Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A guide to Campervan around Japan

Firstly, yes it is totally do-able to campervan in Japan! I would recommend it for three big reasons 

save on accommodation


the ability to see lots of japan!

What you will need:
  international drivers license
  a van (we booked ours through camgo - more info below)
  money for petrol, tolls (if you take them) parking, onsens and miscellaneous things that pop up

other useful things:
  onsen app (came with our rental)
  michi no eki app (came with our rental) 
  a gps in your language (came with our rental)
  a quick briefing on petrol stations if you're not familar with Japanese:
  (this youtube video has helpful tips!)
  a rough idea of where you're traveling (so you can maximise your time and return your van on time)
  travelers insurance (we didn't have this and it cost us!)
A Japanese translator app on your phone (if you can't speak Japanese)
  a read through this guide :P 

Our Van Rental
We booked out van through Camgo and cannot recommend Kimi and his company enough! We had a few mishaps on our adventure and Kimi helped us out every step.  His philosophy is to have the most affordable rental in Japan which combined with great service becomes a winning combo  :) 

Kimi drop the van off to us and it took around an hour for him to go through all the paperwork and explain how everything worked.

Be aware that if you travel over a certain amount of kms there is an extra fee for having the van serviced.

BASIC COST - 15 days covering 4500kms
(excluding food, onsens and parking)

Campervan 109890 yen
Petrol 44360 yen
Tolls 16560 yen
TOTAL: 170810


The michi no eki app was a lifesaver, each night we'd open the app and see where the nearest michi no eki was.  A michi no eki is essentially a roadhouse, sometimes with nothing more then a parking lot and a restroom whilst other fancier michi no ekis, had food halls, info centres and small shops.  With 1000+ michi no ekis in Japan they were easy to find but on the rare occasion we couldn't, or the nearest one meant backtracking or was just too far away to get to, we parked on the sly. 

I wouldn't exactly recommend parking on the sly as we seemed to encounter a lot of no-parking signs in Japan and obviously this means you're putting yourself at risk of a penalty. We did on the flip side try to find the most legit parking we could. The first night we slept in the town hall parking lot (recommended to us by our Japanese friends) and we saw a lot of other cars doing a similar thing.  We also slept in a gymnasium parking lot, a park by the ocean and a few of other random spots. When parking on the sly we made sure to wake up super early and move on so we wouldn't cause any disturbances.

This is where the onsen app was great, every second night or so, we'd see if there was an onsen (bathhouse) close by and head there. There's lots of onsens in Japan so bathing will not be a problem although there's some etiquette involved with the process. Be aware you do need to clean off at the shower section before entering the bath and not to put your head or modesty towel under the water + just being overall respectful of others.  Also if you bring your own towel and face cloth/modesty towel the price is usually cheaper.  Some cheaper onsens don't come with soap dispensers, so I found carrying a bar of soap super helpful too!

Onsens will typically have a vending machine next to the front desk with the selections written in Japanese, I quickly learnt the symbol for person and took some educated guessed for the rest. Our first onsen had one price being slightly more expensive and since we didn't know this meant towel hire we hit the cheaper button and found out the hard way - luckily shirts make okay substitutes for towels :P We eventually hit up a 100yen store and bought our selves a towel and a facecloth so we could save the towel rental for the rest of the trip :) 

Another thing to be aware of is that tattoos in onsens are frowned upon and often forbidden due to their association with Japanese Gangs (yakuza). My tattoo being small didn't pose too much of a problem but just be ready to be turned away.  My Japanese friend recommended buying some tape and we did buy some but unfortunately the tape came off in the water.  It might be sensible to try and test out some tapes before traveling over and bring the good stuff with you!

Note: Above I referred to all bathhouses as onsens but only recently learned that 'onsen' is usually reserved for bathhouses with a natural spring whilst the word 'sento' references bathhouse's that just use hot water without a natural thermal spot to heat the water (although I believe onsen has become a common term for both types).

If you want to read a bit more about the onsen process, I wrote some more info at the bottom of this blog post here.

Our first petrol experience was horrible and we spilt petrol all over the station's floor (they don't seem to have the clicky noise like we do in Australia to indicate you're nearing the top). There's a bunch of different petrol stations in Japan, some do everything for you (god send) whilst others you have to go and try and figure out the machine (all in Japanese) until you break and try and find an attendant to help you. As far as we could tell, you also need to state how much you want to spend before filling up, pay the amount and if there is left over money, you take your receipt to a vending machine nearby which refunds you the change - very odd. My advice youtube some petrol station videos like this one, before heading over.

