Ultimate road trips: Kyoto to Tokyo in a Nissan GT-R

Rory FH Smith

30 Sep 2021

Join Rory FH Smith on the ultimate road trip across Japan as he maps out the best driving roads, stops and sights between Kyoto and Tokyo behind the wheel of a Nissan GT-R.

THE CAR: Nissan GT-R (from £83,865) 

Nicknamed 'Godzilla' in its home country of Japan, the Nissan GT-R is still nothing short of a supercar killer, despite arriving on the scene over 14 years ago. 

After the covers came off the current model back in 2007, not much has changed. Aside from the odd facelift and interior tweak, the car remains true to the original design, which has aged well over the years.  

Image: Rory FH Smith

Gaining its nickname for its sheer power and prowess, the Nissan GT-R is more like a mythical beast in Japan. Passers-by wave to signal approval while some utter the legendary three letters under their breath as they glance over its sharp edges and angular, comic book styling. 

Capable of touching 60 mph in less than three seconds, the GT-R's penchant for speed is staggering. Powering the car is a 3.8-litre V-6 up front that makes a mighty 565 horsepower, while trick suspension and a hefty dose of computing power mean the GT-R is impossibly nimble, making it the perfect partner for a blast across the Japanese Alps from Kyoto to the bright lights of the country's capital, Tokyo. 


At just over 460 miles, the drive from Kyoto to Tokyo via the Japanese Alps is certainly not the most direct route. For those in a hurry, take the Shinkansen (or Bullet Train), which does the same journey in just over two hours. 

While it might be a long way round, it's certainly worth the extra effort as the route takes in some of the best driving roads, sights and sounds in the world. Winding its way through the stunning mountain ranges of Japan's mainland, it's worth taking your time and exploring many of the lesser-travelled mountain passes.   

Setting off from the historic city of Kyoto, the route heads north, past Lake Biwa and up along the coast to the fortified city of Kanazawa. It's worth a stop here to see the 17th Century castle and garden that sits high above the town. 

From Kanazawa, the route branches east and upwards as you start to climb into the foothills of the Japanese Alps. The drive between Kanazawa and Gokayama is only a short one but is a gentle introduction to what lies in store further into the drive. 

Image: Rory FH Smith

Departing Gokayama, blast down the E41 until you take the 158 to Takayama. Once through the city, the route starts to twist and turn its way up to the spa town of Hirayu Onsen, nestled in the hills. Time permitting, it's worth exploring some of the smaller, less-travelled roads that creep their way around the mountains. Along the way, you'll be treated to stunning driving roads with even better views across the densely forested valleys and neighbouring hills. 

From Hirayu Onsen, the route continues east, through Nagano on route 19, 18 and 80 to the resort town of Karuizawa in the hills. The route pics up much of Japan's 'Romantic Road,' which takes in some of the best castle towns and beauty spots on the Honshu. 

Heading southeast from Karuizawa the road weaves its way down from the hills before taking the E17 motorway into the heart of Tokyo. Make the most of the views, twists and turns coming down from Karuizawa before the monotony of the one and half hour motorway blast to Tokyo. And don't forget to brace for traffic as you enter into one of the world's most congested cities.   



Image: Rory FH Smith

Best known for its Kenroku-en - a castle garden dating from the 17th century - the city has everything from beautifully preserved samurai and geisha districts, to temples, museums and a busy market with some of the freshest seafood and sushi. While a rival to Kyoto in terms of the cultural offering, Kanazawa has half the amount of tourists. 


Image: Rory FH Smith

This beautifully preserved thatched village is the largest collection of traditional farmhouses in the Gokayama region. With some of the buildings dating back over 400 years, the village was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. 

Hirayu Onsen

Image: Rory FH Smith

The spa (or Onsen as it's known in Japan) town of Hirayu Onsen is a hidden gem and the gateway to many of the highest peaks in the Japanese Alps that are often inaccessible by car. The town is popular with hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter. 


Image: Rory FH Smith

A popular country escape destination for people from Tokyo, Karuizawa is a resort town in the mountains near Nagano. Known for mild summers and outdoor activities a select few Tokyo residents have second homes in the town. The surrounding forests offer cycling and walking paths, while skiing and hot springs are popular in the winter. 


Image: Rory FH Smith

Here's one city that needs no introduction. A heady mix between Blade Runner and The Last Samurai, Tokyo has something for everyone. Compared to the blissful backcountry experienced earlier in the journey, the sleepless streets of Tokyo are a stark but wonderful contrast. 

Rory FH Smith

30 Sep 2021