What do you know about car culture in Fukushima? If you love drifting, surely Ebisu Circuit will be the first thing that comes to mind, right? Home to seven race tracks including the famous minami ‘Drift Stadium’ course, (the one with the jump) and a touge course that imitates a narrow, winding mountain pass, it’s pretty much every drifter’s dream location.
However, upon my visit there this time last year I was to learn two new things about Ebisu Circuit. The first was that it gets cold there. Really cold. And the second? That it’s not the only racing facility in Fukushima…
Eager to get some alone time on track during the off-season, at the end of November last year Pedey and I drove our Japan-based Toyota JZZ30 Soarer project car up to Fukushima where we’d arranged to stay for two and a half weeks. Emily and Andy from Power Vehicles were kind enough to let us crash at their place – the ‘Drifter’s Lodge’ – which they usually only open for guests during the triannual drift matsuri and drift heaven weeks.
The location of the lodge is awesome – it’s less than a kilometre away from the gates of Ebisu! We knew that at this time of year there would be a risk of snow, although generally this doesn’t start until the end of December. We figured a small sprinkling of powder wouldn’t hurt, but we definitely weren’t expecting a total white-out…
So there we were, having flown into Japan specifically to drive at Ebisu Circuit and staying right next to the bloody place, and we couldn’t even navigate the Soarer out of the Lodge’s driveway let alone around the steep roads leading to the tracks! To make things worse, my friend Yufune-san had just driven his Hakosuka all the way up from Yokohama so that he could drive at Ebisu with us the following day, and he was staying even further up the mountain at Dake Onsen, so he was completely snowed in. I couldn’t believe my eyes when he sent me the above photo – arghh!
When we woke up the next day, the snow had cleared slightly but when we checked Ebisu’s live online cameras they showed all of the tracks completely covered in snow. I felt so annoyed that Yufune-san had travelled so far for nothing, plus a bunch of his friends had also driven up from Tokyo only to be greeted by the freak snowstorm. But as it turned out, one of them knew of a different place that we could go to. Yufune dropped me a pin to the location, and I was surprised to see that it was only a 35-minute drive away…
And that’s how we discovered Link Circuit. It’s no Ebisu, but this quiet, low-speed track was perfect for our group of mostly beginner drivers. And most important of all, it wasn’t buried in snow!
Like many low-key racing facilities in Japan, driving was as simple as showing up, paying a small fee and signing a piece of paper, and that was it! There were only two other cars that had shown up that day, so there were only six or seven cars that were driving. We basically had the whole place to ourselves.
Link sits at a much lower elevation than the Ebisu complex, which is situated higher up in the mountains, so when we got there it was still raining on and off, and then thankfully it started to clear.
The course is built into the side of a hill; it’s short and narrow and snakes its way upwards with a number of long skinny straights and uphill corners, before reaching a kinked back straight up the top of the hill that ends with an incredibly fun, steep downhill corner leading onto the front straight. It was simple, but a whole lot of fun!
We’d removed the Soarer’s front bumper and side skirts to avoid them getting completely mutilated at the likes of Ebisu’s school and touge course, so the car wasn’t exactly looking its best, but I still had heaps of fun throwing the big-boned chassis around Link’s tight corners. The weather had also quickly changed from pouring rain to dry, which made for some rather interesting driving conditions.
We weren’t particularly well-prepared for filming on the day, but we did manage a few GoPro videos including a full lap of the circuit which I’ve included in this short video compilation. Unfortunately I somehow managed to knock my helmet mount and the camera was pointed downwards for most of my driving – doh!
This was one of two 4-door R34 Skylines that were driving that day. Although this track day was very casual, generally all grassroots drift cars in Japan are driven on the street, and something I’ve never seen in Japan is a car being trailered to a track day. It’s weird because this is really common where I’m from in New Zealand! Sometimes more serious builds are transported on trucks, but I’ve never seen a car being towed on a trailer before – I guess this would be considered too inconvenient in Japan? With vehicle inspections taking place every two years for cars in Japan, it’s easier to get away with having a modified street car there too.
This is Yufune-san’s Hakosuka 2000GT; a 100% badass, purpose-built and street-driven drift machine. It might look like it’s seen better days, but that couldn’t further from the truth. Although he’s owned the car for well over a decade, back in 2012 Yufune-san decided to do something crazy: he hacked into his precious Skyline and installed an S13 Silvia rear subframe complete with S13 suspension, converting it to full drift-spec. I’ll have to run a more in-depth feature on the car another time.
There was only a small group of us driving, but there were a tonne of cool cars parked up at the circuit that were obviously just being stored there for people.
I can’t say I recognised the strange body kit on this R34… any ideas?
Just from looking at the layout of the track, I would’ve said it would be more suited for grip racing with small, nimble Honda Civics, MX-5s or even kei cars. But Link Circuit does see regular sideways action too, and local drift team Aare had this small squad of silver Silvias and an R32 stored in the pits.
This S14 zenki had a mismatched assortment of parts/colours going on, but it seemed to work somehow. I thought the yellow lights and weird metallic burgundy accents looked quite cool.
Link was obviously this pair of Silvias’ home course too, and they both looked as if they’d been put to good use there!
Later that day, a guy also pulled up in this cool C35 Laurel on TE37s. That’s another fun part about visiting little spots like this, (apart from driving!); getting to see random cars you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. You just never know what you’re going to find in Japan, and cool car stuff just seems to be in the most random places, whether it’s high in the mountains, in random car park or at a tiny race circuit you never knew existed.
Our experience at Link Circuit turned out to be a really fun alternative to Ebisu, and I’m so glad it was recommend to us. Thankfully the snow did eventually clear so we did get to drive at Ebisu Circuit in the following days!
Taryn Kelly | www.JapanCarCulture.com
Photos by Taryn & Peter Kelly
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