World-class Road Trip Between Tokyo & Osaka

After Hokuriku shinkansen, Nagoya or Chubu Centrair International Airport

Featured    - 12 min read

Add a Japanese road trip to your bucket list: freely explore the real Japan, distance yourself from big cities and find secret treasures along the way! The coastal Hokuriku region (between Tokyo and Osaka) welcome you with hundreds of kilometers of landscapes and unique, exciting destinations.

Fukui Road Trip

The world has eyes on Fukui as a humanistic and scientific prefecture that will keep its place in history. Travel by car and discover the Japanese countryside, the Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum, Varve Museum, and Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum without bothering with travel from distant stations.

Dinosaurs everywhere on Fukui roads...
Dinosaurs everywhere on Fukui roads...

Tsuruga Port helped rescue 763 Polish orphans from a Russian civil war (1920s) and ±6,000 Jews from Nazi/Soviet persecution (World War Two). Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum highlights the role of Chiune Sugihara, a Gifu-born consular agent who issued thousands of "Visas for Life" in Lithuania. Expect to be moved by the displays, audio guides, and videos.

Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum
Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum

World's longest (45m), the varves of Lake Suigetsu serve as a world reference to date objects from the past 70,000 years. Their miraculous existence owes to the absence of direct water flow, life at the bottom, and filling over millennia. The nearby Fukui Prefectural Varve Museum displays these layers of sediment and others from overseas.

World's longest varves - Fukui Prefectural Varve Museum
World's longest varves - Fukui Prefectural Varve Museum

Dinosaur Valley Fukui Katsuyama Geopark is Japan's foremost site for the excavation of dinosaur fossils. Drive to Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum to see fossils of regional dinosaurs (e.g. Fukuiraptor, Fukuisaurus, Fukuititan), technicians cleaning fossils, gems, and AR & robot dinosaurs. Reputedly in the world's top 3, this dinosaur museum thrills adults and children alike!

Main room of the exhibition - Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
Main room of the exhibition - Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
Precious stones - Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
Precious stones - Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Fukui Prefecture also features the breathtaking Tojinbo Cliffs, Zen temple stays at Eiheiji temple, splendid moss at Hakusan-Heisenji Shrine, and a samurai house in Yokokan Garden.

Ishikawa Road Trip

Ishikawa's designs are inspiring; its capital Kanazawa may begin/end your itinerary (Hokuriku Shinkansen from/to Tokyo). Driving reveals the woody coast and gives access to diverse artists/artisans of the prefecture.

Driving in Noto Peninsula
Driving in Noto Peninsula

The top spot of Kanazawa, Kenroku-en Garden successfully allies opposites: spaciousness & seclusion, artifice & antiquity, water-courses & panoramas. Nearby, Myoryu-ji (the ninja temple) has secret doors, and Nomura-ke Samurai Residence has an unusual tearoom overlooking its garden and an exhibit featuring golden boxes.

Drinking matcha - Nomura-ke Samurai Residence
Drinking matcha - Nomura-ke Samurai Residence
Nested gold lacquered boxes - Nomura-ke Samurai Residence
Nested gold lacquered boxes - Nomura-ke Samurai Residence

Many gold-plating activities are available in Kanazawa; I enjoyed one at Katani. In the Noto Peninsula, you may learn from Japanese masters: wood & lacquer at Wajima Kirimoto (creator for international hotels) and expressive calligraphy at Atelier Tokarin (with natural brushes and German assistants), etc.

Wood & lacquer master - Wajima Kirimoto
Wood & lacquer master - Wajima Kirimoto
Wokshop - Wajima Kirimoto
Wokshop - Wajima Kirimoto

The 1,300-year-old Natadera Temple fuses tradition and modernity. An 8m-tall golden statue of 1,000-armed Kannon is surrounded by artistic walls, including Kutani local porcelain, and bathed in ever-changing colors representing beneficence over the whole universe. The buildings, gardens, green tunnel, sounds of water, birdsong, and more may keep you busy for hours. The priests hope all visitors, Buddhists or not, will leave healed.

