Planning for your family’s next big adventure? Why not head over to the Land of the Rising Sun and embark on a scenic road trip? You’ll get to go at your own pace and enjoy the views of majestic Sequoia trees, iconic Mount Fuji, and even the stunning coast of Japan!
If you’re looking to get out and immerse yourself in nature and enjoy a cool sea breeze against your skin, we’ve prepped a guide map and a list of useful tips for your scenic Japanese road trip. Our destinations will take you from Tokyo Bay Aqua Line, all the way to Kusatsu Hot Springs, Fukiware Falls, Nikko Toshu-gu and Nikko National Park, with plenty to do and see in between each stop.
Tokyo Bay Aqua Line
The Aqua Line, a 4-lane highway connecting Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture with Kisarazu City in Chiba Prefecture, is a rite of passage for many road trippers in Japan.
Things to do: Head to the Umihotaru rest house to soak in the sights, rather than just driving past.
Check out the Sea Firefly Happiness Bell at the rest house and discover new things at the Umimegane-Aqua Line Theater.
After soaking in the sights around Tokyo Bay Aqua Line, take a three-hour drive to the Izu Skyline.
This 40.6 km long toll road in Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture boasts stunning skyline views of its surrounding areas. Running from South to North of the region, a drive through Izu Skyline will delight you with spellbinding views of iconic Mount Fuji and other peaks, as well as Sagami Bay coastline.
We highly recommend timing your trip to coincide with sunset so you can soak in the incredible atmosphere as the sun disappears and dusk settles in. To avoid driving through the night, you can check in at various hotels near the Izu Skyline. One of the best rated hotels nearby is Ito Hotel New Okabe, a family-friendly hotel with onsen baths and traditional tatami mats.
After a night of rest and rejuvenation, embark on a three-and-a-half hour drive to Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city.
Located on the Nobi plain, one of Japan’s three largest plains, Nagoya boasts a rich history. It is one of Japan’s biggest cities of industry and commerce and is home to the Toyota company.
Things to do:
- Visit the SCMaglev and Railway park. Opened in 2011, this museum introduces the history and future of Japanese trains, with a special emphasis on the bullet train, the Shinkasen. Visitors to this unique museum can explore many former train carriages on display, from old steam engines to modern day bullet trains.
- Learn about one of Japan’s most well-known brands, Toyota. Near Nagoya Station, the Toyota Techno Museum takes visitors through Toyota’s storied history and features automotive technologies used in the car production process.
- Wander through the expansive grounds of Nagoya Castle. While it is a reconstruction of the original castle, Nagoya Palace is a painstaking recreation of the original building so visitors get an authentic experience and glimpse into Nagoya’s rich history as one of Japan’s wealthiest castle towns.
If you’re exhausted after a day of sight-seeing, why not check into a hotel and get a good night’s rest? As a big city, Nagoya has plenty of accommodation options on offer, from traditional Ryokans like Kyoya Ryokan to luxurious digs like Nagoya Marriott.
When you’re ready to get back on the road, take a one-and-a-half hour drive to Metasequoia Tree Road.
Metasequoia Tree Road, Shiga
Metasequoia Tree Road is a picturesque route in Shiga Prefecture. The 2.4km-long stretch of road is best known for its 500 Sequoia trees that line the street, with the average height of each tree standing at a whopping 35m. Driving along this shaded road makes for an unforgettable and peaceful experience. The towering trees stand on both sides of the street, creating a canopy that envelopes you as you drive along. Beautiful in every season, the Sequoia trees appear lush and vividly green during the Spring and Summer seasons, while the Autumn season turns the leaves a bright shade of gold and Winter brings out the beauty of a snowy landscape, with the tree branches capped by white snow set against a wintry backdrop.
Things to do: Head to Makino Plateau and Makino Kogen in Makino Town where, depending on the season, you can enjoy:
- Camping, skiing, golf, hot springs
- Yokitogi River flowing through the m Makino Plateau
- Trekking courses (Chuo Watershed Takashima Trail, Forest Therapy Certified Course etc.)
From Metasequoia Tree Road, gear up for a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Chirihama Nagisa Driveway, which will take you along the Japanese coast.
Chirihama Nagisa Driveway
A rare opportunity to drive along the coastline of Japan. Chirihama Nagisa Driveway is the only sandy beach in Japan you can drive on, whether in a car, bus, motorcycle or bicycle. An 8km-long stretch, it’s an amazing experience and is a great choice if you’re looking for a leisurely drive which will also allow you to appreciate the salty sea breeze of the ocean against your skin. While there, why not fully immerse yourself in your surroundings by having a picnic on the beach?
After a beautiful day on the beach, head over to Toyama City, the closest city which is just under an hour-and-a-half’s drive away.
The largest city and capital of Toyama Prefecture, Toyama City offers stunning views of the Northern Japan Alps. The name Toyama means “rich with mountains” and visitors are guaranteed to be blown away by the majestic peaks that envelope the city. Once a former castle town, the city is rich in cultural heritage and pays homage to its history with plenty of ancient festivals. Balancing the old and new, traditional wooden buildings stand in contrast to the ultra-modern skyscrapers that dot the city, affording tourists a unique experience.
