How a Japanese rental camper is different from other countries
Facilities and size of a Japanese rental camper differ quite a bit from those around the world
Go Camper Japan helps you understand, and prepare your trip
You consider exploring The Land of the Rising Sun by camper car. You have an expectation, maybe even previous experience with camping car travel. In Japan, as in many countries other than your own, things do not always work the way you think. Better maybe, or worse, but often different.
Being aware is key to a great holiday. So call this article ‘our awareness campaign!’
in size and space
in facilities like kitchen, toilet and how these work
in your daily camper-life, especially if you have camper experience already
On this page we list most of what could be different, or unexpected. So you can consider carefully if a Japanese rental camper is indeed your best travel partner in Japan.
THE Japanese rental camper does not exist
In Japan we have several rental companies and they have all kinds of models on offer. Big(ish), small, new, older. From minivans to microcars to various versions of more universal-looking-camping car models. These all have several things in common, and this ‘red line’ is what we can talk about in this article. Not each and every different model.
- car size is smaller, under 5 meters long
- limited storage space
- no toilet onboard
- no shower/bathroom onboard
- often a tiny and limited kitchen, with limited equipment
- stove is often a portable, 1 burner type
- water tanks can be quite limited
- no seats/table to sit outside included
- karaoke function on the tv!
Now don’t put off the whole idea already! There are some creative and wonderful ‘solutions’ to these differences!
Small is the new large: car size
Did you already google for images of ‘Japanese camping cars?’ You should, it’s fun! You can see inventive self-built cars and also the most famous one of all, the cute little ‘Kei car.’ Most of us will not seriously consider renting a camping car that small but on the road you may see a local or 2 enjoying them. As you can imagine, they like to sit outside a lot 😉 And they do take us to the single most important subject: car size.
In Japan everything is smaller than similar things in other countries. Smaller yet often smartly (re-)designed. Micro hifi-sets, tiny bathrooms that still fit in a fountain, living rooms that double as bedrooms by putting foldable mattresses on the floor at night. Even the roads are narrower here. This is because so many people want to fit in the flat, easier to inhabit coastal areas. And Japanese, like most of us, dream of a family home, not so much an apartment. So all of this takes space. Reducing size of every object is one solution, and often possible because the fish-and-vegetable-eating locals are generally shorter and skinnier than most other global residents.
99% of camping cars is sold and rented to the local market. Used as they are to small spaces, eating at low tables and sharing the great public facilities, there is no need for ‘western seized cars.’ Almost all camping cars are under 5 meters long and fit parking space anywhere. It does make driving very convenient. And it does make me (185cm) bump my head regularly! It also means that some facilities are left out.
No toilet onboard
It is a fact that most vehicles do not have an onboard toilet, and the good solution could very well be the reason too!
The section ‘how to.. use toilets on the road‘ covers all details but in short, public restrooms are everywhere in Japan, and they are clean and free. At night too, you can safely go outside and use them. That is what local people do, and remember, most RV users are locals. And if safety is no issue, what is the difference with walking to the toilet block on a campsite? But yes, many of us will consider this a nuisance.
No bathroom/ shower onboard
Another important difference is the lack of a (working) bathroom. Campers elsewhere often have a small but separate bathroom, usually with shower, but not in Japan. Campervans usually have a sink in the kitchenette that could double as a washing basin. You may expect more in a bigger sized vehicle, don’t count on it. Better carefully check the specs on your rental company website, or better still, ask them. With 2 different rentals we did have the bathroom space, but once the door opened, it was empty. For extra luggage space that certainly is a good thing. But what to do?
Here in my opinion the reason is that most Japanese do not make long trips, because they don’t have many holidays. And on their short trips they like to visit their fabulous hot springs called ‘onsen.’ There are many of these natural hot baths and when there isn’t one, there is usually an ‘sento’ nearby. These are bathing houses, ranging from basic to very nice. Often the main difference with a hot spring is that sento-water is not geothermal heated but simply comes from a boiler system. In the ‘how to.. wash and bath on the road‘-section are all details you need.