Compassion and 1,000 arms to help in 1,000 ways - Natadera
Compassion and 1,000 arms to help in 1,000 ways - Natadera
Many paths in nature  - Natadera
Many paths in nature - Natadera

In Ishikawa Prefecture, you can also drive over 8km on the sands of Chirihama Beach (unique in Japan), photograph Godzilla Rock, and admire Ganmon Sea Cave.

Toyama Road Trip

Be seduced by rare sea-and-mountain sights in Toyama, and experience self-reflection in its secluded communities. Roads are your only way to explore Toyama Bay, Gokayama villages, and Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji.

Uchikawa old fisherman district
Uchikawa old fisherman district

Toyama Bay is recognized as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. On a clear day, you can walk from the park at Amaharashi Roadside Station, feel the waves on the beach, and look toward the tiny island 50m off the coast. Admire the 3,000-meter-high snowy Tateyama mountain range beyond! Hikers may want to see the opposite view from Mount Tate (Tateyama), one of Japan's Three Holy Mountains (with Mounts Fuji & Haku).

Walking on the beach - Amaharashi roadside station
Walking on the beach - Amaharashi roadside station

Japan may have modernized but the secluded Gokayama region remained traditional. Stretch your legs at Suganuma or Ainokura, hamlets registered as UNESCO World Heritages for their houses with steep roofs designed against heavy snowfalls, some built over 300 years ago.

Different in every season - Suganuma
Different in every season - Suganuma

Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji is a regenerative experience. The sights, sounds, and smells of the forest and falls will welcome you during spiritual activities: draw a Wisdom King while making a wish in the temple, pray to the 88 Buddha & Bodhisattva during a forest walk in pilgrim outfit, and meditate under a waterfall! Savor a plant-based meal and sleep on tatami mats at the nearby inn Dangoya (free parking). Lucky "pilgrims" like me may see a wild antelope!

A great first experience - Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji
A great first experience - Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji
Wild antelope used to pilgrims - Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji
Wild antelope used to pilgrims - Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji

Toyama Prefecture also features Japan's tallest dam (Kurobe - 186m high), Uchikawa (old fisherman district), and the "world's most beautiful Starbucks" in Kansui Park.

Gifu Road Trip

The ancient lifestyles and stories still alive in Gifu Prefecture are mind-opening. Driving allows you to help forge a Japanese sword in Seki City and admire Shirakawa-go before the arrival of tourist buses.

Another lifestyle in Gifu prefecture...
Another lifestyle in Gifu prefecture...

Unique in Japan, Hamonoya Sansyu shop lets you hammer metal during an early sword-making stage with 25-26th generation swordsmiths! Fans of samurai/ninja, swords and crafts, will remember this experience all their life and will cherish the certificate received afterward.

Forging a Japanese sword - Hamonoya Sansyu
Forging a Japanese sword - Hamonoya Sansyu

Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage for its gassho-zukuri houses like Gokayama, Shirakawa-go is a famous village at the foot of Mount Haku. Drive to arrive after the departure of tourist buses, sleep in a historic house, and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere under the stars!

Shirakawa-go from a hill
Shirakawa-go from a hill

In Takayama, experience Japanese folklore at the Dekonaru-za show based on a regional myth! An English-speaking storyteller explains between fights, shishimai & umbrella dances, drums & flutes performances. If you wish, interact with the performers during the show then get photographed together.

Fox & shamisen - Dekonaru-za
Fox & shamisen - Dekonaru-za
2 drummers for a 2-headed god - Dekonaru-za
2 drummers for a 2-headed god - Dekonaru-za

Other notable destinations in Gifu Prefecture include the Tono area for cycling, Gujo city for fake-food making (the first historic town in Japan for this), and Gero Onsen, a hot spring resort with free foot/hand baths and even a public mixed bath.

No worry for drivers

Car rental companies in Hokuriku & Shoryudo are used to foreign travelers. Reserve, bring your international driving license, learn the Japanese traffic rules, and ask the staff to switch your car navigation system to English. You just need to remember to drive on the left!

Car navigation in English
Car navigation in English

Here, the roads are safe, well-maintained, and typically without traffic jams. Signs in English are common and there's plenty of free/cheap parking in the countryside.

