When people think of Japan, driving in particular, I'm sure images of Expressways and cities come in to mind. For those into cars, it may be images of highway battles around Tokyo or touge runs from Initial D. For myself, it has always been the slow cruise on local roads and through small Japanese towns. One of my favorite drives is from Iwakuni city to Hadashi Tengoku Circuit (Barefoot Heaven). No racing or high speed maneuvers on the way, just a calm and scenic half hour to relax before throwing a car sideways at Hadashi.
Yes, there is easy access to the Sanyo Expressway in Iwakuni, but we typically only jump on it if we need to get to Hiroshima in a hurry. With Hadashi being so close there is no point in using it. Plus you'd miss out on the great drive.
These pictures were taken by Ben as we followed Eric (Kunigan) from Iwakuni to Hadashi in the support Delica. Big Motors, the dealership on the right, wasn't always moving Kei cars. Back in the day they used to sell used sports cars. There's nothing like visiting a dealer and getting to test drive RX-7s, EVOs and Skylines. Those days are long gone, but thanks to their previous incarnation I had the opportunity to drive just about every cool car Japan had to offer in the 90s.
The tire shop on the right has been there for at least 30 years and it looks exactly like it did 30 years ago. One of my favorite parts of Japan is how things seem frozen in time. If you stopped and went inside you'd find Yokohama posters on the wall from 1985.
Being such a mountainous country, tunnels are everywhere. Some long and some short. The two tunnels you pass through on the way to Hadashi are fairly short, but long enough to romp on the throttle so you can enjoy an amplified exhaust note.
Ben might get pissed that I used this picture because it's a bit out of focus, but I felt it necessary to include a shot inside the tunnel. Usually there is a fair bit of traffic so you have to slow down to create a gap between you and the car ahead... then you can hammer the throttle.
Cowboy Charlie (owner of Hard Times outside of Chicago) is the designated Delica pilot. It was his first trip to Japan and he had no problem acclimating to driving on the other side of the road. He didn't seem to have any issues getting a Silvia sideways either...
The views can't be beat. There is this combination of lush, green scenery and old and worn, man-made structures that I've always found particularly appealing.
Ben can't resist a good fly-by shot. The "Y" on Eric's license plate denotes the fact that he is a US service member (some people call them Yankee plates, but I've always just called them Y-Plates). The kanji "山口" represents the prefecture the car is registered in. In this case it's Yamaguchi. The Yama (山) character means mountain. You'll notice how it looks like a mountain. The Guchi (口) character means mouth or entrance. So Yamaguchi can be translated as Mountain Entrance.
About half way to Hadashi you pass through the town of Kuga. It's not very big. but stops are usually made as there is a Yellow Hat (think JDM Autozone) and a 7-11 to gear up on drinks and snacks for the track. In Japan, Kuga might be referred to as "inaka", which essentially means countryside. Anything away from the big metro areas can be referred to as inaka. While it can be perceived as derogatory, I much prefer inaka Japan to the big cities.
On the drive you pass many small roads leading up the hills to little neighborhoods and villages. My house in the US was built in 1928, which seems damn old to me, but it's nothing compared to Japan when you see houses that have been there for more than a century.
And we've made it. The entrance to Hadashi Tengoku is right off of the main road from Iwakuni so it's hard to miss. The access road to the actual circuit is the craziest I've been on in Japan. I definitely will be making a future post with video of the short drive from the entrance to the circuit and a tour of the facilities.
The big sign actually just says "Drift Circuit". The smaller to sign to the right says Hadashi Tengoku. If I recall correctly someone told me that it used to be a small zoo of sorts.
I hope you enjoyed this quick post. I plan to do more in the future so everything on this blog isn't just car builds and drift events.