Destination Oscars: A Drive My Car-inspired Road Trip

Drive My Car's Yusuke and Misaki

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar® and BAFTA-winning film, Drive My Car is difficult to miss. This gripping story adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami takes us on the road travelling through both Japan and the characters’ emotional landscapes. To celebrate this breath-taking production getting some well-deserved attention, we have organised a live screening, a virtual screening and the creation of this beautiful illustrated road trip map, courtesy of Little White Lies magazine. Travelling Japan by rental car is a lot cheaper and easier than you'd think so we’re bringing all of our fellow Japan-fans a little cinematic inspiration for when it comes to planning your future Japan trip.

Buckle up and let’s go on a quick spin through some stunning locations based on the route taken by Drive My Car's iconic red SAAB.

Map of the Drive My Car journey created by Rumbidzai Savanhu 

1. Hiroshima

Our first stop is where the action of the movie begins, Hiroshima. It’s Peace Memorial Park with its informative museum and green spaces is a must-see location but there is a lot more waiting for you there. Hiroshima is also home to a castle with breezy views of the city, and the traditional Shukkeien Garden which is especially breath-taking during the spring blossom season and in autumn. A short train and ferry ride outside of the city, will lead you to the stunning Miyajima Island with the famous red torii gate submerged in water. The gate itself is currently closed for renovations until further notice but the official predictions are that it will finally be unveiled within the next year or two.

Shukkeien Garden in Hiroshima

2. Onomichi

Next, we’re heading to paradise for all fans of more traditional Japan, with a quirky industrial edge. Onomichi’s countless temples are located on the mountainside overlooking the glimmering Seto Inland Sea and its charming little islands. The best way to explore them is to hop on a bike and test yourself on the Shimanami Kaido cycling route which spans across 70 km and will take you to Imabari on Shikoku island.

Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route

2. Kurashiki

Taking a break in the Venice of west Japan, Kurashiki, will leave you speechless while cruising on its quaint canals in a traditional boat. It’s known as Japan’s denim capital so after strolling through the Bikan Historical Quarter, make your way to the Kojima Jeans Street filled with small highly specialised shops to try their unique jeans, and a slew of other hand-made crafts.

Canals in Kurashiki

3. Himeji Castle

Pulling out the big guns, it’s Japan’s best preserved castle - Himeji! Known as the White Heron Castle, it dates back 600 years but the current castle was built here in 1609. The dazzling white facade was created by a mixture of locally sourced crushed shells, seaweed, and limestone.

© Himeji City

5. Osaka

Delicious food, samurai history, and nightlife are all things you can find in the bustling Osaka. Make sure to look up for the food signs in the central Dotonbori area: a huge crab figure, a portion of massive gyoza dumplings, and so many more. With a reputation for letting its hair down, head to the Ura-Namba, Shinsekai or Doyama districts to rub shoulders with locals over a couple of beverages.

Dotonbori area in central Osaka © Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau

6. Eiheiji Temple 

Something for the soul, Eiheiji Temple is an impressive temple complex consisting of 70 buildings nestled inside a cedar forest. It’s one of the two head temples of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. Visitors can experience meditation and other parts of a monk's life during special retreats at the new Hakujukan facility - just make sure to book in advance and be prepared for getting up at 3:30 am!

7. Tojinbo 

The crashing waves of the Sea of Japan have created the magnificent rugged cliffs in Tojinbo which is one of two places in the world where you can see giant columns created by unsettled waters. A sight sure to make you stop in your tracks, in the face of the majesty of nature (and the delicious crab-based cuisine on offer here!).

Rock formations in Tojinbo

8. Yamanaka Onsen 

Desperately needing a warm soak, we head to the hot spring town of Yamanaka. Located in the mountains, it’s the perfect starting point for exploring the local Kakusenkei Gorge and forest trails. This hot spring town has been impressing visitors as far back as the 17th century when it was featured in a poem by the famous Japanese poet Matsuo Basho.