Good morning! Be quiet and careful with occasional pedestrians...
Good morning! Be quiet and careful with occasional pedestrians...
Convenient parkings
Convenient parkings

Drivers wishing to reduce their carbon footprint can rely on chargers for electric cars in Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, and Toyama prefectures. For example, the Noto Peninsula has 33 EV charging spots powered by renewable energy sources thanks to Noto Smart Drive Project.

Electric cars welcome everywhere
Electric cars welcome everywhere

Great for diverse travelers

Vegans and vegetarians need freedom to fully enjoy Japan. With a car and careful planning, they can savor breakfast buffets at hotels and diverse plant-based dishes at exceptional restaurants. For vegans, I recommend a Japanese lunch at Dangoya Inn (Toyama), French lunch with ingredients of the day at L'Atelier De Noto (Ishikawa), Japanese dinner at Suimeikan Hotel (Gifu), and Japanese dinner at Hyakurakuso Hotel (Ishikawa). Muslims, Jews, and others should detail their requirements before traveling to get exactly what they want; see also the Toyama Muslim-Friendly Restaurants website.

Kids enjoy the dinosaur museum, ninja temple, Dekonaru-za show, and gassho-zukuri villages. Fun activities like calligraphy and gold-plating are easy to reserve but cycling is problematic due to narrow roads.

An installation for kids - Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
An installation for kids - Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Groups with low-mobility travelers will appreciate the well-designed facilities of the dinosaur museum, flat paths of Kenroku-en Garden, views from Amaharashi Roadside Station and nearby seaside path, Dekonaru-za show, and Ainokura village (wheelchair available at the entrance).

Wheelchairs for tourists - Ainokura
Wheelchairs for tourists - Ainokura

Travel tips

Plan:

  • Rent a narrow car to better navigate streets.
  • Create your itinerary based on Japan's low speed limits.
  • Choose the right season. Some destinations are gorgeous with snow (e.g. Yuki-no-otani) but some roads close. Fukui's crab is best eaten fresh in winter!
Some roads are even narrower...
Some roads are even narrower...

Be spontaneous:

  • Adapt your plans to weather forecasts.
  • Be on the lookout for events, cute castles (e.g. Maruoka Castle)...
  • Taste local food.
Original & tasty gyoza - Dekonaru Yokocho
Original & tasty gyoza - Dekonaru Yokocho
Somen noodles, mountain vegetables, duck... - Dangoya
Somen noodles, mountain vegetables, duck... - Dangoya
Hida beef and miso on magnolia leaf - Izumisaka, Gujo
Hida beef and miso on magnolia leaf - Izumisaka, Gujo
Local seasonal Toyama Bay sushi - Sushimasa
Local seasonal Toyama Bay sushi - Sushimasa

Make the best of your evenings:

  • Relax at hot springs after driving e.g. great open-air bath at Awara Onsen Grandia Housen Resort (Fukui).
  • Discover countryside nightlife with locals e.g. Dekonaru Yokocho (Gifu) and Awara Onsen Yataimura Yukemuri Yokocho (Fukui).
  • Try unusual lodgings e.g. Oyatsu Old Warehouse (Toyama).
  • Admire the sunsets and stars.
Private bath - Hyakurakuso
Private bath - Hyakurakuso
Driving to see the sunset
Driving to see the sunset
Awara Onsen Yataimura Yukemuri Yokocho
Awara Onsen Yataimura Yukemuri Yokocho
Fully renting an old warehouse - Oyatsu
Fully renting an old warehouse - Oyatsu

Enjoy the adventure, relax and create your unique memories in Hokuriku and Shoryudo. You will have great stories to share with your loved ones back home!

Getting there

International visitors may start their road trip at Nagoya Station (Shinkansen from Osaka or Tokyo), Kanazawa Station (Shinkansen from Tokyo), Chubu Centrair International Airport, or smaller airports such as Komatsu Airport, Noto Satoyama Airport, and Toyama Kitokito Airport. No need to give the car back where you rented it.

Hokuriku Arch Pass: Official Site
https://hokuriku-arch-pass.com/en/

New Golden Route: More Info
https://hokuriku-arch-pass.com/Explore_Japan/

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