Despite not having much experience in travelling in a campervan, or camping in general, we decided to give it a go for our first visit of Japan. Here’s an overview of our 11 day Japan itinerary, focusing on Honshu island.
Our roadtrip started in Narita, at the offices of JapanCampers where we picked up our Mazda Bongo campervan. From there we headed straight (well, with a few unintended detours) to Tokyo. The parking area we had originally chosen for our first night turned out to be a bit of a let down. After several hours searching and constantly getting lost on toll roads we grew desperate and ended up in a paid car park right by Odaiba Beach.
It was noisy and expensive but such a great spot for our two nights in Tokyo. The view over the bay and rainbow bridge was fantastic, there were public toilets and (much needed) showers nearby and plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants just a few minutes walk away. And an easy monorail connection into the centre. We managed to visit Senso-ji, Akihabara, Shinjuku and Shibuya.
Hakone and Fuji Five Lakes
From Tokyo we headed down to Hakone, where we spent a couple of hours exploring the hillside town. As we didn’t have time for a proper hike, we soon got back on the road towards Mount Fuji, where we spent the night at a Michi-no-eki right next to Lake Kawaguchiko. Being early risers, we spent the morning travelling from lake to lake, taking in the ever changing marvellous views of Fuji. We came across a fantastic parking area by Lake Shojiko, which would have made an even better overnight spot.
Longing for a wash, we headed to a nearby Onsen, Fuji Yurari Hot Spring. Complete novices at this point we stumbled from faux-pas to faux-pas, but nonetheless had an amazing experience soaking in the various hot waters with prime views over Fuji.
After a quick stop for lunch en route we made our way towards the Kiso valley, where we pitched up at a Michi-no-eki just outside Tsumago. The restaurant was still open and served delicious dinner, followed by beers on our folding chairs in company of fellow Japanese and overseas campers.
The next morning, we parked in the old post town of Magome, where we started our 2.5 hour hike through the Kiso valley to Tsumago. An easy shuttle bus returned us to our car.
In the afternoon, we started the long but easy drive towards Kyoto. Having washed and relaxed in a simple Onsen, we spent the night at a Michi-no-eki by Lake Biwa. We briefly considered the nearby campsite but swiftly moved on when we heard the price for an overnight stay with shower. From Lake Biwa it was only a short drive into Kyoto, where we parked at the Times car park by Jujo station, very good value with easy connection into the centre.
We spent a full on day exploring the city, and visited the Sanjusangendo temple with its 1000 Kannon statues as well as the Golden Palace. After Geisha spotting in Gion, we treated ourselves to our first fresh Sashimi in Japan. As darkness set, we headed back to our car for the short drive to the incresible Fushimi Inari shrine with its 10,000 orange torii gates. The temple is open 24 hours and free to visit, it looked amazing in the dark.
With Rosalin fed and asleep in the car we decides to spend the evening driving to Nara, where we found a McDonald’s and rest station on the outskirts.
Nara & Iga
An unplanned stop on our route, we had all morning to spend in Nara, visiting Todai-ji with the Giant Buddha and watching the deer freely roaming the city.
After a nice lunch in a little cafe, we headed to Iga to visit the Ninja House and Museum. We even got to see a Ninja-Show! After a quick stop at an Onsen, we spent the night in the clouds, at a quiet Michi-no-eki in the Gifu mountains not far from Takayama.
In the morning, we first headed to Ogimachi, a small village famous for its Gassho-zukuri farm houses. We took the short hike up to the viewing platform, for where we had fantastic views over the entire village.
Afterwards, we headed to Takayama, a town with a very traditional Japanese feel. We ate us through a number of local delicacies, mainly different versions of hida beef, frankly more miss than hit.
In the afternoon, we ditched the toll road in favour of an autumnal detour across the Gifu moutains, all the way to Matsumoto. We had dinner at a family restaurant and settled in for the night.
Having been very fortunate with the weather up to this point, the next morning the rain came. It didn’t matter for our visit of Matsumoto castle and we even had brunch outside a little cafe in the famous frog road. After a couple of hours wandering the streets of Matsumoto the rain grew heavier and we decided to move on.
On the way to Nikko, we took a short detour to the Kegan waterfall. Turns out it gets very cloudy in the mountains and we could barely make out the waterfall through the fog, but it certainly sounded very impressive!
We parked up at a michi-no-eki in Nikko and, catching a lucky break in the rain, started to look for some dinner. Instead of restaurants we stumbled upon a Matsuri street festival with a dozen lavishly decorated and illuminated floats – and more importantly, lots of delicious street food! We enjoyed a fun couple of hours munching, watching and chatting before the rain started again and we called it a night.
It was still raining the next morning, but we headed to the Tosho-gu Shrine anyway. Fortunately the owners of the nearby hotel gift shop were quick thinkers and got out their selection of umbrellas. Finally adequately equipped, we were able to enjoy this amazing temple complex and its colourful and intricate carvings. The rain and fog just added to the serene atmosphere of the place, the moss-covered lanterns seemingly glowing bright green in the mist. We had a fantastic lunch in Nikko and spent a couple of hours in the town, before heading towards our last stop not far from Narita, where we returned our campervan to JapanCampers the next morning.
Admittedly, a very packed itinerary of the island of Honshu, but we got to see and experience so much of Japan in a relatively short time. In total, we covered just over 1800 kilometers.
And after 11 days in a campervan we were ready for a bit of R&R on the beach in Okinawa, where we spent our last few days in Japan.