Consisting of nearly 7,000 islands that cover several biomes, Japan is one of the most geographically diverse countries on Earth. This makes Japan an ideal destination for tourists wishing to explore the scenic routes of a safe and cultured country. There are so many attractions to visit inside and outside the cities that a road trip may be the best way to see the true Japan. Many amazing routes are available to choose from, three of which are detailed in this list. Each offers its own unique slice of Japan, but together they form a fairly complete picture.

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Romantic Road

As the name suggests, Romantic Road provides enough attractions to make its passage a quality date unto itself. The name is actually borrowed from a German route that has its own wealth of date-appropriate attractions. Japan’s Romantic Road runs from Ueda City to Utsunomiya City over three prefectures. Along the 350 km trip, travelers can stop at Kusatsu Onsen, Japan’s famous hot springs resort; Fukiware-no-taki Falls, a breathtaking waterfall on the Katashina River; Kaikoen Park, which contains the ruins of the feudal castle of Komoro City; Karuizawa, a resort town and shopping hub at the base of Mount Asama near Nagano; and Nikko, a world heritage site replete wish shrines and hot springs.       

The recommended duration of the trip is two to five days. This timeframe ensures that not only is Romantic Road fully travelled, but that the above destinations are fully explored. Public transportation is not available on most of Romantic Road, which is another reason why it is popular for road trippers. A personal or rental car is necessary. However, travelers must be cautious about embarking on the trip during winter; part of the route east of Nikko, in Tochigi Prefecture, closes during this season.    

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Although it’s the shortest route on this list, Tateyama Kurobe, in Toyama Prefecture, is arguably the most remarkable. Thirty-seven kilometers is all it takes for travelers to experience an iconic mountain range, incredible hiking trails, cable cars that take passengers in and around the mountains, restaurants, shops, and enough scenic views to satisfy the most jaded explorer. But the route’s standout attraction is the Snow Corridor, a 20-meter wall of snow that forms in the spring and encloses the road between Bijodaira and Murdo. From mid-April to mid-June, a one-kilometer stretch of the corridor is open to pedestrians. In-between riding the high-elevation cable cars or walking the snow corridor, road trippers can stay at the campgrounds, cabins, and hotels that line the route. Among them is Japan’s highest-altitude hotel. 

Tateyama Kurobe does have a catch: a large portion of the route is inaccessible by car. Since Tateyama Kurobe is part of a national park whose goal is to preserve natural land, private cars are prohibited in the area. Travelers must park their cars at Tateyama Station and are able to pick them up at Ogizawa thanks to the park’s vehicle delivery service. However, since the route sits 2,500 meters above sea level and is often assailed by extreme weather, travelers should bring reliable, mountain-appropriate vehicles. It’s smart to research consumer reports and ratings before choosing the right vehicle for your Tateyama Kurobe road trip.   

Shodo Island 

For those of you looking for a warmer and greener route for your road trip, Shodo Island is the place to go. This island, located in southern Japan in the Inland Sea, is sandy and lush with Mediterranean weather and a highway that runs along most of the island’s 126 km of coastline. It is on this route that road trippers can see the beautiful scenery and stop at some of the numerous attractions, which include Shodoshima Olive Park (Shodo Island is one of only two places in Japan capable of growing olives), a sand road that, according to legend, grants the wishes of whoever walks it with their loved one, and beaches with white sand and incredible views of the Sea of Japan. Road trippers can stay on the coastal route or else venture inland and take Shodoshima Skyline Road which starts near Choshikei Monkey Park and runs 10 kilometers through the mountains before ending at Kankakei Gorge. 

Since Shodo Island is not landlocked, visitors must ferry to the island from one of five ports: Takamatsu, Shin Okayama, Hinase, Uno, and Himeji. Depending on the ferry, passengers can take their vehicles to Shodo Island. If this isn’t an option, would-be road trippers can patronize one of the island’s rental car companies. 

While Japan may not be many people’s first choice as a road trip destination, the country has plenty of attractions that are best explored via car rather than plane, train, or bus. Romantic Road, Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, and Shodo Island are three such destinations. Thanks to Japan’s wonderful diversity, each has something awesome for every road tripper.

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Lucy Durrant

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There are so many attractions to visit inside and outside the cities that a road trip may be the best way to see the true Japan. Many amazing routes are available to choose from, three of which are detailed in this list. Each offers its own unique slice of Japan, but together they form a fairly complete picture.

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