It was not until after living in Japan for well over a year, that I realized that Japan’s longest public mountain trail was quite literally in my backyard. With immediate and available access to legendary adventure, I knew I had to make plans to take on The Super Rindo Forest Road.
Widely recognized for its sprawling web of rugged mountain trails, the Super Rindo Forest Road contains 87.7 kilometers (54.5 miles) of off-road adventure. While taking any number of side trails will add to these figures, Japan’s longest forest road remains an ever-evolving web of everything outdoor explorers crave.
Located in the heart of the mountains on the eastern side of the southern island of Shikoku, Super Rindo is awash in rock-clad summit ascents, mountain streams, mud pits, moss-covered forests, and places to pitch camp. There are even a couple of mountaintop taverns serving gourmet wild game bento boxes and noodle bowls.
Super Rindo Forest Road Points Of Interest
Trailheads are in a vast array as well, as decommissioned logging roads and forestry service access points are repurposed for public use. But outside of a select few spots, there are no amenities to be had once you start to explore Super Rindo. If you plan on spending more than a day up there, be sure that your 4×4 overlanding rig is properly outfitted.
Due to its impressive expanse and seemingly endless side-trail options, forest roads within Tokushima Prefecture’s mountainous midsection are seldom maintained. Anything south of a landslide gets ignored by the local government.
However, for those daring individuals who are unafraid of the risks involved with such an endeavor, Super Rindo offers a treasure trove of memorable experiences. A breathtakingly beautiful, above-the-clouds sort of experience that puts you on another planet.
And while I will decree that a Super Rindo 4×4 trip should be at the top of everyone’s 4×4 international bucket list, my experience will surely be quite different than that of those who have come before and after my peregrination. A fact that as you shall soon discover, was solidified by a series of events and chance encounters that are unlike anything I have encountered before.
Teaming Up For Adventure
To safely traverse something as expansive and treacherous as Super Rindo, one must have the right motorized vehicle at their disposal. While certain trailheads will accommodate bone stock AWD vehicles, a vast majority of them are a locking differential, skid plate, and rock slider sort of affair. Looking to effectively (and safely) tackle this adventure, I visited a local Suzuki 4×4 specialist to see if they would be interested in allowing me to tag along on their next outing.
When it comes to one-off Suzuki 4×4 vehicles, Outclass Cars is one of Japan’s most recognized names. The aftermarket parts powerhouse not only designs, tests, and manufactures its line of off-road components, but it is also one of Japan’s top new Suzuki car sales lots.
Well known for its 15-plus vehicle-long Super Rindo caravans, my decision to visit Outclass Cars proved to be the right move. After meeting with the company’s founder and President, Hiroaki Akaji, and conveying my intentions, he agreed to let me document his next outing in a few weeks. But first, a mandatory tour of the facilities had to be implemented, both to show off some of the shop’s completed builds, and to offer some context to what was possible.
At some point during our tour, the 6-plus-foot tall Japanese giant of a business owner suddenly stopped between two rows of modified Suzuki platforms and earnestly asked me what I thought we should drive.
Choose Your Vehicle: Suzuki Jimny, Dirt Bike, or… Costco Van?!
Glancing around at the rows of gleaming, heavily outfitted Suzuki Jimny micro SUVs, my gaze came to rest upon a most unexpected option. “How about the Costco van?” I asked.
Bestowing the notably more spacious 4×4 delivery van with an amused glance. Akaji-san winked at me and mentioned something about this being a very wise choice for a multi-day Super Rindo Forest Road trail run. We promptly resumed the tour. It was at this point that I knew I was in for one hell of an adventure, and was indeed in good hands.
JDM Ingenuity Born From Necessity
Standing strongly upon a 20-year-old pedestal of wisely reinvested Japanese Yen, Akaji-san explained that both he and his highly skilled team have developed the means to fabricate almost any part a Suzuki 4×4 owner might need. According to Akaji-san, as long as DOT code is met, any component produced by Outclass Cars comes pre-approved to pass “shaken” (pronounced Shah-Ken), which is Japan’s mandatory bi-annual vehicle inspection.
