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The road has thankfully just widened — and by that I mean it’s more than 2 meters across — when we meet our first oncoming car.

I’ve been dreading this moment since we turned onto Route 445, a twisting “highway” that leads up into the mountains of Gokanosho in southern Kumamoto Prefecture. On an island not particularly known for its autumn colors, the Gokanosho region serves up some stunning foliage to Kyushu denizens. So impressive are the leaves that thousands flock here over a few weekends in late October and November, making the treacherous mountain lanes a serious test of one’s driving skills. On a few select days in November, a brigade of citizen volunteers turns out to enforce a route of one-way roads, easing the congestion on the narrow byways. Unfortunately, we’re here the day before the rules are enforced, and it’s time to test my vehicular capabilities.

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