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Drive Out into the Wild with a Campervan Experience

Photo credit: Dream Drive


With Japan’s many natural wonders and scenic beauty, a new breed of travelers are choosing to explore at their own pace. By renting a campervan, travelers can get further afield, visit the lesser-known parts of the Japanese countryside and dip into some of the best Japan has to offer. 


Photo credit: Overland Japan


Van life: The growing popularity of campervans in Japan

While outdoor recreation was already quite popular in Japan, the demand for campervans is now on the rise. Not only does it offer safe, independent travel away from crowds, but it’s fast becoming a lifestyle too. As remote work gains acceptance, the flexibility to work from anywhere gives these new nomads the ability to go further afield, forging a new definition of work-life balance as they go. 


Traveling with pocket wifi makes teleworking from any location possible. 
Photo credit: Dream Drive


Explore an undiscovered gem for campervan travel

Aside from the country’s stunning natural beauty, comfort and safety make Japan one of the world’s best locations for overland camping and campervans. Not only is the extensive road network paved and well-maintained, it’s also easy to navigate and you’ll find no end of safe and hospitable stops along the way.  


Hot spring (onsen) and public bath (sento) culture allows easy access to bathhouses almost anywhere in the country. When you’re camping, hot running water is a valuable commodity and thankfully Japan has no shortage of thermal waters for your daily refresh. With over 1,000 roadside stations (michi-no-eki) throughout the country, creature comforts are never too far off. These rest stops offer public restrooms and other facilities to recharge. Perhaps most importantly, they also offer free 24-hour parking and over 100 of these stops now have hot spring spas. These government facilities are also great places to discover and shop for regional goods. 


Roadside stations, like this one in Gunma Prefecture, can be found along roads throughout the country.

Photo credit: pixta


Getting around in campervan style

Freeform travel is the highlight of the campervan experience but understandably, with the high numbers of travelers in Japan and busy peak seasons, unplanned travel may not be for everyone. While there are many free and paid sites to park at all over the country, it’s advisable to roughly plan your route in advance. Auto camps, which often require reservations, can be destinations in themselves with beautiful locations and tons of amenities. As expected, these places are very popular in the summer months, but if you can book yourself in, they could make a good home base for daytrip exploration. 

Online RV park guides and camping apps such as iOverlander can be good resources for finding locations to park and camp.
Photo credit: Dream Drive


Making the most of your campervan experience

If you allow it, spontaneity may take you to some of the most memorable and unexpected locations on your journey, while in turn revitalizing areas of Japan that are often overlooked by tourism. Most people visiting Japan are restricted to major attractions around shinkansen routes, but this will give you an opportunity to explore areas that most tourists only glimpse from the window of a high-speed train. 

Nothing beats waking up to a steaming cup of hot coffee in the wilderness. 
Photo credit: Overland Japan


Take advantage of the fact that your travel isn’t impeded by unpredictable weather or bound to public transportation and take the road less traveled. Most importantly, plan for some much-deserved time off the road to relax. Roughly planning meals ahead will allow you to have a more fulfilling experience on the road and in the wild. 


Additional camping items such as BBQ and cooking equipment often come included with your rental as well as other add-ons. 
Photo credit: Overland Japan & Henry Delac Weddings


Recommended routes and other tips on campervan travel


Once you acquire your campervan, we recommend heading to the great outdoors as soon as possible where the roads are wider and easier to navigate than city streets. During Japan's hot summer months you have many options to head beachside to locations like Suruga Bay, or to cooler, higher altitudes in Nagano. Another favorite is camping alongside iconic Mt. Fuji which is possible from both Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. 
Dream Drive and Overland Campers Japan provide a wealth of information on suggested campsites, hot springs and great views of Mt. Fuji in their itineraries around the Fuji Five Lake area.


Photo credit: Dream Drive


Lastly, even as we see some stores going cashless in large cities, there are many mom-and-pop shops that are still cash only in Japan. It is important to carry some cash for parking meters, tolls, campground fees and other unexpected expenses. Also, make sure you have a portable pocket wifi so you can navigate with Google Maps. This will help you not only plan your journey but also to find gas stations along the way. Finally, note that the traffic rules in Japan may be different from those in your home country, so please take care to learn the road signs and speed limits before setting out.



    About the author

    Author: Jamie Lee Reed
    Profile: Based in Tokyo but raised in the Appalachians outside of NYC, Jamie continues to seek that fine balance between city-life and the great outdoors. As a freelance writer, artist and yoga teacher, she is always on the lookout for new ways to share her passions and experiences with a larger audience.











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