THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION ON AN EXHILARATING DRIVE ALONG IROHAZAKA, TWO MOUNTAIN ROADS THAT WIND THEIR WAY THROUGH JAPAN’S STUNNING NIKKO NATIONAL PARK
UP TO THE LAKE
Irohazaka is a pair of zigzagging roads located in the mountains of Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture. The newer road, which dates from 1965, is used for uphill traffic; the other, built in 1954, is for downhill use only.
With a length of just under eight kilometers each, and an ascent/descent of more than 400 meters, they connect the town of Nikko to Lake Chuzenji, which lies at the foot of the sacred Mount Nantai volcano.
I-ro-ha are the first three (of 48) syllables found in the old Japanese alphabet (as opposed to the modern Japanese alphabet, which starts with a-i-u), and the suffix zaka means “slope.”
The name Irohazaka stands for the number of hairpin turns – 48 in total – that the sloping roads wind up and around. At each curve, from bottom to top and back, one of the 48 characters from the ancient alphabet is displayed in consecutive order.
CHANGING OF THE SEASON
It takes around 30 minutes to drive the full extent of Irohazaka, and the trip is particularly scenic in autumn when the leaves are the most colorful in the mountains. Here, a Lexus RC F coupe corners an Irohazaka hairpin on an autumnal afternoon.