Project X: A Geek’s Weekend Out
The Angel Of Usui

Project X is an odd duck when compared to the rest of the project cars in the Speedhunters stable. Because it is our daily driver while in Japan, and is used regularly at the track, it always needs to be in a running state, making it less of a project car and more of a usable tool.

That means that these stories tend to be more about the adventures and exploits of this 1999 Toyota Soarer, and less about ‘the build’ itself. While we do tend to break and upgrade a few bits and pieces, it’s no in-depth, intense build blog like Richard’s Starlet or Bryn’s Volvo and it probably never will be. That said, this car allows us to head into some pretty cool spots around Japan, so hopefully it still makes for a good read!

Case in point, the ultimate JDM geek’s weekend road trip.


While I’ve been a casual watcher of anime shows like Initial D and Wangan Midnight for many years, it’s Speedhunter’s community manager, Taryn Croucher, that qualifies as the super fan. And as such, for years she has been wanting to do a two-day pilgrimage to Gunma Prefecture’s Mt. Haruna, more commonly known to you and I as Mt. Akina, the home touge course of the Akina Speed Stars and Takumi Fujiwara from the Initial D manga and anime.


Now, with a fun car and a weekend to spare, Taryn worked out a route and we fired up the single turbo 1JZ, shifted the R154 box into first and left the bright lights of Tokyo, heading due north towards the hallowed touge deep in the heart of the Kanto region.

Haruna 15

For maximum Initial D cred, the route first took us to the base of famous Usui Pass, home of the Impact Blue Nissan Sileighty and it’s ‘Usui Combination‘ of driver Mako Sato and co-driver Sayuki. In real life, it’s also the home course of ‘Drift King’ Keiichi Tsuchiya, who was heavily involved in the making of Initial D, and in my opinion, one of its key reasons for success.


In typical japanese fashion, the rain was pouring down, and it made for a interesting drive on the very tight, twisting road that snakes up the steep mountainside. Although I certainly wasn’t trying to slide, when you’ve got a car that’s set up for drift with a tight LSD, plenty of low-down power and sopping-wet asphalt to contend with, the drive up the hill becomes entertaining to say the least.


Although the conditions weren’t perfect, the weather created a cool eerie, haunted-forest type of atmosphere on the at least 1300-year-old road (yeah, you read that right; Usui Pass was first written about in the 8th century, making it potentially much older still).

Haruna 01

Our route eventually led us all the way up to the onsen thermal resort town of Kusatsu, which dates back to the second century. For those who don’t know, onsen are traditional public baths and these mineral-heavy natural springs have always supported the town, which is dotted with traditional ryokan hotels. This is where we’d stop for the night, before continuing onward in the morning.

Instantly Recognisable
Haruna 02

After a traditional Japanese breakfast at the hotel (worth trying once, but probably not for the Western palette), we fired up the JZZ30 and left Kusatsu bound for Mt. Haruna. I’ve never quite worked out why Akina is the only location in the Initial D universe that doesn’t use its real name, but regardless, after traversing a few more mountains and turning a corner to see this, there was no mistaking where we were.

Haruna 03

A common setting in the Initial D storyline, Lake Haruna is a beautiful sight, and you can’t help but smile with giddy abandon upon seeing the real-life version in front of you.


But that was nothing. After some canned Boss coffee, we continued on a little further, and an instantly recognisable area came into view – the parking spot at which the Akina Speed Stars and other rival clubs meet before the racing gets underway. I get that a lot of readers are probably scratching their heads right now thinking, ‘man, this dude is next level nerdy’, but you’ve got to understand that Initial D has been firmly woven into the fabric of my own personal car culture ever since I first saw it in my late teens.

Haruna 09

This was also where we met a new friend, local enthusiast Naoki Komori. Soon after we pulled up, Naoki-san’s blood red S13 appeared around the bend and parked up in front.


It was a classic case of us not speaking very good Japanese and him not speaking very good English, but in the end, car guy (and girl) talk got us through as we discussed all things coilovers, turbochargers and big brakes. Here he can be seen checking out our RAYS Engineering 57Getter wheels. It turns out that Naoki-san works at one of the nearby onsens, and came out for a blat on the touge during his lunch break.


