Alastair's Blog

Samurai Challenge - April 2017

Alastair Caldwell - Friday, January 05, 2018

The Samurai Challenge classic rally in April 2017 was the first competitive UK-organised rally ever to visit Japan and I was lucky enough to be taking part with my trusty Porsche 912. You can read the story of my Porsche here.

 


About the Samurai Challenge

In this rally, crews competed in a series of regularity sections and special tests along a spectacular route of 4,660km (2,896 miles) from Fukuoka in the south to Lake Toya in the north, doing an average daily distance of 119 miles. This allowed us to enjoy an amazing variety of natural, man-made and cultural treasures, from primeval landscapes and brooding volcanoes to the brilliant, neon-lit metropolis of Toyko and the island home of the Kodo Drummers.

Fukuoka

We arrived in Fukuoka safely, reunited with the wee Porsche, had rally dinner with amazing artisan sweets which we saw being made. Learning to cope with space-age loos with indistinguishable controls! All the spot devices laid out, each car has one so anyone can track a car's progress on the web site http://rallyround.mapyx.com/.

Rally first day

Road works control man, very friendly with perfect English. Hole in the rock with lots of sea birds. Witch's brooms for sale, two people were buying them while we were there. A priest blessing the cars before the start.

Blossom trees

We are getting into the trip now. Lots of lovely blossom trees along the way, surprisingly run down rural countryside, a couple of race tracks which were good fun. Went to a park on a river, met some fake Samurai, had a boat trip and lunch. 

Blossom bridge shrine, with some other photos from the first couple of days of our trip.

Weird looking sign for an animal you're meant to avoid running over. So far we haven't seen one but it looks like a cross between a beaver, a cat and a rat! 




The little Porsche in a typical village.



Some pedestrians admiring all the classic cars driving through the village.



Very elegant shrimp fishing boat with arc lights strung along. You can see them at night miles away using the light to lure shrimp to the surface.


Imperial Shinto Shrine


Huge Izumo-taisha Imperial Shinto shrine where royal weddings take place. It's the largest & most important ancient shrine in Japan, we were very privileged to see it and no photos allowed but modern phone cameras are very sneaky :) 






Kyoto

Now on our first rest day in Kyoto. Went to sit on the floor in a Geisha hosted restaurant last night. It was good fun but hell on my back and knees, was glad to escape at the end! Went for a walk, saw lots of interesting shops and lots more food outlets, one is an open air marshmallow roasting barbecue doing brisk trade. Talked to the community policeman in his little office trying to find a music bar but he was no help so found a small jazz club and spent a nice time in there. First leg of rally is over and results posted, we are third overall behind a Dutch Alvis and friends Phil and Kieron in their Stag. Quite surprising! 





Koyasan

Got to day 10, managed to do a very simple regularity wrong then got stuck behind a little slow truck so have slipped down the field. Got to Koyasan in the mountains, rally staying in several different temples. Ours is very nice, sleeping on the floor, communal bath only but segregated, vegetarian food but did supply beer and Saki. Car now has Japanese bucket with sticker and some little antlers in homage to the many pet deer there are in the parks.





Fuji Speedway

Here we are at Fuji speedway, scene of the 1976 Grand Prix - only much flashier now. Some kind of testing is going on at the moment. The pit complex is way more impressive than it was in our day, twice as wide, with huge garages, but the setting is still the same, it's nice to see it all again. And there's the wee Porsche.




Buddhist priest, note wooden high heel flipflops. Some other random photos.






Here's a video of a dance display we watched:



Cedar bark thatching

Detail of the cedar bark thatching that is used on all posh houses and temples. It's up to 3 ft thick - on big shrines it must take years to do and use millions of bits.


The morning time control with navigators gathered round picking up their amendments and waiting for their start time, cars go at one minute intervals.


Police

Got stopped for speeding on the motorway, all very polite and smiley, the policemen helped us get going again and didn't give us a ticket. Had an exciting day of regularities, one all turned to custard on one as the Stag stopped in the middle of a sharp turn uphill and we lost many minutes getting them out of the way so dropped to 9th overall. 

 

View from our lovely hotel, should be a view of Mount Fuji but it's obscured, you can just make it out.




Tokyo

We had a day off in Tokyo, had a good day walking in the Imperial Palace Gardens, going to the fish market and then to a couple of big department stores. Tokyo is amazing, shopping, sights, parks, people - all great and some lovely food as well though all very expensive for us. Back to rallying today, visited a lovely art museum. 

The following photos are all from Rally Round, who organised the rally. 

One day we were the classic group winner at Autopolis despite taking the 10 second penalty for allowing co-driver Laurel to sit this one out.....


Courtesy of Rally Round

Group shot, all in kimonos


Courtesy of Rally Round


Messing about in the snow. We are now in the Akita region where a pair of the local dogs met us at our lakeside hotel tonight.


Courtesy of Rally Round


A couple of photos from the samurai dance display we saw - I even got to go on stage with them


Courtesy of Rally Round


Courtesy of Rally Round


A couple of photos from Sado island - which we went to by (a very small) miso barrel boat.


Courtesy of Rally Round



Courtesy of Rally Round


Kodo drummers


Courtesy of Rally Round


The Porsche on Kodo island


Courtesy of Rally Round


Trying on some hats


Courtesy of Rally Round

A look at some of the cars taking part in the rally


Alvis (leading the rally), Jags, Mercedes SLCs, Bentley, Rolls, 1924 Chrysler, 356 Porsche, Triumph Stag.



Lunch time street karaoke in Aomori town



Here's a video of the samurai demonstration we had at dinner. It's pretty fierce!



Sado Island

It was several days before I posted anything again as were were very busy just rallying. Seen lots of lovely things and places, been to Sado Island for two days by ferry but back on the mainland now. The wee Porsche is just fine, had one flat tyre so far, otherwise perfect, only two more rally days to go.


Here are some more random photos, seen so much and taken so many it's hard to choose but I really like all the architectural details everywhere in Japan. 





Still on Sado island, with masked dancers.





Most of the snow had melted but we found this on a mountain top.







The rally is over!

The Rally is over! We had a great trip, saw many sights and sounds, met some lovely people along the way, had great food and the loos are just astonishing. The competitive part of the rally fell apart a bit and was too easy. The little Porsche ran like a clock, one puncture was the sole problem, never laid a spanner on the car. Photo at the finish with lovely koi carp flag, which is coming home! 



Hokkaido ferry

Here we are waiting to board the ferry to Hokkaido, our last island - a 4 hour trip.

 

Going home


In Tokyo now waiting for the flight, will be good to get back home. Decided to call the rally the 'T' Rally. Traffic lights, lots of them and very slow to change. Tunnels, lots of tunnels everywhere. Tolls, lots of them as well, often the highway is a single lane for many miles but it works. Toilets, they are amazing, always spotless, always mechanised and always available. Tidy, no litter anywhere, no bins either. Tiresome service, restaurants, bars etc all move at a glacial pace. Terribly expensive but good food. 



Rally Round have also produced 2 videos of highlights of the Samurai rally, you can watch them here. You can also read about the rally on their website.

Part 1:



Part 2:



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