Kitchenette and kitchen-not
Most campers have some sort of kitchenette. The bigger the car, the more this will contain. Campervans are small, and not all models come with a fridge! That I find a bit of a hassle, especially on non-winter trips. With ‘an insulation bag and ice cubes from the supermarket’ you can only solve this to a little extend. So I would pay attention to that.
On the other hand, from the famous vending machines you can get cooled (or hot) drinks on every corner of the country. Even Ice cream and milk can be found. But these machines are useless for your daily groceries..
Stoves. Bigger models come with built-in stoves. 1 burner or 2. In other cases you may get a portable version, which I do like because it is fun to take them outside onto the grass or picnic bench to make a proper outdoor kitchen. Less bacon-‘n-eggs-smell inside too! And the canisters are cheap and for sale anywhere.
But do be careful when using them inside; a table might be wobbly and space above the stove small. Sometimes I simply place it on the floor but I agree this might not be how you prepare your usual cup of tea in a camping car.
Running water. If there is a basin, there is an electrical tap. This water will often come from a jerrycan under the sink. Not usually a large tank to be filled from the outside. And waste water could go into another jerrycan, next to it.
Or to a wastewater tank somewhere else. Jerry cans are easy to fill from taps in parks or at public toilets. For me they are mostly for washing (up), not drinking. Because how old are these tubes and who used that jerrycan of ‘drinking’ water before you? When you have experience with well-equipped campers in other countries, it is good to check on this when hiring, or at least realise that in a Japanese rental camper it might be different.
Pots, pans, microwave. So you want to cook? Sure, at the very least brew up a coffee in the morning. Well, at the risk of sounding annoying I report that kitchen utensils including pots and pans can be very few. Or none! What?! Why? Because the Japanese style is to eat out, and to take home.
Ready-made meals of a reasonable quality come from every supermarket and convenience store. They have a microwave to heat up your meal after paying. Or your camper may have one or those. Chopsticks and a spoon will be included. It is very easy and the variety is enormous. It is an easy way to sample many different types of Japanese food. At low prices. And all the plastics really are a waste to our environment!
A smaller car means less storage space too. ‘Travelling light’ is the adagio, and ‘travelling prepared.’ The more you know in advance, the more prepared you will be so do benefit from our other ‘How to-sections‘ too. Some missing camping items you may want to bring with you. Some other items you may want to pick up locally, at a ‘100yen Shop‘ or the Daiso. Bringing with you can be annoying when you first or later spend time in hotels in the cities. So consider well. Because all you bring has to be stored.
Generally campervans and cars have many small cabinets. Few big ones. A hardshell suitcase is not a good idea. Several smaller bags that fold away (more flat) are much better. If these do have wheels, all the better, because you will have to travel to/from the rental store. We like to use ‘soft trolleys’ like the green one in the picture; light and easy to travel with, they go quite flat when empty and can be used as cabinet inside a bigger space.
You might want to arrange in advance with the rental agency that you can leave your suitcase(s) there during your trip.
Some rental companies offer optional equipment like foldable table and chairs, kitchen equipment and children’s toys. And don’t forget that tv sets often can handle karaoke and that some cars have optional wifi.
Conclusion: follow Go Camper Japan!
I hope this ‘awareness campaign’ helps you understand better what to expect and what not. What to check and ask for. And in all, to have an even better trip in Japan. With the probably somewhat unusual inventory taken into account, for me a camping car is still the ultimate way to travel. Experience parts of this country where tourists simply do not come, or only on a quick day tour.
Subscribe to free, monthly Go Camper Japan travel tips, and you will not only get information on great places we discovered, but our ‘reports’ also include Ride Summaries. These are short lists of practicalities about each trip. Like where to sleep and about enjoying hot springs at amazing locations instead of squeezing into a cramped camper bathroom cubicle! Find all trips and their suggestions in the ‘Rides in Japan’-section, for example ‘Kawayu hot spring inside a river.’
Create your own unique trip! Go Camper Japan!