Ascending Japan’s Mount Fuji in the WRX STI
It’s a predawn morning in Tokyo and I just got my wake-up call; a magnitude 5 earthquake is welcoming me back to Japan. But I don’t mind the rude awakening one bit, because today I’m going to drive the WRX STI in the land where Subaru was born. I run through a quick inventory before I depart. International driver’s permit? Check. Japanese yen in my pocket? Check. The guts to drive a right-hand-drive vehicle on the left side of the road? Check! But where to? A drive on the C1 Route (Inner Loop) at Tokyo’s Shuto Expressway would be fun. But as I’m piloting the mighty WRX STI, I instead choose that most iconic natural symbol of the Land of the Rising Sun: Mount Fuji.
Ready for the Open Road
I pick up the 2016 WR Blue Pearl WRX STI with STI Performance Package at Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd. headquarters in Ebisu, Tokyo. The JDM EJ20 engine starts up instantly and it’s nice to hear the distinctive, dry sound of the SUBARU BOXER engine. Due to Tokyo’s heavy traffic and crowds of pedestrians, even the fastest vehicle here has to creep along surface streets at a sleepy 15 mph. My WRX STI feels like it’s dying to get out of Tokyo, hungry for fun roads. During a quick pit stop for some rice ball snacks and drinks, I call a local friend and ask if he knows any special route to Fujiyama. He tells me to ignore the highway and to instead take the winding, narrow, rural road that weaves through the mountains on its way to Mount Fuji. I get the sense that I’m in for a treat.
|Photo: (Left) The kanji (Japanese characters) for Mount Fuji.
(Top Right) Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd. headquarters in Japan.
(Bottom Right) D-shaped steering wheel.
To Mount Fuji
As I drive through small villages, over rivers, past hot springs, and alongside dense forests buzzing with insects, I’m reminded all over again of how much I love this vehicle. The D-shaped steering wheel just feels right under my hands, while the 13.0:1 steering ratio delivers amazing quickness. The hydraulic steering assist heightens my sense of connection to the narrow, bumpy mountain roads. It’s like riding on a magic carpet that obeys my every command. The STI Performance Package includes STI under spoilers all around and the STI flexible tower bar, which help me trace the driving lines I draw before approaching corners. The beast loves to turn no matter what the speed, greedily asking for more and more, and leaving me with a smile as wide as the road itself. No other vehicle handles so beautifully. Oh, yeah. Life is good. Ahead, Mount Fuji waits.
Reaching for the Stars
At 12,388 feet, Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest peak, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful and symmetrical cone-shaped volcanos in the world. (While still active, its last recorded eruption was in 1707, so I’m feeling pretty relaxed about it.) You cannot drive all the way to the peak, but you can take the Fuji Subaru Line, a fun and twisty scenic road that allows you to venture as far up as Fuji’s 5th Station. (“Station” is the unit representing one tenth of the length from the entrance to the peak.) The Fuji Subaru Line gets its name from the Japanese word for the Pleiades star cluster (just like everyone’s favorite automobile manufacturer).
WRX STI Sings
Just before the toll booth for the Fuji Subaru Line, there is a stretch of road they call “melody point.” If you drive at 30 mph, you’ll hear a 20-second “song” that quite literally emanates from the road. A series of small gaps embedded in the road cleverly use the friction from the tires to play a melody for you as you drive. It’s the same basic principle as a child’s music box. I roll down the window to enjoy the music.
The sky darkens and rain threatens as I arrive at the toll booth of the Fuji Subaru Line. My GPS shows 3,569 feet. I hope to be above the clouds by the time I arrive at the 5th Station. While there are several hairpin corners and kinks in the road, the Fuji Subaru Line is a relaxed and completely enjoyable drive. As I pass the 1st Station, Mount Fuji is still being coy, completely submerged in the clouds. Arriving at the 2nd Station parking area, I stop for a few minutes to enjoy the view of Aokigahara Jukai (sea of trees), a beautiful, dense forest at the base of Mount Fuji. Many Japanese believe that the forest is haunted and refuse to enter it. I decide to head back to the road and continue on.
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The 5th Station rest stop.
From Station to Station
I drive like a demon, passing the 3rd Station, then the 4th, and then suddenly I am above the layers of clouds. The Unkai (sea of clouds) is absolutely breathtaking, the air cooler and fresher than at the lower elevations. My WRX STI doesn’t seem to mind the higher altitude one bit, providing plenty of easy power and effortless handling all the way up the mountain. As I approach the 5th Station, halfway up the peak of Mount Fuji, I excitedly anticipate the beautiful view that awaits me there. This last station is the start for climbers headed to the very peak of the mountain. For me, however, this is the finish line. I park and step outside into the cool air to get my reward. The view really is wonderful. Worth the trip. But getting here was even better. And the best part? I get to do it all again on my way back to Tokyo. The night stage awaits.
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