Road trips are a great way of experiencing the natural visual delights a country has to offer. Japan has an excellent public transport network, but many people prefer to travel by car. For those living in the Kansai region, there are some great day trips and short trips to by car that take in some lovely scenery and places to visit. Here is a pick of a few.
This trip cuts through central Kansai and takes you out to the beautiful east coast. First, make your way to the ancient city of Nara, Japan’s oldest capital. This city, which thrived during the 8th century, is only an hour’s drive from Osaka and Kyoto (around two hours from Kobe). You can stop off here, wander along the streets of Naramachi lined with old townhouses and visit Nara Park, famous for the deer that roam freely around. Inside the park is Todaiji Temple, home to Japan’s largest Buddha statue. From here, you can drive on through the central mountains and out to where the city of Ise is in Mie Prefecture along the east coast peninsula. The journey from Nara is 138 km (around 1.5 – 2 hrs). Here you can walk along the coast to see the “meoto-iwa” (wedded rocks), visit the Ise Grand Shrine (the most sacred of all Shinto shrines) and even enjoy the feudal-themed Edo Wonderland park.
This route takes you through many of the finest sights in Kyoto Prefecture, along the coast in the north of the prefecture and out to Kinosaki in northern Hyogo. Starting in central Kyoto, drive along the National Route 162 through the mountains to Miyama, which takes around 90 minutes. This picturesque rural area in the mountains is worth exploring. It consists of several small villages populated with thatched farmhouses as well as the Kiyabuki no Sato folk museum. From here, it’s a short ride to the city of Maizuru (where you have the option of stopping off and climbing the Goro Sky Tower for some excellent views across the Japan Sea) and then onto the spectacular Amanohashidate. Translating as “bridge in heaven”, this pine-covered sandbar in Miyazu Bay is considered one of Japan’s three most scenic views.
If you have the time, it’s worth taking the 70 km drive around the Tango Peninsula before reaching the final destination of Kinosaki. This famous onsen (hot spring) town has a friendly atmosphere, and the locals offer free admission to the many hot spring bathhouses where you can unwind at the end of your drive. There are plenty of decent hotels and guesthouses here if you want to turn the excursion into a weekend or mini-break.
This 400-500 km round trip can be planned as a 2-3 day break with a couple of overnight stops at locations along the way. Traveling from Osaka, it begins with a relaxing drive along the Osaka Bay coastline into southern Wakayama Prefecture. You can stop off at Wakayama City for a fresh fish lunch and watch a tuna-cutting demonstration at the local market. Carry on along the coast for 1.5 – 2 hours and you’ll reach the resort town of Shirahama with its white sand beaches, onsen, rocky cliffs and plenty of accommodation options if you want to stop over. Carry on to the southern tip to reach the spectacle of Hashigui Iwa, an 850-meter rock formation out to Oshima Island.
Travel back up along the Pacific coast as far as Shingu and from here take the 168 Route to the Dorokyo Gorge. There’s a chance here to take an hour out to enjoy a sightseeing jet boat trip around one of Japan’s “special natural monuments of scenic beauty” before journeying approximately 1.5 hours to Mount Koya. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been a sacred Buddhist spot for over 1,200 years and is the resting place of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. There’s temple lodging if you want to make a final overnight stop before making the two-hour drive back to Osaka.
For information on buying or renting a car in Japan, as well as information on driving laws, see this article here.