It was supposed to be an epic drive. I had planned to bring together two of Japan’s most important cultural icons together – Mt Fuji and the Nissan GT-R NISMO. But like everything else this year, 2020 had other plans. Because of COVID-19, the Japanese government had decided to close all hiking trails up the iconic mountain this year. Logic – what’s that?
I mean, fair enough, that’s understandable as around 200,000 people hike up the mountain every year. But that also meant closing all the roads leading up the mountain for the whole season. However, that did also completely ruin my plans to drive the GT-R up the fantastically named ‘Fuji Skyline’ road.
I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying the 2020 NISMO GT-R because I knew there would be great roads around Fuji even if I couldn’t make Skyline references on them. So instead, I improvised and went in search of an appropriately fun road in the area.
Being on the western side of the mountain was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s less busy and less touristy than the eastern part of the mountain. Sure, the Fuji-Q Highlands theme park is up and operating, but theme parks aren’t exactly buzzing right now due to COVID-19.
There were about a dozen or so cars in the car park when I drove past. That said, that made the two hour drive on the motorway a rather easy and relaxing one even in something as hard edged as the NISMO.
On the other hand, it was quite eerie. The foggy weather didn’t help, it just made it feel more spooky like something out of one of the darker Studio Ghibli films. The fact that Aokigahara (the infamous “suicide forest”) was in the area never left the back of my mind. Strangely enough, worrying about this got me hungry so I stopped for a traditional local delicacy before heading off some proper driving.
After a deer curry lunch, it was time to drive the NISMO.
Nothing ever seems to go right on these drives during summer as the weather during the rainy season can be as unpredictable as a presidential election. It was no coincidence that I came to this area after finding out the Fuji Skyline road was closed because a few minutes from the delicious deer curry restaurant was one of my favorite roads that winds down past Lake Motosu. I recommend going around the roads by the lake and taking in the views before going for a spirited drive. On a clear day you’ll be able to see Mt Fuji overlooking Lake Motosu, and it makes for a very pretty view.
Come for the road, stay for the views.
The road in question is simply called ‘Motosu-michi’ literally translated to ‘Motosu-road’ – it’s also known as National Route 300. I’ve been on this road only once before in the brilliant Alpine A110. That car was perfect for this road as it was small, light on its feet, and didn’t have crazy amounts of power. I was able to exploit that car to its limits and that’s what made me fall in love with it.
The GT-R is perhaps the complete opposite of the A110. This is a big lump of modern(ish) technology. It’s a car that’s intentionally heavy to keep it plated on the ground. Unlike the Alpine, there’s nothing simple or light about it. It’s unashamedly a supercomputer on wheels. Yet, I was just having as much fun and enjoyment on this road as I did in the Alpine but for very different reasons.
This road is spectacular and it doesn’t matter what kind of car you’re in. You could drive here in a 660cc kei-car and you’d still have a smile on your face. Coming in from Tokyo, it starts off as with a downhill section. The roads are slightly tight and narrow for something as large as the GT-R, but somehow the GT-R manages to hide its size and weight unlike anything I’ve driven.
An Aston Martin feels as big and heavy as it is. A McLaren feels as light and simple as it is. But the GT-R messes with your mind and bends the laws of physics. A car this big and heavy should not be able to change directions so quickly and in such an undramatic manner. It corners flat and it doesn’t just grip on the tarmac, it claws at it. It clings on to the road, like chewing gum on your shoe. It is unrelenting and unforgiving in its quest for sticking on to the road.
That gives you great confidence to tackle a road as tight and technical as this one, even in something like the GT-R. There aren’t many cars, in fact this is the only car I can think of, where you can enter a corner, go around the corner, and exit said corner flat out. It’s utterly, utterly incredible. Even in these less than ideal conditions with slightly damp roads, the NISMO found grip where grip wasn’t before. The Dunlop rubber really does work overtime on this car.
Motosu-michi is a twisty stretch of tarmac that basically drapes over the mountains around Lake Motosu like a discarded piece of ramen. On the main section of the road, you’re simply flowing from one corner to another. There’s never enough stretch of road to fully go flat out which makes it fun and challenging. There’s no long sweeping bends, it’s one hairpin after another.
In any other large car, a road like this would show its dynamic flaws. Not so in the GT-R. The front just bites the road while the rest of the body comes around at full force. It’s not a graceful pivot like it was in the Alpine. That was like cornering with a hula hoop. This was like cornering with velcro.
Which is exactly what you’d want because this isn’t a big wide mountain road like the Hakone Turnpike. There’s zero room for error here – go in too fast into a corner and you’ll understeer off the road. That’s not a drop you want to be part of. In any other 500+hp car, it might be a handful on a road like this, but not so in the GT-R. Don’t think it’s an easy drive though…the GT-R is still very much both a visceral and engaging drive.
Driving this car up and down this mountain road will take its toll on you. It’s certainly more physically involving than I had expected. On my last lap uphill back towards the lake, there was a corner where I swear I pulled a shoulder muscle from all the cornering G’s. It’s that brutal.
I decided to call it a day but not before going towards the Fuji Skyline road that initially brought me here. While most of the road that goes up Mt Fuji was closed, the flat part that goes around the base of the mountain was still open. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see. Literally. It was even foggier on this side of the mountain.
That said, because of the poor weather, there were even fewer cars. So with some brave pills, I was able to drive the GT-R rather spiritedly away from the fog to a clearing on the eastern side of Mt Fuji.
The fog and trees opened up to greet us with an uninterrupted view of the famous mountain. This was a fitting end to the day as I had simply wanted to bring two Japanese icons together. The GT-R may be nearly as old as Japan’s national mountain, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with. The meticulous improvements Nissan and NISMO have made of the R35’s life have resulted in a car that offers a driving experience unlike any other. As cliche as it is, if you’re on the hunt for Japan’s great driving roads, you can’t really do much better than having a GT-R to play with.
Ken Saito is a Guest Writer specializing 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…