Golden Week Adventures In A Mark X G’s
Road Tripping

There is something special about jumping in your car and going on a road trip. Getting to your final destination as fast as possible is good and all, but when you build time into your schedule to get a little lost along the way, a long-distance drive can become pure joyful bliss. Or maybe it’s just the American in me that loves road trips…

At any rate, for the three years that I have been living in Japan, I had never gone on a proper road trip. Of course, while hunting Japanese car culture I regularly find myself flying, catching the bullet train, or behind the wheel headed to somewhere outside of Tokyo. Those places often include Fuji International Speedway, Tsukuba Circuit, Daikokufuto PA and Umihataru PA; what they don’t include are the small towns off the beaten path in between. This had bugged me for a while. In a country full of rich culture, heritage and traditions, how could I have not gone and explored it more?


So when Blake offered to lend me his Toyota Mark X G’s while he was out of town for this year’s Golden Week holiday, I decided it was time to finally take the epic road trip I’ve always wanted to go on.


Not really being in the know about where to go, I let my girlfriend plot our route, which ended up looking like this. The plan included stops by UNESCO World Hertiage Sites, famous parks, castles, and a bit of hiking. At the same time, I would see what kind of car culture I could find along the way, while giving Mark X a good drive.

The Adventures Began
Tokyo - Hinatayma

Leaving bright and early three hours behind schedule, we first made our way to Mt. Hinta in Yamanashi Prefecture, which is known for some unusual sand deposits at its peak.


Of course, given that it was Golden Week when the traffic is even worse than it normally is, we got well and truly caught up in the heavy highway congestion. On the bright side, it meant I could properly familiarize myself with the Toyota. First impressions: the interior was very spacious, and the G’s-spec firm suspension wasn’t uncomfortable in the slightest.


The drive to our first destination was somewhat uneventful, but on parking the car I immediately walked over to the first interesting vehicle of the day – this Mitsubishi Jeep.

Jeep entered the Japanese market back in 1953 with its CJ3, a model sold under the Mitsubishi banner to compete against the Nissan Patrol and Toyota Land Cruiser. The owner of this particular rig has added beefier BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, fog lights, bucket seats and a Momo steering wheel. I’m sure it would be a blast to drive on some of the trails this area has.


Having the off-road capabilities of a Jeep is great, but sometimes all you need is an air-cooled VW Beetle to get you into the great outdoors.

I’m not an expert mountain climber, and carrying camera gear up the steep trail probably wasn’t brightest idea I’ve ever had, but the views from the top of Mt. Hinta were absolutely breathtaking. With another conquered mountain to add to my meager list, it was time to hotfoot it back down the trail before it got too dark, and then head to Suwa for our first overnight stop.

Suwa - Shirakawago

After a good night’s rest, we woke up early to make the drive to our next destination on the list: a World Heritage Site called Shirakawa-go. To my great excitement, the 172km (107mi) route there was almost entirely made up of touge (tōge) roads.


On the way to the car, I spotted this BNR32 Nissan Skyline GT-R sitting on Enkei RS Evolution wheels and hiding a rather large ARC intercooler behind its front plate. I really would have liked to wait and meet the owner, but seeing that it was 6:00am, I figured that wouldn’t be the best use of our time.


Finding parking in Tokyo can not only be incredibly frustrating, it’s also expensive costing you almost ¥300 for 20 minutes. This parking lot however was ¥300 for the entire day, but that everything was based off of the honor system.


On the little sheet of paper, you were asked to write your car’s plate number down, and along with it add ¥300 into the drop box. No cameras, no one attending the lot, just good old fashioned trust.

The Prince & Skyline Museum

I didn’t mention it earlier, but on the way to Shirakawa-go we had made a plan to stop at the Prince and Skyline Museum in Okaya. If you consider yourself a Nissan enthusiast, this is definitely a place worth visiting if you come to Japan.


Even the parking lot had me excited at the prospect of what I’d find inside.


The museum is located inside Toriihira Yamabiko Park, which is essentially a massive family playground. Thus, the pathway to the museum was filled with factoids built into the sidewalk, including this one comparing the life expectancy during the Edo Era to the present day, 200 years later.


Once inside the museum, you first walk through the gift shop, a place where I could have easily blown the entire trip’s budget. Along with various manuals, magazines and collectables, the shelves were filled to the brim with model cars and the walls peppered with beautiful sketches.


A simple set of stairs takes you down to a dimly-lit area and the cars. Wow. 


Being my first time at this museum, it was fascinating to learn more about the automaker formally known as The Prince Motor Company and see its lineage in person.

It really made me wonder what the streets of Japan looked like when they were filled with Glorias, Homers, and first generation Skylines.

Of course, no Nissan collection would be complete without GT-Rs in pristine condition. This R35 was beat around the Nürburgring in a 24-hour endurance race.


