A Car Nerd's Guide To JapanAn insider look at car culture in Japan.  

Throughout this series I’ve explored roads mainly in the north and south of Tokyo. For obvious reasons exploring the east isn’t ideal as it’s mainly sea but I’ve largely ignored the west of Tokyo. I took the McLaren 570S Spider towards Hachioji and Lake Miyagase in the west earlier this year. While I was there I noticed another squiggly section of road I quickly saved for another time.

Fast forward to early November and the trees were leaving their summery greens behind for a more orange autumn look. Japan in the autumn is truly special so I took advantage of this season and headed out towards Hinohara, a village just before the western edge of Tokyo.

The whole point of this driving road series was to explore the other lesser known roads close to Tokyo if the infamous Hakone Turnpike is too busy or cliché for your liking. Little did I know there was a fun mountain road within Tokyo. Amazingly, Hinohara is still considered to be inside what is officially ‘Tokyo Prefecture.’ It was almost too good to be true.

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For this road I got the help of a 2017 Nissan Fairlady Z (370Z to everyone else) NISMO. I picked up the car from Nissan’s Global Headquarters in Yokohama City and headed straight towards Hinohara. It was only about a 90 minute drive from Yokohama to the most western point of Tokyo. Driving there was surprisingly smooth, though going on a Friday afternoon helped.

It’s crazy to think this road is only an hour and a half away from Yokohama and Tokyo. From the scenery you’d think this would be in another country, or a couple hours away from Tokyo at the very least. Technically, the Hinohara Highway starts from the Hinohara Village as Route 33 but the interesting bits only start when it becomes Route 206.

From here it’s a 28 kilometre (17 mile) sprint up and over a mountain road before finishing up at Lake Okutama. It’s the bits in between I was more interested in. There’s no wasting time, as soon as your turn onto 206 it becomes a proper driving road.

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Drivers in this part of Tokyo are more courteous than the ones in the city proper and actually pull over to let fast traffic through.

I’ve been wanting to try out a NISMO 370Z for a while now. Having only driven a ‘normal’ auto version of Nissan’s living-fossil sports car in the past, I was curious to see what the supposedly racier version would be like to drive.

There’s no escaping the fact the 370Z is a product from a decade ago. The interior and the driving experience are very much old school. Though, I have to admit the design has aged well, particularly with its facelift in 2015. Looks are subjective, but I do think the NISMO Z is a handsome looking thing, with the right amount of aggressive details to complement the classic Z proportions.

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Under the long bonnet is a near prehistoric engine: Nissan’s tried-and-tested 3.7-liter V6. No hybrid assist or turbos here, just good old fashioned natural-aspirated power. It’s rated at 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque, going to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual with Nissan’s SynchroRev Match that blips the throttle on downshifts. There is a 7-speed automatic available, but why would you?

Hinohara turned out to be an ideal road for the Z: twisty, but never too tight or challenging. It’s not a technical road that requires a lot of effort to drive on, unlike, for example, the Akagi touge you know as the Initial D road. Even then, man, it’s hard work. The NISMO Z is an engaging thing, and you do feel like you’re in control, but the car feels straight-up agricultural compared to more modern alternatives.

It oozes charm, though. The hydraulic steering (the Z was designed before everyone fell for no-feel electric assist), the meaty gear change, and the heavy clutch put this in a niche of its own amongst a sea of digital sports cars. It’s not the most precise way of eating up a mountain road, but it’s fun.

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It’s good that Hinohara isn’t too far away from the middle of Japan’s biggest city, because on a long motorway drive in the Z, road noise gets a bit intrusive.

As you leave civilisation behind at the bottom of the road and venture up the mountain pass, the scenery gets better and better. Point the nose forwards and the trees clear up to show blue sky and mountains of red, orange, and yellow leaves. Autumn seems to be the time to come.

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Luckily there’s plenty of viewing points scattered along the road for you to pull into and admire the scenery. These are also useful for turning around and enjoying the road in the other direction. You know it’s a good road when there are plenty of cyclists and motorcycles on the road as well.

Speaking of, while I was getting photos at one of the parking areas on Hinohara a motorcyclist who was also in the parking area came to check out the Z. After a couple of exchanges he grabbed a photo with it next to his bike. Great road to spend an afternoon or morning on. Close proximity to Tokyo means tolls don’t cost you that much, either. It’s a good way to experience a proper Japanese touge without the hassle of going too far away from the city.

You won’t be the only one there too, the bikes and cars that go on this road clearly come here for some fun. There were a few groups of friends driving together and enjoying the touge in appropriate JDM cars such an older 350Z, GT-R, and S2000. I can only imagine it would be a different scene at night.

I’ll say that it’s a good day trip for getting out of the packed megalopolis, millions of people, things, shops stacked on top of each other. Get to the end of this road and there’s not much else around to even see, other than a big dam by the lake.

At the very least this road is worth visiting just to see how different Tokyo and Japan can be from what you’d normally think of.

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