The three skylines

Driving with Jaguar Land Rover through two distinct Japanese landscapes – one rural, one urban – reveals unforgettable sights around every turn

In your mind’s eye, Japan is a nation of cities;

endless urbanisation melding at the limits and bleeding into the next prefecture. It’s a place of skyscrapers, vending machines, bullet trains and neon light. 

But actually, the truth may surprise you. Only 33 percent of Japan is built up. The remaining 67 percent of the nation consists of silent mountains and deep green forests. Despite the hustle and bustle of Japan’s big cities and its modern society, the Japanese culture is deeply respectful of and thoroughly inspired by nature. 

Those lakes and mountains inspire in many ways. Even nameplates on performance cars.  

Just over 100 kilometers south of the sprawl of Tokyo lies one of the best toll roads in the world. If you’re a driving enthusiast, chances are you might have heard of it: the Hakone Skyline Road. This 5km stretch of tarmac manages to compress 58 turns into its sinewy mountainous path along the southern edge of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. It feels longer though; switchback after switchback as you ascend, then sprint across the top of the range, before arriving at the exit toll booth.  

The toll is between NZ$5 and NZ$8, depending on which direction you choose to enter from. There’s actually a 40km/h speed limit, with reminders helpfully painted on the road surface every few hundred metres. Not that anyone appears to take any notice of it. A little harder to ignore though are the rough ripple strips in many of the tastier hairpin turns, designed to put the kibosh on any drifting enthusiasts’ efforts. 

The Hakone Skyline road is, after all, the spiritual home of drifting. And yes, you guessed right; it also gave its name to Nissan’s famous performance car series after the manufacturer took over the Prince brand and developed the Skyline model as the GT-R in 1969. 

Fifty years later, on any given Saturday or Sundayyou’ll still find all manner of sports car lining up to go through the toll gate and put the hammer down. Naturally there are also plenty of motorbikes and, today at least, a flotilla of Land Rovers. A handful of media from New Zealand were lucky enough to be included in a bit of a 2019 Rugby World Cup scenic drive with the storied Brit brand (who were chief vehicle sponsors for the Japanese edition of the tournament). 

Now, a well-fettled Land Rover Discovery probably wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice of attack weapon for the Hakone Skyline (if we’re sticking to brand, a Range Rover Sport SVR would probably be the best place to start). Still, when there’s an opportunity to open up the Discovery’s 190kW 3.0-litre turbo diesel and go corner hunting on this particular mountain road, you take it. 

There are a few likeminded drivers on the road today (and plenty of machinery more than capable of reeling in a large white seven-seat SUV, even with someone more capable than me at the wheel). More than just a revenue-gatherer for the local prefectural powers-that-be though, the toll gate means drivers are forcibly spaced far enough apart to – hopefully – not continually crowd up behind one another in a convoy. Er… even at 40km/h. 

Gleaming performance finery aside, there is one other big distraction on the Hakone Skyline Road; Mount Fuji. 

When it’s time to take a break from all that heroic driving, there are plenty of pull-in bays to take in the stunning views of Fuji. Picture perfect and absolutely dominating the other skyline, the 3776m active volcano (it last erupted in the early 1700s) features such a symmetrical cone that it never seems to alter its shape regardless of which direction you approach it from. 

Watching the famous peak change colour as the sun rises the next morning is a pretty special experience. We overnight at Lake Kawaguchi, which can offer up stunning reflections of Fuji if the air is still enough. The rooms of the hotel we stay in are, naturally, angled to fully appreciate this snow-capped triangle of a mountain; a desk under the window rendered useless as a place to get any work done, given the eye-catching view outside. 

As much as it has been wonderful to take a breather in the stunning resort district of Yamanashi, all roads – on the island of Honshu anyway – do eventually lead back to Tokyo.  

And we have a change of pace for the city; the Jaguar I-Pace, to be precise.  

A night drive through well-known Tokyo suburbs such as Ginza, Shibuya and Akihabara (or ‘Electric Town’ as it is rather fittingly known) offers up the chance to view whole other Japanese skylines. The Jaguar’s panoramic roof glass lets us drink in brightly lit high-rise buildings, massive electronic advertising screens, and the teeming streets of Tokyo as its citizens head home for the evening.  

We skirt the perimeter of the Royal Palace, spot Tokyo Tower lit up like a red and white Christmas tree in gaps in the buildings that flash by and, when the lights go green, glide silently through the intersection outside Shibuya Station, home to the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.  

As much as Mount Fuji is an instantly recognisable part of Japan’s rural heartland, this busy corner of one of the world’s busiest cities leaves you in no doubt as to where you are. And both sights are mesmerising in their own individual way. 

66 Magazine stayed at Hoshinoya Fuji on Lake Kawaguchi courtesy of  

Words by Cameron Officer 

Photos by RB Create 

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