Before creating its own vehicles, Tommykaira successfully landed contracts to provide aftermarket support for Nissan and Subaru. The Tommykaira M30 (based on the R31) is considered one of Japan’s first fully tuned cars, and saw rebranding of the original model in a similar manner to what RUF is to Porsche. Alongside was the M20 (based on the R32 GTS-T), both models now commanding large sums in the Japanese used car market.

What is a car without a great drivetrain? To answer that question the museum also had plenty of engines on display.


I could have pored over the automotive history all day, but with the glazed-over look my girlfriend had, I knew my time limit was up. I need to come back here though!

World Heritage Tour

Back on the road, we continued our journey to the World Heritage Site in the small town of Shirakawa-go. In a perfect world, the road would have been completely devoid of other traffic, however the world isn’t a perfect place and during Golden Week the entire stretch was experiencing heavy traffic.


Being stuck in traffic is no fun, so I took every chance I had to pull over in rest areas. Like Daikokufuto PA and Tatsumi PA, you never know what gems you may find.


Here’s a perfect example: a lightly modified NA1 Honda NSX in the middle of nowhere. Judging by its plates the owner of this one was also from Tokyo.


The irony of finding an NSX in Blake’s Mark X while he was buying Project NSX wasn’t lost on me.


Shirakawa-go is a traditional Japanese village that has all but been frozen in time. The gassho-zukuri farmhouses reveal how villagers lived in the remote area well over 200 years ago.


These structures resemble the hands of buddhist monks pressed together in prayer and they can withstand the pressure created by large amounts of snow even though the roofs are made without nails.


As to be expected, the area was absolutely packed with tourists; not expected was finding this little Honda Life parked up outside a tea shop. Although the car was in a real state of disrepair, the tires were all fully inflated, so there’s a chance it still runs errands around the village.


With so much rich culture and breathtaking scenery, I can highly recommend visiting Shirakawa-go – just make it weekday (and not in Golden Week) to avoid the heavy influx of tourists.

With sunlight fading quickly, we decided it was time to head to our local accomodation for the night.

The next day brought a 150km drive towards Fukui, the capital city of Fukui Prefecture which borders the Sea of Japan. On the way, we made stops by Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle, but I was always on the lookout for cars. It quickly became obvious that the local car enthusiasts have a thing for Subarus.


In Tokyo (and Fukui it seems), a lot of people have flocked to the Levorg for its performance potential, styling, and practicality being a wagon. Not a lot needs to be done to give the model a proper stance; a simple suspension drop and set of wheels like the 18-inch Work Zeast ST1s on this particular one, really transforms the Levorg’s appearance.

Kenrokuen Garden outside Kanazawa Castle features a landscape style that focuses on six attributes (roku meaning six) for the perfect garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, watercourse, and panorama. Besides its stunning scenery, the garden hosts a variety of tea houses that date back to the 18th century, and also the oldest fountain in Japan.

Seeing that the US lacks anything that remotely resembles a castle, I always find visiting them in Japan highly intriguing. Aside from their majestic size, the way in which they were built using techniques that require absolute precision to lock the beams in place without the use of nails is truly remarkable.

Fukui - Tokyo1

After a stopping at a monk monastery in Eiheiji, it dawned on us that we had nowhere to stay for night. Still being Golden Week, every place was filled. That left two options: make the 525km drive back to Tokyo using the highway which would have been boring and cost well over US$100 in toll fees, or backtrack the way we had come from Tokyo, but this time at night and without traffic. I don’t think I need to tell you which way we went…

Fukui - Tokyo2

As exciting as it was, if it wasn’t for the Toyota’s large infotainment screen displaying the route and upcoming turns, I don’t think I would have had the nerves to do it at speed. It redefined what I know as pitch black, an endless stream of turns and hairpins constantly appearing out of the darkness. Although I could hear Blake’s voice telling me to thoroughly enjoy the Mark X G’s, I also wanted to make sure he got his car back in one piece.


With that 400km of white-knuckle driving over, so was my first real road trip in Japan.

Although the Mark X is long gone now, it will always have a special place in my heart. It may not have been the fastest or best handling car I have ever driven, but it took me to some extraordinary places in Japan in style.

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography

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I love stories like this! It would have been cool to go into a bit more detail about the car as well, for the markets (like here in Aus) that don't get these luxury Toyotas. The photos and seeing Rural Japan are often more interesting than seeing the 'usual' tourist spots - more road trip stories please!

Also, are the stars that you've marked on the map places of interest in Japan? i would love to see the places you've bookmarked as cool places to visit while over there.


Thank you!! Yeah, I definitely will add more details of the next car I do this with for sure!
All those stars are place of interest, food places, and photo shoot locations that I've used from time to time ^_^


It would be cool to almost have a SpeedHunters 'To-Do' list when visiting Japan - obviously a lot of places are almost stumbled upon when walking around the streets, but having a list compiled by yourself and Dino and the other SH crew that live over there of places you guys recommend to visit would be a great starting point for people looking at experiencing something a little different on there trip - and not just car places, but food and other awesome sights too.

Keep up the good work!