Things to do in Toyama City:
- Museum aficionados will have a blast at the Mori Shusio Museum of Art, a private museum that boasts an impressive 40 samurai swords and pieces of body armour from the 9th to 14th centuries. Apart from weapons and battle gear, the museum also features Japanese and Chinese artwork. If you’re looking for something more contemporary, check out the Toyoma Glass Art Museum which displays glass art and even a ‘Glass Art Garden’ by Dale Chihuly, a leading contemporary glass artist.
- Indulge in sashimi and sushi! Being a coastal city, Toyoma has restaurants that serve up fresh seafood at reasonable prices. Get your seafood fix at one of the many restaurants in the city.
- Find a bit of serenity at Chokeiji Zen Temple, which is home to five hundred Buddhist stone statues arranged in ascending rows on a steep hillside. Truly a unique sight to behold!
Put your feet up after a day of sightseeing around the city at a modern hotel like Daiwa Roynet Hotel Toyama or a more traditional one like the Hotel Morinokaze Tateyama, which offers unparalleled mountain views.
After a day of feasting on fresh sashimi and taking in the sights of Toyama, hit the road and head to Kusatsu Hot Springs. The journey there by car should take just over three-and-a-half hours.
Kusatsu Hot Springs
Known for its high quality, free-flowing hot springs, Kusatsu boasts the largest natural flow of hot spring water in all of Japan, much of which is found at Yubatake in the town centre. Yubatake, which literally means ‘hot water field’ is the symbol of Kusatsu and of the resort’s main hot spring water sources. Many ryokans and shops surround Yubatake, which features a foot bath that can be enjoyed for free.
Things to do while at Kusatsu Hot Springs:
- Go hot spring hopping! Along with Yubatake, there are 5 other hot spring sources; Shirahata, Bandaiko, Sainokawara, Nigawa, and Jizo.
- Stay late to enjoy the nighttime festivities. One of the highlights of Kusatsu is the illumination of Yubatake and Sainokawara Park area after sundown, the latter of which offers a truly romantic ambience with open-air baths surrounded by the night lights.
- Take a well-deserved rest and soak your exhaustion away at one of the 6 accommodations in Kusatsu that offers hot spring water.
After some rest and relaxation, it’s onward to Fukiware Falls, a two-hour drive from Kusatsu.
At 7 metres high and 30 metres wide, Fukiware Falls merge to form a unique V shape. The falls, known as the Oriental Niagara Falls is surrounded by breathtaking scenery which changes with the seasons. Take in crisp, fresh air and enjoy nature while walking around the trail, with the suspension bridge providing the best views of the area. After viewing Fukiware Falls, take a leisurely stroll over the Ukijima Bridge to Ukijima Kannon-do Hall, a temple dedicated to the Goddess of mercy.
From Fukiware Falls, take a one-hour drive to Nikko National Park.
Nikko National Park
Home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes Toshogu Shrine, Nikko National Park is one of Japan’s first National Parks and has a wide range of activities for every season. If you’re looking to explore the Japanese wilderness, this is a must-do on your road trip around Japan.
Things to do at Nikko National Park:
- Visit a group of shrines and temples that have been collectively designated a UNESO World Heritage Site. These shrines include Nikko Toshogu Shrine which is famous for its wood carvings and gold-leaf that have been woven into the buildings’ architecture.
- Visit Lake Chuzenji, which has been a center of tourism and culture for centuries. The area boasts considerable foreign influence and visitors can enjoy a traditional English scone at the British Embassy Villa Memorial Park. If physical activities are more up your alley, boating and paddle boarding are available.
- Go on an easy hike. Take the Yahata Azalea and Nasu Nature Path. The boardwalk path is well-known for its abundance of Japanese rhododendron, a vibrant flower that burns bright red in the summer season. The boardwalk path also offers superb views of nearby mountains and access to local hot springs.
If you’d like to spend a bit of time exploring Nikko National Park, consider booking a hotel in the area. A great option is Nikko Station Hotel 2, which is a convenient 10-minute drive from Toshogu Shrine.
Tips for road-tripping in Japan
Before you start packing your bags, here are 4 important things to know about planning a road trip in Japan:
- Driving culture
As most of us know, the Japanese are known to be polite and courteous. This holds true even when they’re driving. You’ll likely not encounter any tail-gaiting and will rarely hear anyone sounding their horn. Road rage is probably unheard of here.
That said, the speed limit is often slow (60km/h) on main roads which may affect your journey. If you prefer to go on the fast lane, go on an expressway to avoid jams and faster speeds (80-100km/h). Do note that there are tolls on the expressway, make sure to bring along a credit card and always have some cash on hand.
- Time to get your ride
Choose a reputable car hire which offers insurance and vehicles which are in good condition. You don’t want your car to breakdown midtrip, right? Get as much information from the car hire company before you leave. Useful information you’ll definitely want to know is what kind of petrol is required to fuel up your rented car.
Check your vehicle thoroughly and document any damages before signing anything. If you’re travelling with children, be sure to choose a child-friendly vehicle which provides booster seats.
- Enjoy a worry-free trip with Sompo Go Japan! insurance
Car rentals usually provide some form of personal insurance, but it’s often not as comprehensive as compared to purchasing it separately. When it comes to protecting you and your family, you’ll want only the best. With Go JAPAN!, your family can have peace of mind even before your adventure begins. The best part? Go JAPAN!’s Family Plan starts from only $135!