Japan is one of the most campervan friendly country we have traveled so far. Traveling trough the country by your own transport and sleep wherever you want, makes you experience the “true” Japan, far from the ordinary touristy paths. The differences in Japan are huge and the Japanese countryside is a totally different story than the big cities. Everywhere we go we like to see the less visited places, to really feel the country. That is why for us there wasn’t other option than to make the good old road trip and rent a campervan.
First some facts about driving in Japan:
– driving on the left side
– almost all roadsigns are bilingual
– speed limits: in towns 40, outside towns 60, on highways 100
– you need International driving licence or official Japanese translation of your driving license. Please check for your country.
Read about our Japan travel itinerary here.
We found out that Japanese people are a very outdoor oriented nation and really love camping. Free camping spots can be found almost anywhere, except if there is a “No parking” sign. There are many campgrounds in the country, but everywhere from urban areas to more remote locations you can find free road side rest areas called “Michi-no-eki” with vending machines and free public bathrooms. There is where travellers by campers usually park and spend the night. Some of these stations have also a small grocery store, restaurant, gas station and are even Wi-Fi friendly. All of them very clean and safe. In fact, public toilets in Japan are the most beautiful and the cleanest we have ever seen everywhere we travelled so far.
If you are wandering where to bathe – onsens are the right answer! Onsen is a hot spring, found everywhere in the country due to the volcanic activity of the area. Sometimes they are free, but usually there is a symbolic entrance fee, in big cities or some famous onsens maybe little more expensive. There is a strict procedure in those geothermal pools. First you take the shower, only than, when you are totally clean, you can bathe yourself in the beautiful warm water. But in all of them you have to be clothes free (naked). After bathing in onsens you feel extremely refreshed and relaxed. Finding a map of onsens is easy, you can find them all over the country and you can stop nearby one every night.
If you are driving mostly in the countryside, there will be no tolls on the road. We had to pay tolls on highways around and from Tokyo to Kyoto and in northern part of Wakayama. If you try to avoid the toll highways, take your time and see the beauty of Japan by traveling on small countryside roads.
The “classic” Japan itinerary takes the train as the main transport, but if a visitor really wants to experience also places off the beaten path and have the freedom to travel anywhere he wants, than a campervan adventure is the way to go. Not to mention that for a family is much more economical to travel this way, than to take the Rail Pass and the notoriously expensive japanese accommodation.
For us travelling by campervan in Japan was the ultimate Japan trip, adventurous and accessible. Even Lonely Planet named Japan one of the top destinations for camper van travel!
Essentials to bring when roadtripping in Japan:
– an onsen map (app) to feel fresh every evening
– a small towel will be practical for visiting onsens
– a good insurance as for every travel. We use Coris for years now and had great experience with it when we got into troubles
– a translate app is very helpful, as very few Japanese people speak more than very basic words and phrases in English