only cost 160 yen. Total bargain.
I had already visited Fukuoka on a previous trip, so decided to skip it and drive as far as I could before stopping for the night.
Not much could be seen because it was still raining and it was now nighttime. A few shops were still open for business, staying open very late for a Saturday night I might add. I made it another 4 or so hours before I had to call it a night.
I drove a total of 522kms on the first day. Not a bad effort indeed.
Day 2 of the trip. Thankfully my car was able to stay in the shade until I woke from my slumber. Oh did I not mention, I slept in this S14 for the entirety of the road trip. Having the passenger seat, and rear seat removed it actually made for an alright makeshift bed.
I started my morning at about 07:00, nice and early. It would include a quick breakfast from 7&iHoldings (same as 7/11). I then went up to Mt Kagamiyama’s observation deck to look over the city of Karatsu. As you can see on this map, the drive up and down the mountain was something just like that of the roads seen in the popular anime Initial D.
The roads up to the top were beautiful. Pink cherry blossom trees fighting their way into your view, surrounded by lush green forestry. Left, right, left, right, and not a car to be seen.
The view from the top of Mt Kagamiyama reminded me of my own city Yonago. With the curving beach line looking into a big bay. It’s a much smaller city by the looks of it. Which is good, fewer people, and fewer cars on the road!
The drive back down the mountain made for some amazing views of Karatsu’s bay.
After finishing up in Karatsu it was time to head towards Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture, famous for a Dutch amusement park called Huis Ten Bosch. A 2-hour drive would get me there around 10:00.
This particular road was breathtaking. After passing through Imari City, the road climbed up to the top of the mountains, hugging the mountainsides and looking over the townships below. This particular lookout was just before a little rest stop with a park called Kunimikohan.
As you can see it’s a popular road, I had only stopped for a few minutes when these cars happily drove past indulging in the views surrounding them.
I made it to Sasebo, which seemed like another smallish seaside city. Lots of cars around clogging up the roads.
It’s always nice to visit the ocean when you can. Since Japan is so mountainous, most of the cities are located by the water, making this task very easy!
A short 20 minutes drive took me to the famous Huis Ten Bosch theme park. I only stopped here for a shower, but damn was it massive! Taken from their website: It has beautiful canals, attractions, museums, shops, restaurants, and hotels. It’s known in Japan as one of the theme parks to have the biggest Flower Festival and create enormous Illuminations. Just driving around the theme park you could see Dutch-inspired buildings and hotels toppling the treetops. A rather strange world located in the small city of Sasebo.
The next stop was the neighbouring city of Nagasaki to visit the peace park and ground zero. Again the 1-hour drive was fantastic. The roads followed Omura Bay all the way to Nagasaki.
The peace park and ground zero was a crazy place to visit. Such a sunny day, and lovely green grass with flowers everywhere. Everything is in bloom and growing nicely. To think that 75 years ago this city was rubble is kind of mind-boggling. The blue statue is 10 metres tall. According to our good friend Wiki, the right hand is pointing to the threat of nuclear weapons, while the left hand symbolizes eternal peace.
About 75,000 people were killed in the attack. And around 15,000 houses were destroyed. The bomb leveled 6.7 million square metres. That’s nearly 1000 full-sized soccer fields worth of land. Leveled. That’s all of Auckland CBD gone, as well as most areas around it burned.
Apart from visiting the peace park and ground zero, I didn’t really have anything else on the agenda for Nagasaki. So I went back to the cool underground car park and prepared for my next drive.
Next up was Mt Unzen and a place called Unzen Hell. About an hour and a half drive along the beautiful coast. The last part of it winding up the mountain until I reached the destination. It’s called Hell, because it looks barren, which is what Hell looks like, apparently.
It wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be. Maybe coming from NZ and visiting Rotorua rather often made me accustomed to volcanic steam. Of course, it smelt just like Rotorua, that rotten egg, rotten smell that lingers around your nose holes. Thankfully the next place exceeded its expectations.
Unzen Nita Pass. This was the best road I drove on for the whole 5-day road trip. It’s a 10km, 1 way, private, 100 yen entry, toll road. It starts down by the golf course and goes all the way up to the ropeway. Here you can get a cable car up to the top of Mt Myoken. It looked expensive and time-consuming so I passed on that.
The roads were incredible. Finally, I was able to drive on smooth roads without any holes destroying my suspension. I didn’t even see any speed limit signs. It was full throttle all the way up to the first lookout point.
At the top, a car park scattered with cars and motorbikes greeted you. I’m not sure if these photos really gauge how high up the road was. The peak of the mountain is 660 metres from sea level. That’s nearly as high as the Burj Khalifa. Kinda puts into perspective how tall that building really is!
After finishing up at Nita Pass, I headed down to the city of Shimabara to catch a ferry with my car over to Kumamoto City. The ferry took about an hour from dock to dock and only cost 4000 yen. It was either take a ferry or drive around the Ariake Sea which would have taken half a day.
I’ve never put my car into a boat before. It had been on dirt, snow, sand, you name it. But a boat was a first! Thankfully the angle wasn’t too aggressive and I got on with no problems.
The ride over to Kumamoto City was relaxing. Not too cold, and not too windy. You could see the sun setting behind Mt Unzen here as the seagulls circle around the ship. Once I got into Kumamoto City, I grabbed some dinner then found a quiet konbini to sleep at!
Day 2 kms: 287 / Total kms: 809
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!
Photos: Shaun Constable | Words: Shaun Constable
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