For us, using a campervan for our tour around Japan was the perfect choice. We have never driven a campervan before and are very much camping novices, but we loved the flexibility and the adventure of the open road, as well as the practical side of not having to constantly heave our luggage around. There are obvious pros and cons to life in a campervan which I won’t go into, but here are some thoughts on Japan specifically as a campervan destination.
First let’s have a look at the big selling points:
- Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, with very little crime, a good infrastructure and no major health or safety risks. As long as you stay on the main, numbered roads, driving is easy and roads are in decent condition. Even driving after sunset or parking up late in the evening are fine and usually safe.
- A comprehensive network of free rest stations (michi-no-eki) and public facilities makes it easy to find a suitable stop for the night. In fact, you can spend the night wherever you like, as long as you are parked legally.
- You can fully immerse yourself in the Japanese onsen culture and soak yourself the traditional way at one of the innumerable public bath houses.
- Cleanliness standards are very high compared to other countries and public toilets (including baby changing facilities) are aplenty and well maintained. Many loos are outright luxurious with heated seats, music, bidet, ‘privacy noises’ and scented air fresheners.
- You get to see the rural Japan and visit traditional villages that are not easily accessible by public transport, creating a real breadth of experiences during your visit.
So far so good. However, there are a few factors worth bearing in mind when considering travelling by campervan:
- Due to constant speed restrictions, even on the chargeable expressways, getting around can be slow, and you will probably have to focus on one region or a few key places if your time is limited.
- Tolls are expensive, and I mean really expensive! As a rule of thumb you can expect to pay c. £20-30 per 100km – it quickly adds up and should be considered in your budget.
- Google Maps struggles with the Japanese way of building roads on top of each other, especially in cities – prepare to get lost. And in Japan this means before you know it you’ve entered yet another toll road while driving in the wrong direction.
- Shops and restaurants at roadside stations close early, around 5 or 6pm, so unless you’re happy to finish your day late afternoon you need to plan ahead and sort out food and drink before parking up.
- The weather…. In the rain, life in a tiny campervan is not so great. Without use of outside space, there’s just an awful lot more juggling and climbing over each other, and that can be quite tiresome. Equally, in the height of summer, the campervan gets very hot at night.
So, if you’re keen on a slightly different experience, are not wedded to the idea of covering Japan from top to bottom and fancy seeing some of the more remote parts of Japan, give it a try! Consider the budget and time implications, and go for it!
Read more about why you should consider visiting Japan in a campervan here.