I love the look of this 180SX; it’s aggressive, but not overly so. It’s low, but not unusably so. And that SR20DET bark? Well, you either love it, or you hate it and personally, I’m a lover.


Facebook friend requests were made and Naoki-san motioned for us to follow his lead as we pulled out of the parking area and onto the touge. For the next half an hour, he would be our guide on this incredible road. Yeah sure, I figured we’d spend a bit of time driving up and down Mt. Akina… I mean, Haruna… But now we had a bonafide Akina Speed Star in tow!

Haruna 07

I should also add that Naoki-san had no idea what Speedhunters was (excluding possible communication breakdowns). But, as is pretty typical in Japan, he was simply a friendly local, keen to show a couple of gaijins his home course and get in a few low-key battles at the same time.


After kicking Taryn out of the car so I could grab a few lonely driver moments, contemplating using the gutters for cornering and wondering just exactly how hard a gum tape death match would really be, I figured we should probably call it a day before things got too carried away. After all, there was more to see at the bottom of the hill.

Holy Grails On Display
Haruna 11

Further down the road, we decided to finish off the trip with a quick visit to the – take a deep breath – toy, doll, teddy, confectionery, chocolate and automobile museum, which is not far from the base of the Mt. Haruna touge.

Haruna 13

Of course, there was plenty of typically strange and fascinating Japanese pop culture artifacts to check out, but the founder of the museum is also a huge classic Japanese car fan, and stores a big collection of interesting machines at the facility – two Toyota 2000GTs included.

Haruna 14

And plenty of period Japanese race cars, a couple of genuine early GT-Rs, an F40 and much more.

Haruna 12

And how about this display for relevance? The shop also contains a mountain of Initial D merch to buy should you have a few spare yen burning a hole in your pocket.

Haruna 05

Sadly, after a little lunch it was time to head back to Tokyo.

So, did we bang on the Initial D techno soundtrack as we ran up and down Haruna’s famous hairpins? Yes. Yes we did. Am I embarrassed to admit that? Maybe a little… But hey, like I’ve written before here on Speedhunters, when it all boils down, I’m not afraid to admit that I geek-out about stuff like this. Whether it’s having Masato Kawabata in my passenger seat while I fry some tyres at Ebisu, or slapping through the gears in a Porsche GT3 at Leipzig, or hitting up Neptune’s Net in Cali for little impromptu The Fast & The Furious scene recreation, I’m a proud 32-year-old automotive fanboy that should probably be doing more grown up things with my time; but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peter Kelly
Instagram: speedhunters_pedey



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Stop apologizing and go Full Goobber. We all want to drive that road once. With the "Initial D" music Blasting!!


Yes. So much yes.


Can't stop the muuuusiiiiiic!


I wish they would make new episodes of this legendary awesome series...


Was there a magical takumi groove inner side of "that" curve????


I love this. My fiance and I will be having our honeymoon in Tokyo soon. Renting an R34 GTR for a day and taking in as much as we can.


Don't apologize man, embrace it. You got to do what a lot of us car and Initial D nerds dream about. 

*Sigh* One day...


I just had a nerdgasm...


PatrickPeebles Nice, are you going to Fun2Drive in Hakone to rent the 34? Some amazing drives around there.


@Johnny couldn't find that one but there was plenty of paint deposited on the outside barriers!


Hey Peter_Kelly Ill just leave this here...

Hoping to do the same kind of geek tour when I head to Japan next year. Thanks for making the wait even harder haha.


willis85 Peter_Kelly I should have just worked out how to have this song autoplay as soon as you opened this article.


Speedhunters this was amazing


SO JELLY. I have dreamed of driving there for ages...


Peter_Kelly PatrickPeebles I was actually looking at these guys for renting.

Talked to them on FB along with some previous customers. They seem pretty legit and friendly. And I can't argue with $200 for 24 hours with an R34 GTR. We're hoping to take the wangan down to Daikokufuto at night but we aren't sure what night to go on...


PatrickPeebles Peter_Kelly Yea that's a fair price! Dang, they've got a Century too, that would be sweet!

Daikouku PA is a real gamble but your best chance to see cool stuff is still Friday and Saturday night. The last time I took some friends there though, it was closed completely after a 2 hour drive to get there, so you've just got to hope for the best!


