Planning to attend the Aomori Summer festivals on a month long road trip but concerned about summer heat when sleeping in our vehicle. We take the highways to minimize the nights in hot southern prefectures. Also choose the route and overnight stops to keep to the higher elevations.
Fukuoka – Yoshiwa SA (Chugoku highway)
Kyushu highway – Chugoku highway 256.7km
As a typhoon is sweeping down the length of Japan, unusually from Kanto to Kyushu, we delay our departure for Aomori by one day. Finally we leave around 8pm, when the remnants of the typhoon are around Yame. There is still rain about and it is blustery, at times, but no real problem, though there has been some serious damage in Kanto and Kansai regions.
The highway is empty on a typhoon Sunday night and we reach Yoshiwa S.A. around midnight. In the vast S.A. car park, we find one truck and one car but they both leave before we finish our nightcap and turn in. The S.A. is small but pleasant. The clean, modern toilet has a flower arrangement, always a good sign.
The S.A. is at a high elevation which is very important when sleeping in a van in summer. D. has planned the route carefully with this in mind. After the typhoon, it is unexpectedly cool and we need our blankets.
Yoshiwa SA ; elevation 650m
Yoshiwa SA – Michi no Eki ‘Osakada Koen’ （Nagano Pre.)
We are up by 7am as the sun is blazing down on the expanse of car park. It is a breezy morning and the S.A. is surrounded by greenery and there is a picnic table under the trees.
On our way by 8 am. The traffic on the Chugoku Expressway is heavier than usual though, by Japanese highway standards, it is extremely sparse. Perhaps, flooding damage in the Hiroshima region has pushed more traffic up on to this route.
It is a hot day with the temperature rising to 33 degrees C. Until lunchtime, D. drives then I take over. We follow the Chugoku highway then take the Meishin and Toumei before getting on the Chuo highway.
We stop for the night at Osakada Koen Michi no Eki (Road Station). Near Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture. This is a large place with various car parks but it’s hard to find if you are travelling north on R 20. When you pull off the main road you have to double back under the road bridge. The toilets are old but adequate.
Osakada Koen michi-no-eki; elevation 790m
Osakada Koen – Aizu Wakamatsu (Fukushima Pre.)
R.142(to Karuizawa) – R.18(Maebashi) – R.50 (Midori city)- R.122(Nikko)
– R.121- R.118 (Aizu Wakamatsu) about 380km
After Osakada Koen we abandon the highway and follow regular roads. This is a long, slow drive through small towns, big towns and mountains. The road from Karuizawa, through a narrow,wooded gorge was interesting with its 184 curves. This is the old Usui Toge(pass) or the old R. 18. At one time a major route and the old, abandoned railway with its famous brick viaduct was one of the first lines to be electrified. Once you have rounded all the curves and are back on the straight and wide, the views of Mt. Myogi are wonderful, as always.
Following the Watarase Gorge to Nikko and R.121 to Aizu Wakamatsu we arrive at a large onsen for a much needed bath. The early evening temperature is still 33 degrees C., so the bath is too hot to linger in. Clean, if not refreshed, we get onto the Banetsu highway to spend the night at Bandai-san S.A.. This is a good, clean, modern facility and, being high, there is a cool breeze. Again, surprisingly we need blankets.
Bandai-san SA; elevation 568m
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.