always follow the 4pm-rule
when travelling, you often know where you want to be when night falls
sometimes you don’t, or things just work out differently
but no worries you will find a good spot to overnight in your camping car if you follow the 4pm-rule!
This article explains the 4pm-rule… how you always find a suitable spot to park and sleep
Sometimes things just go wrong
Usually I have a at least a rough idea of where about I want to end up each day. Because I like planning my trips in advance. At least roughly. It is part of the fun. And some research helps making sure you find the exciting Japanese sights, and much more. But it happens that the plan gets set aside, and a new one is made up on the spot. To stay longer at some local festival, do an extra hiking trail or because the kids are in a particular strong mood for playing outside. Or, when a certain drive took longer than anticipated. Especially ever-winding coastal routes and mountain roads are notorious for underestimating driving times. And than what?
New highway, old map
It happened on the for-last day of a recent trip. We were making good distance on the toll road. I do not really like them, but it becomes unavoidable if you make most trips starting from the same location, your home for example, you want to reach new places further and further away and you do not have unlimited time. And to be honest, toll roads are a breeze, and views can be superb. Better often than on the ever winding local roads running next to or below them. And local roads have many traffic lights. But, I should also mention ‘the tunnels.’ Large stretches of toll road are tunnelled through mountains, and you see nothing but erie yellow lights. For kilometers and kilometers.
But what happened? Well, my map did not yet have that brand new bit of toll road and the gps showed us being completely off the rails too. We were moving through an green empty screen without roads or anything on it. Than, an enormous junction came up ahead, with many many exit ramps, bridges and kilometers of circling roads to get into another direction. Very Japanese to built like that in the mountains, there is ample space. But very hard to navigate. For me anyway.
So to cut a long story short: I failed to continue in the direction I wanted, the next turn off was miles ahead and, most importantly, the clock was about to strike ‘the magical four in the afternoon!’
What happens at 4pm
If you want to successfully camper in Japan, or anywhere if you ask me, and you do not know the precise great spot to park and sleep the coming night, you have but one rule to follow. A simple one. ‘Stop at 4 o’clock!’ Yes, get off the road, look around you and on the map and/or gps and pick a likely place to try for the night. Close by. Go check it out and if you do not like it too much, there is still enough daylight to try again a bit further on. And even once more if you need to. By then, especially with a bit of experience, you will have found a nice or at least nice enough spot to park and sleep.
Following the 4-pm-rule avoids stress and tension in the car. We all know and dread the scene where the driver and the navigator get really fed up with each other, don’t we?! Stop on time, find a spot, enjoy the sunset with a cold drink. Quickly drop into a local shop for some last minute dinner ingredients. Let the kids lose some steam outside. The 4-pm-rule makes it possible.
So what happened to us…
Well, we drove about 15 kilometers in the wrong direction before a turn off came. There it was when, after kilometers of tunnel, a sudden gap appeared with a short exit, before a new tunnel mouth opened up. We took the exit and swapped the high speed toll for an unbelievable 1-way exit road through a very narrow gorge. Seemed they created that road only to help constructing the highway, and than decided to keep it. There was nobody around. Just rice terraces and dark green forest. After several kilometers we reached a small junction and figured to take a right, roughly the direction we wanted the next day. Since we could not get back onto the highway at the 1-way exit! On the map was a village. And, on the GPS suddenly appeared an onsen sign nearby (hot spring)! First a stop to buy some vegetables in the only shop in the village. It was just about the close for the night. We still got some tomatoes and rice. And also found out the promising onsen was no longer running; it had cooled down too much. So we looked for a spot to park and sleep.
We followed the 4pm-rule!
Small village or not, there is nearly always some sort of centre. The post office, a school, a police station. You will see it soon enough. And as a public place, there is generally a public bathroom too. So at 4.35pm, just half an hour after the magic moment, we had found a great spot for the night. On a quiet little parking under some (not-blooming) cherry trees. Next to a stream where the boys could throw lots of rocks in while we cooked dinner. Opposite a small but clean public bathroom, surrounded by flowers. And, without any stress 😉
The next day we followed the small road out of the village. After several beautiful kilometers, we arrived right back at that weird highway junction. An entrance onto it appeared as by magic and we were back on track. After a quiet night in very remote and unexpectedly pretty village.
That’s what happens if you follow the 4pm-rule!
Create your unique trip! Go Camper Japan!
PS. you wonder where that spot was? To prepare for the off-chance that you also end up there, around 4pm? Check out this GPS location 34.924960, 137.686357 and you are right underneath the same cherry trees!
All about how you can actually do this, exploring Japan by rental camper car, check our How to–pages
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