Fun fact; Aki from Akina means Autumn, Haru means Spring :)


Great post - I plan on doing this drive later this year when I spend a bit of time in Japan, but alas I'll be doing it in a cheesy rental and not some JDM beast. Unless someone wants to take me for a spin... :P


@Nic Nice fact, I didn't know that, thanks!


Peter_Kelly PatrickPeebles I hired Omoren's FD3S and drove it up to Mt. Haruna.  Great guys.. they speak barely any english but were super helpful and made it pretty easy.  Haruna is beautiful.  If you go early in the morning you can see foxes running across the road.  Have fun!


I probably wouldnt be entering the engineering field if it wasnt for Initial D. At a time when my knowledge of cars was limited, but I was starting to enjoy learning about them, Initial D incited such passion in me that I knew I had to learn more. I started learning as much as I could about cars. This led to a realisation that it wasnt all about the cars. My greater passion was understanding how nature works, things in general, and cars were such a brilliant tool to allow me to learn while immersing myself in a dense and lovely culture. Its so satisfying to learn theory in school and be able to apply it to something. You might expect someone to say their education in engineering allows them to better understand the cars they enjoy, but its really the opposite. To be able to apply the concepts easily to something I enjoy makes it so much easier to understand and really internalize them. So yeah Initial D literally changed my life and Im really happy about that. Maybe a little "nerdy" but realistically manga based anime films and shows etc have provided some of the most cinematically valuable pieces of art that humans have created and Id say thats bordering on being objectively true. The greater majority of people I know that enjoy anime are very socially adept anyway so the word "nerd" pretty much means nothing. Preaching to the choir. Everyone watch initial D, it will make you feel nice

This place over sports car rental in japan.


First time posting on speedhunters but this article really made me smile as initial D was a very formative part of my car culture experience my current project is a 1986 Corolla Sr5 and I'm not gonna lie I probably would have blown a few more dollars than I should have if I ended up in that museum shop


Great little write up of the touge. Favorite picture is No 5, Looks haunted! I would not be embarrassed one bit blasting the soundtrack though :)


Project cars - You're doing it right. 

I yearn to drive mine! :)


I can't tell you how much I love your project car. It is awesome!




Lovely article, I also took the rental car and did a 10 hour trip to Gunma, visiting Myogi, Usui and Haruna. It really was an unforgettable experience.


Peter, that was next Level! I had goosebumps when i saw the picture of the meeting area from the Initial D Anime, I'm very envious that you got to see Takumis Home Touge in all its glory!
Also its Eurobeat! Not Techno XD, you should have blasted this!

Keep up the articles, i personally enjoy reading stuff over a project car that gets daily driven, no offense to the other ones, but I like the adventures of you two in your Soarer :)


this is just awesome, i'm day dreaming about doing something like this, thanks for sharing, please take a Hachi next time and make it a night run!




Onecton Thanks! Good point on the Eurobeat front, there's a couple of Speedhunters staff members that will flip out if they see this haha!


Brayden Pimlott Hey Brayden, good question - no it won't. We'd love to bring it back to New Zealand, but the problem is it's not new enough/not old enough to be street registered, being a 1998. Sure, we could strip it out and use it as a dedicated track car, but it's almost too nice to do that to it, and with it being street registered in Japan, it's probably worth more to sell over there and then buy something new in NZ.


@mistasam Peter_Kelly Thanks for the info guys. It's very much appreciated. Now if I could just find some English speaking Speedhunters in Japan that want to grab a beer and show a gaijin their roads.


We're glad you enjoyed it Elmer56K!


Darkclark Nice, what are your plans for the car?


Brewbert Great post. you're definitely studying the right thing, the engineering side of cars is definitely where my knowledge is weakest - I wish I'd started learning about it much earlier.


"man, this dude is next level nerdy"
Let's be honest, anime and cars seem very entwined, take the cars in gunsmith cats or Batou's cars in Ghost in the Shell.... Hell, Akira even had an Alpine.
Actually, I Wanted to learn to ride a bike from the moment I saw the bikes in Akira somewhere around 1989... There were other factors, but Akira played a massive part. I'm sure it's more comment then you think.
You lucky, lucky Bas7ads, what a way to spend a few days.


