Located in Gunma Prefecture, Mount Akagi is about a 170km, 3-hour drive North of Tokyo. Aside from being an active volcano, Mount Akagi may be more known to the car community as the location where the drift manga, Initial D, based its story on.
However, “drift roads” aren’t the only thing worth seeing in Mount Akagi. In fact for most Japanese people, Mount Akagi is primarily known for its beautiful hiking paths in the summer and its frozen lake in the winter, perfect for ice-fishing. The landscape and the roads leading to it are truly beautiful, which is why we decided to go for a drive there not with a Toyota AE86, but with a 60 Years Edition MINI Cooper D.
Introduced in 2019, the MINI 60 Years Edition may not be a fully re-designed, tech-loaded, high-performance car but it is certainly a beautiful homage to celebrate the 60 years of MINI. With our automatic MINI Cooper D, it was quite unlikely that we would go drifting. Yet with a simply wonderful location and a cute, photogenic car, we thought the MINI would be the perfect fit to enjoy one last winter drive.
On the way to Akagi
It pains us to start on a low, but the MINI does not score high when it comes to driving it on the highway. To get to Akagi, you must stay on the highway for at least an hour and a half (on a good day) and it does start to feel long when you can hear each and every sound coming from the road. We turned off the music as there was no need to add more noise to the currently existing noise and instead, we engaged in a loud conversation about how surprising it was that such a sturdy looking MINI had such poor insulation. We looked back and checked in case but no, we weren’t in a soft-top convertible.
Japan’s highway parking and service areas are perhaps the world’s most convenient: clean and high-tech toilets, restaurants, convenient stores, vending machines and food trucks. Additionally, when the service area hosts a Starbucks, it means you’re lucky! We got our lattes to wake ourselves up and got back to the car. The MINI seemed practical enough until now, but it is often when in need that we realize what is wrong with the car. In this case, it was the cup holders. If you happen to be carrying a water bottle, a coffee tumbler and some Starbucks drinks on the go, you will have to make sacrifices because not everything will fit in the two cup holders behind the gearstick.
You cannot get it all in the MINI. We already had generous trunk space for all of our photography/videography equipment, meaning we had to be more understanding with the storage space in the front. We kept our bottles in our bags, placed our two Starbucks drinks in the two cup holders, and hid our phones behind it for lack of better space.
The drifting roads of Akagi
We had left Tokyo early enough and helped with a smooth traffic, we had arrived in the Akagi area around 9:00 AM. Leaving Maebashi (the capital city of Gunma Prefecture) and entering the Akagi area, we were greeted by an imposing Torii (Shinto gate indicating the entrance to a shrine). The landscape gradually changes as we watch the city fade into countryside houses and fields, until we reach the border of the forest.
From there, the wide, renovated road slowly ascends until it reaches the mountain. Then, it gets twisty. The road stays spacious but corners get tighter and inclination gets steeper. Occasionally, we notice some skid marks and bumped-in guardrails from the adventurous ones who gave the Initial D races a try. However, the surface of the road was modified in some parts in order to avoid these practices.
Corners allowed our MINI to stretch its limbs, showing us how it could easily turn its small size and light weight to its advantage. It followed corners harmoniously yet dynamically, while gripping to the tarmac like a shell to its rock. It surely won’t take you from 0 to 100 anywhere near as fast as you would like - that job is left to other cars. The MINI reaches its true self in roads that fit its petite and athletic silhouette.
Photographing the MINI
The landscape truly changes once you leave the “drift roads” and get to the other side of the mountain. As we drove past a birch tree forest, we discovered a breathtaking view of Mount Akagi’s completely frozen crater lake.
The lake offered many breathtaking places for photographs. We first chose to park our MINI in the peninsula near Akagi shrine - shrines being common sightings on top of mountains or in hikeable craters. We then headed down a snowier road in the woods around the lake.
This new little MINI turned out to be an extremely photogenic vehicle. Its British Racing Green colour, a beautiful homage to the United Kingdom’s racing history, turned out to be the most fitting match to echo the pine tree forest’s green. The peppermint white roof contrasted with the car’s body as if it were covered with a fresh, immaculate layer of snow. Even the Dark Cacao leather seats with its green braided piping was aligned with the snowy forest environment. Despite the rustic connotation of the brown and green colour combination, MINI managed to avoid making its car look like a cottage house. Instead, the entire car was turned into something stylish, fun and sophisticated.
In this one-day journey across Mount Akagi, our MINI 60 Years Edition was the ideal car to take in both the spirit of the Akagi roads and the beautiful nature that the mountain had to offer. It was agile and stress free, unafraid to take on both highways and narrow, rocky, snowy roads. As long as you can bear with the noise, and the cupholder shortage, this car will take you anywhere you want, guaranteeing you loads of fun and a serious amount of style.