9. Kanazawa 

‘Opulent’ doesn’t come close to describing how you feel discovering the little luxuries of Kanazawa. It’s Japan’s largest gold-leaf supplier making up 99% of the country’s gold-leaf! With a rich samurai history, it’s also home to one of Japan’s three most famous gardens, Kenrokuen. Photographer and adventurer Ben Richards recently visited Kanazawa and wrote an in-depth guide for us which you can find here

Gold-leaf ice cream in Kanazawa

10. Yahiko Shrine 

Crossing the 30 metre tall vermillion torii gate in front of Yahiko Shrine makes you feel like you’ve entered another realm. This shrine is famous for housing the Shida-no-Otachi which is the longest sword in Japan, and a nationally-designated Important Cultural Property. If you’re a fan of hiking, you can head up Mt. Yahiko, which is located just behind the shrine for panoramic views of the area, including the stretch of sea separating the mainland from the former island of exile, Sado island.

11. Dewa Sanzan Hike 

Feeling the pull of Japan’s wilderness and spiritual past, we head north to the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa. That’s where the Yamabushi mountain monks have been training for centuries and nowadays you can join in on the fun! You can hike all three of the mountains but for beginners, we recommend Mt. Haguro. Unlike the other two, it’s open all year round and reaching the top you’ll be rewarded with sights of the pagoda up close. This area was featured in Departures, another classic Japanese movie which just like Drive My Car, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008.

Yamabushi standing in front of the pagoda on Mt. Haguro

12. Oga Hot Spring

Beware the Namahage monsters! Every February Oga Hot Spring hosts the Namahage Sedo Festival during which Namahage demons visit houses in search of lazy and naughty children! During other times of the year you can have the full Namahage experience in the local museum, and unwind in the relaxing waters of Oga’s natural hot springs.

Namahage monster during the festival

13. Lake Towada 

Spending time surrounded by nature is the best way to hit reset. One of our favourite places for a forested escape is Lake Towada and the neighbouring Oirase Gorge. They offer lush nature and a wide variety of activities such as 'shinrinyoku' forest bathing, canoeing and hiking. If you visit the area in winter, you can even catch a glimpse of the famous ice formations called ‘Snow Monsters’ on Mt. Hakkoda.

Oirase Stream flowing into Lake Towada

14. Aomori Nebuta Festival Hall 

There's never enough time to take in all the festivals, and the northern parts of Japan host some of the most unique ones out there. Nebuta Matsuri is a vibrant summer festival during which enormous illuminated floats of glowing figures parade through the streets of Aomori. Don’t worry if you can’t come in the summer, you can explore the the various floats all-year-round in the Aomori Nebuta Festival Hall! Find out what happened when Olympic Gold Winner Tom Daley visited in 2019

Inside the Aomori Nebuta Festival Hall

15. Hakodate Fort 

Does the shape remind you of something? The Hakodate Fort is better known as the ‘Star Fort’ and it was Japan’s first western-style fortification created in 1855 to protect Hokkaido. It’s a unique opportunity for history lovers to find out more about the final battle between the Tokugawa Shogunate and pro-Imperial troops during the Boshin war in 1869 which marks the start of the Meiji Era. Hop on the quaint wooden tram south into Hakodate proper for sea views, early morning squid markets and a slice of its unique 'kominka' café culture.

© Hakodate International Tourism and Convention Association

16. Noboribetsu Hot Spring 

Spa break in hell is the essence of what a stay at Noboribetsu in Hokkaido would look like. It’s Hokkaido’s famous hot spring town located in an impressive volcanic area known as the ‘Hell Valley’. Waters gush to the surface, steaming and bubbling, to create a unique atmosphere - which would explain the presence of the demon statues you’ll bump into hidden amongst the traditional ryokann inns…

17. Sapporo 

The final stop of our impressive road trip is Sapporo which is the host city of the renowned Snow Festival, and a great stepping stone on to Hokkaido’s incredible ski resorts. The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is a celebration of intricate snow sculptures which attract artists and visitors from the whole world every February, but stick around for world-class ramen, characterful nightlife and mind-bending outdoor art installations.

Sapporo during the Snow Festival

And just like that, we reach the end of our tour inspired by the film Drive My Car; you can unbuckle your seatbelt. We have travelled over 750 miles and visited many fascinating locations on the way but we hope you enjoyed the scenic route and look forward to seeing you again soon!

 

Check out some rental car tips and how to do Hokkaido by car here, or click here for a full guide on the ins and outs of getting about by car in Japan.

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