Easy, if you can work them in your own country I have no doubt you can work them in Japan!

A big part of hiring a campervan for our trip was to save money and see more rural japan - the stuff you miss via public transport. Doing toll roads we found equated to around half the drive time, but also were quite steep in price and cut out a lot of the rural sightseeing we were after.  We only did tolls once or twice when we needed to get somewhere by a certain time (penis festival anyone!) but that four hour toll trip (8 hours if we hadn't taken the tolls) cost us around 8000 yen. The GPS in our van had a nice easy feature to exclude tolls - which made life super easy!

Parking was an expense I wasn't expecting, previous trips had involved the sole use of public transport so it was a shock to learn we may have to pay to park and check out tourist spots. We found overall, it was only in the main city centers we had to pay for parking and in the end only added a small expense onto the trip - definitely wasn't a deal breaker. 

When we hit Osaka and Tokyo and Fukuoka city, I quietly wished we were on public transport, it was slow moving and stressful.  It's definitely something to be aware of and either accept or plan your holiday to avoid the major cities.  If your use to city driving in your own country this may not even be a problem - just something to consider.

Some things did go wrong on our trip, we left the lights on once during the day which resulted in a flat battery.  Just a word of warning, our van didn't make an alert noise when we pulled out the keys (but still had the headlights on) something we are used to with our cars in AustraliaYou will find yourself driving through lots of tunnels in Japan with signage to put your lights on before entering, so you'll be turning your lights on and off a lot (even during the day) and therefore quite quite easy to forget they may still be on when you stop.

When we did flatten the battery, we emailed our van rental who sent out the guy above and all was resolved in a couple of hours, so not a huge problem but just something to be mindful of!

We also had one of our indicator light bulbs blow so we headed to a Yellow Hat (mechanical shop) who gave us some amazing next level Japanese service.  Our Japanese translator app became super useful in this situation as we could type out the phrase ready to go, making the process quick and straight forward. 

The last and most expensive thing I did was back into another car, you can read more about it at the bottom of this blog post here but essentially that mistake ended up costing 70000 yen.  Although the van hire does have insurance, that amount was the excess I needed to cover.  Luckily we had the cash available to cover it as we had to pay up front. If that idea worries you, it may be worth considering travelers insurance.

  Everyone speeds 10-20kms over (there speed limits are quite slow in everyone's defense).

  You'll find other drivers pulling up in random spots - even if unsafe to do so 

  If traffic lights flash red you can go through them (well I hope you can) 

  Peeps put their hazards lights on to say thank you  (I loved this!)

  Different stickers on cars denote different things, learning, elderly and disabled  
  (Camgo provided a learners sticker which helped us be more forgiving to other drivers)

  Japan has super narrow streets but Japan also has narrow vehicles. 

  Pedestrians walk on opposite side to cars

  A michi no eki can be almost empty yet a car always pulled up beside us 

  The majority of cars are white, silver or champagne coloured (too random - yup!)

Thanks for reading the guide

Let me know below in the comments if you have any other questions :)



  1. Bookmarked this! I love the idea of campvaning around japan and the van is SO cool. Thanks for sharing this is going to be useful to many of us x

    Katrina Sophia

    1. Thanks Katrina! I definitely had apprehension doing the campervan thing in Japan, mostly of horror stories that it was so expensive and not something that could really be done but I think it worked out very similar in costing to our last public transport holiday but this time we had more freedom to go further a field :) I hope it's helpful to others and helps to break the "not feasible" stigma!

  2. Great info!! Loved that you pulled all this together (and I kinda love using hazards to say thank you - we just put up our hand to say sorry, thank you, etc.)

    1. Thanks Jane! At the start I thought the hazard lights was a horrible idea and should only be reserved for, errr, hazards BUT I ended up deciding it was the most wonderful thing! I'm sure it cuts down immensely on road rage and you're able to keep your hazards on for longer the greater the thank-you!

  3. Fee! So much to say, but let me start by saying I have been LOVING these Japan posts! They're amazing! I've been having a long-needed blog catchup today and am so blown away by your adventures. So very, very well captured! And thank you for your lovely comment the other day, too—I have always been so grateful to have you as a reader :)

    1. Aww thank-you so much Shoko means a lot to me, especially from such a creative soul as yourself :) :) Happy Blog Pals *high five*

  4. After reading your blog, I got some of your points and I might change something in my planned to travel. In applications of your tips, I can save some cost. Thanks for sharing this very helpful information.

    camper Hire melbourne

    1. So glad it was helpful! Good luck on your trip!


If you would like to be notified of further replies click the "notify me" box (in the bottom right hand corner)