From the shop’s perspective, this fact corresponds primarily to three things:
1.) Outclass Cars is a certified Japanese “shaken” parts manufacturer. This means that as an entity, it is recognized as a government-approved DOT-compliant parts manufacturer, and retailer. Cha-ching!!!
2.) Outclass Cars can fab up and amalgamate pretty much anything it wants, bearing code and production material/tools in mind of course. If proven useful on the trail (or off), the part is either put into production internally or contracted out to a Japanese third-party manufacturer for large-scale production.
3.) Coil springs, steel fender structure braces, snorkel air intakes, brake upgrades, both on- and off-road exhausts, submersion seal kits, seat covers, slim-fit iron rear bash bars with industry-leading breakover clearance levels… the Outclass Cars catalog of today goes on to great length. Hell, these guys even have occasional collaboration projects with forged wheel manufacturers and winch brands for vehicle-specific production runs.
Trail Heads, Mountain Veggies, And A Ton Of Momentum
A few weeks later, I arrived bright and early at Outclass Cars, bags packed, and thoughts of misty mountain roads in mind. After a brief meet and greet, we loaded into eight of the company’s top off-road vehicles and began our trek inland. I was riding point with Akaji-san in the Costco van, serving as both spotter and source of American entertainment.
A few clicks away was our trailhead. Beyond that, a lush valley accented by a fast-flowing freshwater stream, awash in mist as it slowly warmed in the morning summer sun. Labeled as the Mount Tsurugi Super Rindo East Course Kamikatsu Entrance, this trailhead can be easily distinguished via a massive wooden sign carved in totem pole fashion, marking the official start of our weekend-long adventure.
As the paved road began to turn into gravel, and we began to climb, 5G service was replaced by slower connections, before fading to nothing. Long gone were the quaint huts and traditional A-frame kominka homes, and in their place stood one abandoned storage barn after another.
Before the economic bubble burst in the 1990s, this had been one of Japan’s top citrus-producing regions. Financial disparity and an aging population had now turned everything to rust and rot. The scenes resembled a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller set sometime in the near future.
Into The Unknown And Abyss
By this point, the shade from the Japanese cedar trees had become so dense that sunlight could no longer be felt. In its stead, moss and fern thrived. Akaji-san’s pace was fervid yet nonchalant. Decades of weekend ventures down Super Rindo side trails had left their mark upon his psyche. He was numb to the grandeur and snacked on granola, shifted gears, and pointed out intriguing points along the way.
He explained that we were hauling ass for a reason, as the nearest summit offered outstanding photo ops. However, if we were to make it in time for supper, we would need to maintain some momentum. I nodded in understanding, as a group of dirt bikes zipped past us, covered in dust and cargo carriers loaded to capacity with camping gear.
Hot Noodles And A Photo Op Above The Clouds
Midday led us to a quaint, elongated building overlooking a vast range of north-facing mountain peaks. Part noodle shop, part mountainside campground, Gakujin no Mori serves as one of the last businesses along this end of Super Rindo where a hot meal can be obtained.
Lunch was a fantastic affair of local handmade soba noodles, fried tempura garden vegetables, and various small plates filled with pickles and wild foraged mountain vegetables. After quickly consuming our meals, we took some snaps of the caravan parked outside the restaurant and headed westward.
An hour later, we came across a steep bluff, and one hell of a strange sensation. We had climbed continuously since leaving the restaurant. An endless eternity amidst the moss, mud, slippery stones, and heavily canopied forest fills the wilderness. Suddenly, an open expanse in front of us struck an extremely stark contrast.
Everywhere you looked, cloud coverage rested. Treetops, cliff faces, the very ground we stood on, it was all one big-ass cloud. I soon discovered that Shikou island is located on the same latitudinal lines as the southeastern United States. The humid climate is supported by a long rainy season and tropical environment that surrounds Super Rindo. It is routinely inundated in cloud coverage for much of the year.
