Despite spring having already crested the horizon, behind the wheel of the new Ferrari Portofino M it feels like the dead of winter outside. Snowflakes are falling on Hiroshima, the colours of the sunrise have been sucked from the sky, and the temperature is dropping.
No matter, because this car has a twin soul, able to play the role of a genuine spider when its top is open, but an authentic coupé with it closed. And despite the slippery conditions, the Portofino M cruises smoothly through a cityscape that is a mix of the modern and the ancient.
Our destination is the Fudoin Temple, not far from the city centre. A beautiful, ancient, wooden place of worship, it dates from the Heian Period (8th-12th century) and houses a number of important cultural assets. These include the tower gate, a magnificent two-storey structure that beautifully conveys the architectural styles of the Muromachi Period (14th-16th century), with three-metre tall Nio ‘guardians’ standing sentinel to protect the Kondo, or main hall.
The temple is one of the largest architectural remains of its kind in Japan, and exists today because it miraculously escaped the destructive power of an atomic bomb. It stands as a monument of the Hiroshima that existed before 08.15 on August 6, 1945.
As does the city of Hiroshima. It lives on to inform the world of the destructive power of humankind, known worldwide – along with Nagasaki – as a place that recovered from the catastrophic destruction at the end of the Second World War. It is now one of the most popular cities in Japan for foreign visitors, with tourist numbers just behind Tokyo and Kyoto.
Yet even to those of us who call Japan home, there is more to uncover here. We join the urban expressway from Hiroshima to Kure, a city about 30km to the southeast, known for shipbuilding. The latest Prancing Horse convertible boasts a slew of new technical and design features, enhancing the outright performance – but it nonetheless still shines as a soothing GT, cruising at speed to our destination. The ride is refined, the seats wonderfully snug, the vast reserves of torque surging us forward when called upon.
At Kure we’re greeted by the spectacle of the Seto Inland Sea, its waters glittering. As the clouds disperse and the sun breaks through, just 14 seconds separates us from the cocooned, cossetting cabin, to the Retractable Hard Top opening to reveal the blue sky overhead. With the new five-position Manettino set to Race, a first for a Ferrari GT convertible, we continue our journey.
Now the Portofino M reveals another side to its character. The new eight-speed gearbox, which seamlessly ushered through shifts on the expressway, is now sharp, its alertness mirrored by the response of the throttle. The GT is now a sports car, with powerful acceleration from the 620cv turbo V8 entertaining us all the way along the coast.
We pass areas heavily populated by lemon trees and then cross the Akinada Bridge to Shimo-kamagari Island. This area prospered in the Edo Period (17th-19th century) as a way station on the road to Edo (Tokyo), including as a stop-over point for Korean envoys on diplomatic missions.
After a fresh seafood lunch, we keep exploring, heading further across this island chain, over Kami-kamagari Island and onwards. Our final destination is Toyoshima, a small island with a population of around 2,000. Nature is abundant; the main industries are fishing and citrus cultivation.
As our journey comes to an end, I catch sight of a fishing port. It is permeated by the atmosphere of old Japan, and as we settle on this view, I feel truly fortunate to have come all this way from Hiroshima. It may sound strange, but this drive had allowed me – a Japanese person and traveller – to gain a greater appreciation of my own country.
Words Jun Nishikawa