A Night on the Kakegawa Touge


I haven:t been proof reading, and I:m making the same mistakes over again and again. I refuse to relearn typing for a Japanese keyboard layout.

Rain yesterday. Masaharu calls sometime when we:re still sleeping to say, if it keeps up he has plans for us. It rains all day. The sun sets and it only rains harder…

We pick up a rental car, and meet him at a nearby seven 11. (Yes… 7-11) The plan? The Kakegawa touge… one of the most popular touges in Shizuoka-ken. It:s a torrential down pour now… I:m skeptical anyone will show. He promises tonnes of action. OK OK… let:s go.

I:m behind the wheel of the rental. It:s some POS Toyota that would never sell in Canada. That:s not because it:s too small (I actually think the kei-style cars would do great in Canada), it:s because… it:s the ugliest car I:ve ever seen. It:s a 3 door hatchback, but the passenger side door is a sliding one (minivan style). It:s the height of a Tacoma, but it:s as narrow as anything I:ve ever driven. On the highway in the rain… it feels like the steering rack is falling off the car.

Lots of headroom though.

Yoshiko hates my driving in Japan… I think I do OK… driving in Japan is a whole other thing from Canada. There doesn:t seem to be a comprehensive ruleset, and in various situations, you:ve got to be heads up for people doing whatever. Somehow it all works. I think Yoshiko figures I can:t handle the rhd and driving on the left part. Truth is… I:m constantly trying to prepare myself for the really narrow and scarey situations that come up all the time. So… I stay left hard looking for the boundary of the side of the car I can:t see. That means poles and curbs often rush by only a foot or so off the mirror (a couple inches if I:m right)…

She still doesn:t trust that I know what:s up… maybe soon I:ll pull a mirror off…

Kakegawa is about 1hr from Hamamatsu. Its still dumping rain.

We park in a gallery area, and wait for Masaharu:s buddies to show. He:s driving the sunny truck today, which is set up a little better than the orange sedan we saw earlier in the week. I didn:t take any pictures… it was so dark and wet. But… the truck is even more boro than the sedan, and the bed is filled with spare wheels and parts.

We get tired of waiting and Masaharu says he:ll take me up to the top and back down. Yoshiko is stuck in the car… which isn:t what I had in mind…

Masaharu doesn:t speak any english… I have little idea what he:s saying to me as I strap on the seat belt, and then we line up behind a dangerous looking s14. The road is tight, narrower than irohazaka, but it:s supposed to be a two way road. They block things off, so that any one time, there is only one way traffic on the touge. We:re waiting at the bottom, with about ten other cars, for the downhill traffic to finish there run. Windows up, and heavy rain on sheet metal noises, we can:t hear a thing, but next thing we know 10 or 15 cars come rolling down, and it:s our turn.

The sunny is carbed, and it sounds sweet… but it doesn:t seem to have much in it, and Masaharu doesn:t know the course at all. We watch the S14 clutch kick and go chase style into the first two corners with a skyline ahead, but after that, we:re holding other cars up. He:s not pushing hard… drifting some corners, connecting some corners… but I:m not worried at all… which says something.

At the top, we all pull a uturn and line up again while everyone finishes coming up. The skyline hit the gaurd rail hard on the last corner and everyone is regrouping in front of his mess. The guard rail is pushed back like 6 feet, and the whole back of the skyline is munched up. Masaharu pulls off to the left and flashes the blinkers to drop to the back of the line. We end up behind a plain looking 180. This guy is more Masaharu:s speed, and we go tsuiso a little bit before the guy ahead spins. If you spin, you pretty much kill the run for everyone who is behind you… and smart guys will pull out of aggresive driving early, to avoid the chance of spinning…

At the bottom, we spot a couple ae86:s (until now it:s been nissan only). They:re on there way up, but… they:re Masaharu:s friends, and he seems really excited, although I have no idea what he:s saying.

More waiting.

A red ae86 hatchback returns, introductions are made, names are forgotten, but… Masaharu is telling me this guy has skill, and the guy is standing there listening and not denying it. Just accepting compliments is not something I:ve seen in Japan before… We agree that I:ll ride the 86 to the top and back down.

I can:t see anything about the car. It:s so dark I can only tell what color it is at this point. There are two bride buckets inside though, a cage, and a tach with a marker at 8500. Bride seat feels nice. I worry about smashing my head open on steel tubing.

We:re behind that same white s14 again… the one that left Masaharu in the dust. This time, we clutch kick and go chase style with him through the first section. The speed is unbelievable, the road is soo narrow. We:re way faster than the s14 though… and we catch him mid corner a couple times and bale out. Osoi desu yo! ugoke ugoke! The run lasts maybe 4 mintues… I never timed anything and or even looked at clock… but it:s pretty long.

Most of the course is one long string of corners, and we only run without angle in maybe 2 or 3 places where the straights are long.

At the top… all but one guy (a black s14) give us the lead. We:re up to second in line. Up was scarey fast… down gives me mild concern. It:s not such a dangerous looking place though. There are no 1000ft cliffs… only trees and trees. Gaurd rails look like the do a good job of keeping people on the road. What concerns me… are the gutters that, in places, are wide open and probably a foot wide and a foot deep. We:re using the full road, and at times I brace for falling in the gutter, or touching the gaurd rail, but it never happens.

This s14 is crazy good. He:s running about as fast as us, but he:s entering a lot better. We:re inches off him sometimes, and at the bottom, the two drivers acknowledge a good run.

More talking with Masaharu… I can:t understand a thing, and Yoshiko wants to watch TV in the car… I turn conversation to the car itself. 15×9.5 -19 wheels. 195/50 tires. AE101 ITB:s, 272 cams, AE111 pistons, AE92 block and head… 170hp. More Japanese I can:t understand…

Something about a Levin coupe driver who:s on his way. I guy who has run in D1. Both guys acknowledge his has incredible skill. I:ll get to ride with him. While we:re waiting, I should go up and down in the red hatchback again. Pretty much the same as last time… crazy. I:m getting used to it though… and thinking hard about his driving. He makes it look so easy though…

At the bottom, the Levin is lined up and waiting to run, we don:t get a chance to talk to him.

At this point… my Japanese is absolutely exhausted. I tired of concentrating on listening… tired of having to dumb down all that I want to say to a preschool vocabulary. We decide to move to a tunnel, out of the rain to wait. Yoshiko comes out and we all talk for a little bit… then we:re going home. There are too many cars, they say.

There really are a lot of cars… cars everywhere… maybe over 100.

Overwhelmed by everything… I sleep hard on the way home.

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