Standing there, feet literally in the clouds, we snapped some additional photos of our mini rigs. Moving out and onward, I anticipated our next destination. A campground run by an older gentleman who hunts his meat and lives off the wilds of the land.
As a fine layer of mist began to form on our windshield, Akaji-san shifted gears in the Costco van. Our pace pushed to the maximum safe speed, talk turned toward the approaching typhoon. Mudslides and flash flooding are a constant concern this far up in the mountains. It suddenly became a more disconcerting factor as the weather continued to deteriorate.
Deer Steaks, Sleeping Quarters, And Partying With A Famous Prince
Upon arriving at the evening’s campground, the deep storm clouds finally caught up with us. Fortunately, the night’s lodgings were a log cabin affair and did not require pitching a tent.
Sitting at a remote point along the northwestern end of one of Super Rindo’s larger trails was our destination. Forest of Fagus Takashiro is a hulking man-made mass amidst the wilds of the Fagus Forest. Part restaurant, part campground, part roadside station, this beast of a business venture is impossible to pass by.
While pulling supplies from our vehicles, the owner of the business came out to greet us, accompanied by a soft-spoken elderly woman with a broad smile and a warm “Irasshaimase!” shop greeting. The two could not have been any more polar opposites. Tall, barrel-chested, and undeniably gregarious, the elderly gentleman strode up to our caravan, a broad grin sprawled across his face. “Welcome to Fagus!” he loudly proclaimed in English, “I am Prince Jika-tabi!”
After introductions, I conferred with Akaji-san and revealed the contents of my cooler to the “prince”. Jika-tabi had earned himself quite the cult following and some substantial capital. Besides nature photography and documenting Super Rindo’s adventurers, he is known for other fascinating exploits.
After starting, running, owning, and acting as the lead chef at a very famous local hot spring spa in the mountain village of Kito for many years, Prince Jika-tabi felt the need to move deeper into the forest. He sold the resort, took his earnings, and started Forest of Fagus Takashiro with his female companion. There, the two offer refuge to cabin guests and campers alike. Their kitchen specializes in cuisine crafted around locally foraged seasonal foods, garden vegetables, and wild game.
It was the latter of these culinary attributes that sparked our conversation. I had brought with me a dozen stag steaks that I had just processed the night before. Upon hearing that he had a fellow huntsman in the house, Prince Jika-tabi threw his arm around me. He handed me a cold beer and led me (and my cooler) directly to the restaurant’s kitchen. There, we would cook, drink, and exchange information and tall tales for the next few hours. The rest of my companions unpacked and settled in.
After feasting on a fantastic collaborative spread that night, we settled into story time around a gargantuan 1.8-liter-sized bottle of strong, locally brewed sake. Tales of glorious photography adventures atop mountain peaks, motorcycle crashes down steep embankments, chance run-ins with Japanese celebrities, and the many perks (and pains) of trapping and butchering your meat were all uttered.
After several hours of storytelling, I completed an in-depth interview for Tokyo’s K Magazine cover story. It had been a long day and we bid our hosts goodnight and retreated to our quaint log cabins. Heads swimming in strong sake, my thoughts turned toward the storm front, as rain-filled clouds loomed heavy overhead.
Typhoons, Risky Trail Detours, And The Inevitable Return To Super Rindo
As predicted, the next morning brought torrential downpours and a massive jolt of ill-begotten news. The trail ahead was still passable, a mudslide did occur the night prior. It crushed the personal vehicle of the man in charge of our next lodging accommodations. Without a place to stay, and the forecast calling for more widespread flooding, we opted to return to basecamp. Without haste, we made our way back down as quickly as possible. The group concluded to attempt a second Super Rindo trip later in the autumn.
Despite being cut short, my first jaunt along the forearm of Japan’s longest off-road trail had been a fantastic experience. Treading across what the Japanese refer to as unkai (“sea of clouds”) was just as surreal as it was exhilarating.
A New Dawn: Super Rindo Forest Road Adventure #2
We returned to Super Rindo just a few short months later. This time dry weather and gorgeous autumn foliage were at our disposal. Planned as a short day trip, we rendezvoused for a 7:00 a.m. meet and greet. We started with a quick jaunt to our access point near the town of Kito. For all you geography junkies, this popular trailhead can be found on Google Maps under “Super Rindo Forest Road – Mt. Tsurugi West Entrance.”