TarmacTerrorist True, I remember watching Akira as a kid and being all about that bike.


Currently working on body widening/rust repair and a a custom upholstered brown leather and houndstooth interior replaced the sr5 seats with 3rd gen supra seats already have done basic suspension upgrades adjustable dampeners and lowering springs after that rear diff and brake upgrades and a motor swap of undetermined nature at some point in the next year or so and lots of small handmade touches just a fun street car that may see the occasional track or drift day


Nerdy or not come on....if you go to Japan and you are a car or motorcycle enthusiast. You need to drive in the C1, C2 the Rainbow Bridge of course, stop at Daikoku Futo, and go to Gunma, kanagawa and so many other. If you don't you waste your time & trip.
This was difinetly one of the best and fun trips. I know cause I did it with my 7th yr son. We also when to Hakone and several other places. Just driving and having fun. Better than going to disneyland.
And I read this article with a smile on my face. I use to read the Shakotan Boogie when i was a kid in the 80's then move to initial d and wangan midnight....and now im passing it to my son.
This kind of trips can be more fun than going to a car show.


Peter_Kelly TarmacTerrorist Akira is AWESOME! drugged up biker kids in neo tokyo.


I wholeheartedly appreciate this level of nerdiness. Now the locals will be whispering about Akina's White Whale, like a Japanese Moby Dick, haha.


The feels are real with this article. *bookmarked*


there HAS to be a local car club called the akina speedstars. also impact blue are the og car babes


Great article!!!


Schwaglet I always Like Midnight Kids


*in fetal position breathing into paper bag* Gaaaaa It looks just like it!! 
I want a romantic lakeside triste with an implied girlfriend who tacitly supports my togue racing lyyyfe!

You even played the techno music...Squee of motherfucking squee's


Haha awesome writeup Peter!
I just started watching Initial D all over again (and not for the first time AGAIN).
I smile watching every episode and it is cool to see the real locations. No shame for geeking out tho ^^


Paizuri_4g63 Haha, I'm more of a head out onto the lake in a boat, try to kiss the girl, miss and fall in sort of a guy...


IRONWOLF RD God I hope so. I feel like a mysterious gaijin couple in a white Z30 would have some serious legs as villians in a new series.


oh my, this is really a dream come true... 

oh one question, is there any tofu shop around it? :p


I love how your Japanese mate has a slightly off colour front bumper. Lovely, despite our cars cosmetic flaws, they're still awesome to their owner regardless. I do hope that you guys are safe on the wet touge routes!! It's not worth being 20m down a cliff face or stuck in a ravine :) Anyway how do these twisty roads compared to some New Zealand has to offer? I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this


Peter_Kelly IRONWOLF RD Some calls seriously need to be made for this. I'll settle with a quick 30 minute live action trailer even, haha.


Peter_Kelly Paizuri_4g63 *tries to remember whether that was an episode or not


John Key NZ Sorry for the delayed reply mate. It's an interesting question - I'd say that apart from the fact that most touges are crazy-skinny compared to similar NZ roads, they're quite a bit cooler, better thought out and almost as though they've been designed for driving enjoyment. Well, that and a lot of the popular ones have big, destroy-a-wheel reflectors between the two lanes on many of the drift corners these days, which makes things even sketchier if you want to go a bit faster.


JoshuaDantz Of course, although that said it's pretty damn hard not to see a tofu shop anywhere you go in Japan!


I'm nearly crying at how beautiful this is... I mean Initial D was my entire life at one point, and now I see it in real life. Because of this, you can now find me locked in the corner of my room, listening to The Weeknd or Drake or some other soft shit. 

Thank you Peter, and the rest of Speedhunters.


Awesomeness. Poorly titled tho


Join the club of initial d geeks peter. You are not alone trust me. I also thought that using mt akina instead of mt haruna is interesting. We cant necessarily question the drift king tho lol.


guys guys glad you actually listened to the initial d music. i wouldve done the same. probably the best article i read so far.


As an owner and huge fan of the Lexus Sc300/Toyota Soarer, I am extremely entertained and thankful for your coverage and features on the car. The fact that you guys have thrown in Initial D into the mix made me pretty excited. You guys have excellent content. Keep up the good work!


the car was very good 
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