Finally it’s here! I’ve been dreaming about coming to skate in the land of endless mountains and general weirdness for years and now it’s on! I was racing and vacationing in the Philippines for 2 1/2 weeks before Japan so needless to say, there’s some culture shock going on. The Philippines was all about scuba diving, adventuring, and good time with friends but now it’s time to hammer down and focus on “work.” Yes, even though travel videos look like all fun and games, they’re a lot of work! Noriyuki Tamura, Clayton Arthurs, and myself (Danny Carlson) are sharing the filming and photo duties so everyone gets to enjoy the trip and still skate lots.
We’ve amassed a large-and-in-charge list of mountain roads scoped out on google earth, a rental car, and 2 weeks free of outside obligations. The perfect recipe for hunting gnarly Japanese skylines.
After a sleepless night of layovers, I landed in Tokyo and Nori picked me up in our rental/ follow run car (don’t tell the rental company ;)) to check out Tokyo’s downtown core. Immediately we find "Takeshita" street which is famous for Harajuku fashion. Nori had never made the English connection before and laughed hard! I was fully expecting some weird, crazy, and overcrowded stuff… Shibuya didn’t disappoint. One of the weirder places was a “Pachinko” place. Pachinko is a gambling game where you buy a bunch of 1/2’ x 1/2” metal balls, then blast them into a machine where they plunk around a bunch of crazy obstacles where the goal is to try to get even more balls, and trade them in for money. The place was super noisy and packed! After that was a 4 story arcade full of machines with everything from a giant horse racing track with live figurines to a dozen different Guitar Hero knock offs with buttons for every body part. My personal favourite was the giant mech warrior pods shown below.
All the walking around was making us hungry so we found ourselves a conveyer belt sushi restaurant where you can instantly satisfy your cravings. The sushi is on coloured plates and each colour costs a different amount. The waitress added up our stack of plates and it was surprisingly cheap for how good the quality was. About $12 Canadian to be stuffed with fancy sashimi and eel nigiri. They even had green tea taps at every seat so you literally didn’t need any service throughout your meal, just grab what you want from your seat! I’d have less money if they had these back in Vancouver. After a long walk downtown, we headed to Nori’s Tokyo apartment to crash for the night.
The next morning we woke early for the 4 hour drive North to one of the biggest monster mountain passes on the trip “Echo Line” near Yamagata. It’s on a volcano called “Zao san” and descends over 50 hairpins! We arrived after dark and found that the top few km was closed off for winter season. Some would say it’s a bummer, but the BIG plus side was there was virtually no traffic coming up the pass!
The first run down the lower 48 hairpins had literally no cars the entire time.
Most of the corners were barely grip-able, on the edge of traction, but there were a few that needed a small speed check or some air braking. We got a follow car run and a few fun runs before our legs needed a break. Twelve minute runs + 48 hairpins = torched legs.
There were skid marks all over one section of the road and we noticed lines turning onto another road and we thought “if the drifters like it, we probably will too!” I’m glad we checked it out because not only was it a cool run, half way down there was a tunnel with 2 hairpins inside! I’ve skated tunnels in Europe, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I assume the tunnel is to protect from avalanche or high snow pack? Who knows, all I know is it was rad.
We have an offline map called “maps.me” with a bunch of sick looking spots that were pre scouted on google earth, so we drove to the next closest squiggle. Just before sundown we got a few good runs in on the mellow, narrow mountain pass with roughly 20 hairpins. Pretty cool how I can casually say “mellow 20 hairpins” but really, Japan is so full of amazing long roads that this spot was just a chill spot. It was a long day so we decided an “onsen” was just the thing to finish it off. The volcanically heated water of the onsen smells like sulphur, but seems to have extra relaxing properties and is crazy hot, around 40-45 degrees celsius. Wearing swim shorts isn't allowed so going naked is the norm here. Clayton, being the young guy in the crew was a biiiiit uncomfortable with this, haha. Most onsens have really nice sit down shower stations with shampoo and soap so that fully makes up for the mandatory nakedness. Afterwards, we found shelter from the rain for the night underneath a huge hwy overpass 80 ft off the ground.
In the next blog post we hike up and camp out on "Japanese Giants Head" for some closed road bliss, and receive some surprise hospitality from a troop of firefighters in a tiny village!
Thanks for reading,