Navigating a series of broad and rocky trails in and out of the mountain passes made for a full day. Our 10-hour expedition led us from towering waterfalls to the base of a tree-barren Mt. Tsurugi. This land mass is the second-highest peak on Shikoku island.
Standing 1,955 meters (6,414 feet) Mt. Tsurugi is nestled within the furthest reaches of the Iya Valley. The area remains a favorite destination for sightseers, hikers, and 4×4 fanatics. Here, deep forest drives offer a glimpse into a world where ramshackle Shinto shrines watch over animals and passersby alike. Sitting squarely between summit and sky makes the region primed for a wet and moist environment. Every substrate on this peak is covered in moss and fern while fresh mountain springs bubble up underfoot.
Despite being a 10-hour journey, we remained focused. A hasty climb to Mount Tsurugi was highlighted by a quick lunch at the mountainside red-roofed Yamanoie Cafe. That and some photo ops along the way constituted the day’s events. Our descent was just as fast-paced as our ascent. The navigable roadways and autumn’s waning daylight creeping over our shoulders pressed us on.
Local Exploration: Super Rindo Forest Road Adventure #3
My Day 4 on Super Rindo was an entirely solo vehicle affair. This actually took place many months later in the spring when the trails opened back up. Skimming Google Maps one evening, I navigated a mountain road leading to a farm I was procuring at the time. I traced its origins and discovered it was a long-forgotten trailhead to Rindo. Naturally, a quick explorative day trip was set into motion.
One sunny mid-morning, my brother-in-law, his father, and I hopped in my mildly modded Daihatsu 4×4. We set out for another adventure in our hearts. The goal: To explore this forgotten Rindo offshoot during daylight hours.
Just over four hours later, much of the rarely traversed Kamiyama-side of Super Rindo’s offshoot had been safely navigated. Steeply lined switchbacks and rocky shale outcroppings covered in heavy Japanese cedar tree shade had constructed 90 percent of the ascent. An unappealing, and surely dangerous climb when accompanied by any form of precipitation.
But just as we were beginning to despair and write the trail off as unappealing, a clearing appeared. There, a series of signs stated route suggestions and distances in kilometers. Arrows pointing toward the destinations to our right were well-beyond reach within one afternoon. The markers pointing left offered a far more achievable adventure.
Apparently, Amagoi Waterfalls, ranked as one of Tokushima Prefecture’s most celebrated water features, was just a quick jaunt down a side trail. There was also a very unique Buddhist temple that was dedicated to the horses of the earth. Beyond that, a very quaint camping area, free of charge, can be utilized.
Super Rindo Forest Road Future Adventures
Unfortunately, we discovered that the final descent to the falls could not be completed by car. So with a certain level of disappointment in mind, we returned to the main trail. Safely back down the mountain, we reviewed the potential that this rarely traversed forest road offered. Valley views may have been few and far between, and the climb itself was a dash treacherous. This obscure mountain pass offers a ton of potential once the top had been reached.
And thus, an accord was struck. The in-laws and I swore that we would return to Super Rindo in the autumn. Our mission is to delve deeper into Japan’s best mountain playground. The news that the upcoming week-long rains could produce mudslides, a grim reminder was re-instilled within our minds.
Regardless of what you drive, how well-outfitted your rig is, or how experienced you are behind the wheel, Super Rindo is going to have its way with you, one way or another. But maybe that’s why so many 4×4 fanatics love it so dearly. Out here you truly are at the mercy of Mother Nature and your survival skills, especially if something goes sideways along the way.
Personally, this has given me even more reason to modify my little double-cab Daihatsu Kei truck. At some point, you can read about our even more capable overlanding mini rig on Off Road Xtreme. Until then, I get the feeling that I’ll be back up on Super Rindo sooner rather than later. Especially since my new driveway serves double-duty as an unassuming secret trailhead.