That could be something interesting to do o.o. We tend to fall in a cycle of visiting only car related places (comes with the job and not complaining in the least bit lol) but from time to time we stumble upon some pretty interesting places


I definitely wouldn't be complaining if it was only car places (sounds like my idea of heaven!) but I know the missus might get a little upset by only visiting car shops!




Amazing trip and incredible photos!
I did a similar trip, albeit by train and in winter. Kanazawa is an amazing place and I wish it would remain off the beaten track of westerners for as long as possible.


Thank you! Kanazawa is a truly stunning place - however! It is really becoming over run by tourist. It was Golden Week though so that was to be expected, but a lot of the 'touristy' areas are starting to get a lil crowded

Miles Hayler-MacMillan

What's with the red and yellow thing in the parking spot in the first image? Is it like a sensor or something?


It basically prevents the vehicle from leaving the car space unless the parking fee has been paid. When you pay for parking the yellow part will lower for a few minutes, allowing the car to drive over it.

Miles Hayler-MacMillan

I see. Is a barrier at the exit not cheaper?


There may not be a dedicated exit, usually in this instance there will only be a few car spaces, perhaps on a spare piece of land next to a laneway etc - it's not practical to have a single gate.

Miles Hayler-MacMillan

Ah! of course. Thanks!


They are also used if it is a private parking space, prevents anyone else parking there etc.


Thank you for that haha ^^ I see you got it covered


very nice article and I love the map "all toge"


Thank you ^^ I hope people would enjoy that ;)


More roadtrip articles please! I really enjoyed this.


I'll see what I can do ^^ would love to do more of these!


Really enjoyed reading this! Bring more :)


Thank you! I'll try to do it more often ^^


Umihotaru PA is correct


Nice coverage of this Mark X gs what a beautiful car, that skyline museum is absolutely gorgeous *q*

Glad you braved those really scary dark touge's atleast you can say your a tofu delivery driver now :P (Joke)

You guys are really lit as of lately keep up the amazing coverage :D


Hahahaha Takumi is a real G. Perhaps if I was more familiar with those roads it wouldn't have been SO bad lol

Thanks! Will try to keep em coming ;)


I mean hell your braver then me. Balls of steel m8.


Haha it definitely keeps you WIDE awake at 2am. That and the occasional traffic that is out 'enjoying ' the night air ^^


Yeah I like taking my car out for a nice midnight stroll, allows me to open it up and run it through the rev range, kinda like a jog or something in cool air. Breathes nice.


It really does. It's a good time to clear your mind of all the day's woes and just drive.. need to go on another drive soon v.v


looks like it was a great trip, love that R33 and NSX you came across.
lol for the "boring and $$$" map...


Haha appreciate it! It was pretty epic I must admit ^^


Just curious, what motor does that mark x have? I assume it would be a v6, right? and is it rwd like previous gens? but it is a nice car, much better looking than the camry stateside, and probably moer fun bc it's RWD.


Yea, be is the 3.5l V6. The Gs editions was tuning in the suspension, wheels and brakes, and interior / exterior carbon trim. And it is a WAYYY more exciting than a camry


I'm just scratching my head as to why America got the Camry when they could've sold the Mark X globally since they use the same engine, are about the same size, and they kinda look the same too.


I have no idea..... Guess they said the Camry is already established in the States so why bring another car that would essentially complete with it's self? I'm SURE Toyota has a reason for it ....


Well really I don't see why Toyota had created the Camry for the American market, when it could have continued with the Cressida nameplate, which was the Mark II until 2004, when the Mark X took over. What mind boggles me is that the Camry is even sold in its home market of Japan when the Mark X is also an option, but the Mark X isn't sold stateside even though they're somewhat related. Even in it's home country it would have competition. This just seems very weird.


Great pictures ! It's funny to see you visit the places I saw about a month and a half ago... Right next to Shirakawa-Go is the small town of Takayama, well worth it too ! Gotta love the Japanese mountains...
And Kenrokuen is very impressive, the nicest garden I've seen in Japan. Thanks for making me relive my trip !


Hahaha oh wow! That's really ironic ^^ glad I could help you relieve your awesome trip! And thank you!


Oh My Fuel Gods, I can't chill looking at Fuji in any way of it. It's Soo beautiful and stunning OMFG!!


Haha Fuji San is truly remarkable sight when it's not hiding ^^


Love the post Ron!! Its really making me miss Japan, I cant wait until next summer when I finally get to come back. Keep up the good work and a speedhunters To-Do list would be awesome!


Thank you! Will do my best and that could be something interesting to work on o.o road trips, car reviews, and to go place list - SH edition !


This should be a proper series!


Nice write-up, must have been a cool trip! Not so many gaijin make it up to Hida.

I lived just north of Takayama for a year teaching English (well, and driving my Silvia). I know what you mean about the touge, the road between Matsumoto and Hiraiyu is _intense_, the curves just keep coming.

I love the quieter, less internationally famous bits of Japan. If you've not done them yet, Gunma and Nikko are good mountainous areas not too far from Tokyo.