The Asama Hill Climb, which started in 2012, was held every spring but in 2018, due to road works it had to be postponed to autumn. Japan during autumn is infinitely better than in the summer. Summers in Japan are diabolical. Although this area of Japan is a popular retreat for locals to escape to as it’s usually cooler than Tokyo, autumn adds more drama to the scenery. The Asama Hill Climb is held at the foot of Mount Asama, about 2.5 hours via the fabulous Tsumagoi Panorama Line to the northwest of Tokyo. Around 100 cars took part in the two-day event attended by 20,000 spectators over the weekend. I was only able to see the event on the Sunday, which I regret. Spending the weekend here at the Hill Climb would’ve made it more enjoyable. Still, the one day at Asama was enough to make me want to come back next year for more.
The Asama Hill Climb is the only event of its kind in Japan. There’s no other opportunity to see such an obscure mix of cars speeding down 5.8 kilometres of closed public road in Japan. Getting approval from the local council and police took much effort by the organizers and I can’t imagine it happening in other parts of Japan.
It’s a very local centric atmosphere here. Local volunteers helped by guiding traﬃc around the closed roads and making sure all the spectators can view the cars from safe areas. Just to show how closely the organisers have worked with local police, the lead car in the drive up to the start line and on the parade lap was a local patrol car.
According to the organizers of the Asama Hill Climb, the event is centred around the “regional promotion and revitalisation” of the local community as well as increasing tourism and appreciation of car culture. For spectators it’s completely free to watch the event; the expenses of hosting the event are covered by the participation fee and sponsors such as automotive manufactures and other related companies.
There was a whole variety of…er…”vehicles” on the hill climb. If it had wheels and moved, it was there. From bikes, sidecars, Formula cars, GT racers, sports cars and supercars, there was no shortage of variety. For road cars, they were split into three categories with their average times taken over the weekend. The fastest of the ‘Historics’ category was the Lotus Elan S3/SE FHC, for the ‘Legends’ it was the Manta Ray, and and for ‘Modern’ it was the new Audi TT-RS.
Obviously, the cars and the drivers have a lot to do with the end result but the overall feel wasn’t competitive. Instead it just felt like everyone was there to have good time, enjoy the roads, and the stunning scenery.
A friend who attended the Saturday event suggested I go to the designated viewing spot early at 8am to get a jump on the crowds. It would’ve been ideal to have been able to move along the route and get diﬀerent vantage points but with the closed road and short time frame, with each car departing at 30-seconds intervals, it would’ve made changing spots diﬃcult.
It should come as no surprise there were plenty of interesting cars present at the hill climb. One that caught my eye was the AERO-Y, an original EV sports car developed by tire manufacturer Yokohama. The car debuted at the 2013 Tokyo Auto Salon to showcase the next-generation in eco tires but also as a way of showing Yokohama’s potential with working on EVs. Based on a Tesla Roadster, the AERO-Y has made various public appearances since its debut at the Auto Salon 5 years ago.
If JDM classics are your thing, the Asama Hill Climb won’t disappoint. From old AE86 Levins to Skyline GT-Rs and everything in between, there’s something straight out of the car list from Gran Turismo. The single seater FD2 Civic Type R looked insanely cool and ever since falling in love with one, I haven’t stopped thinking about it so was glad to see and hear one hooning it down the road. Another highlight was the replica Group A R32 GT-R Calsonic car. Even though it wasn’t the real thing it still looked mighty epic in that famous livery and sporting a number plate.
Other awesome JDM heroes include a ﬁrst generation Honda NSX-R in showroom condition, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI with Ralliart livery, a Subaru Impreza WRX STI with matching WRC livery, a Subaru 360, and a Honda City Turbo. But the highlight for me was the Mitsuoka Le Seyde coming around the viewing point in a powerslide. Let’s not forget underneath the exuberant bodywork was originally a S14 Nissan Silvia.
Taking advantage of a closed section of road, it was cool to see some people taking out their racing cars and homologation specials. There were epic cars such as a Peugeot 306 Maxi, LCR Kumano sidecars, Ferrari 308 Group 4 and 458 Challenge Evo, Ford Escort Mexico, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, and a few Formula cars. It was like if the Goodwood Festival of Speed was held on a closed section of public road rather than on someone’s driveway.
There was no shortage of exotics either.
The Emperor Racing Team brought along their entire ﬂeet of Lamborghinis including Squadra Corse and GT3 cars, a couple of Aventadors and several Huracans. The Lambos outnumbered the Ferrari and McLarens but there were still a couple from those manufactures.
Porsches proved to be a popular choice for the hill climb entrants with generations spanning from the original to various 964s and 993s, including a GT2 Clubsport. Perhaps one of the most ‘exotic’ cars there was an Alpina B8, based on an E36 3-Series.
At the Palcall Resort where the event made its home base was a chance to get up close and personal with all the cars. Deep at the back of the car park I found a Ferrari P3/4 ‘Recreation’ on the back of a truck. It had competed in previous years but must’ve had some trouble as it didn’t drive this year nor was it on the entry list.
Having the cars in the car park also gave me a chance to check out the Ballyhoo MantaRay Spider Concept, a car that’s been at the Tokyo Auto Salon most years but ﬁrst time seeing it out in the wild.
To end the day the cars that were left went on a parade lap around the villages and towns nearby to share with the locals who weren’t able to make it up to the hill climb route. It’s a truly unique event and one that not only celebrates the cool cars that go but also the local area where it’s held. It’s a beautiful part of Japan with a lot of potentially great driving roads.
This is a place I’ll deﬁnitely have to explore in the near future.
Next Up in 2019 is the Asama Motor Festival for two days: October 19th (Saturday) and 20th (Sunday).
Ken Saito is a Guest Writer specialising in Automobiles who resides in Japan. With a B.A. majoring in Media Studies with minors in Asian Studies and History from Victoria University in New Zealand, Ken has contributed to motoring websites like DriveLive New Zealand, CarsOfTokyo (Japan), Jalopnik (USA) and Petrolicious (USA), as well as magazines like Lords Magazine (France) and Automobile (USA).
Ken may be one of the few people to have been ‘canyon carving’ in a Cadillac SUV against a Ferrari F40…