A police car appeared. Slowly. Watching us. This was the test, could we really camp like this…
Camping in Japan, anywhere you like, in a rental camper car.
Is that allowed or what is best practice?
In this short story:
what we found out on our second night in Japan
and all we have learned since
plus how this will make your holiday a unique and amazing one!
Really no time to read on? Skip straight to How to..overnight in a camper in Japan
Late start from the centre of Tokyo
We picked up our rental camper in the Tokyo-area late afternoon. After dropping off our friend Hiroko at her house, we did the first necessary shopping. Hiroko had proven vital in arranging the whole rental because back then there was just zero English on this side of the line. And just as much Japanese on my side.
It was dark and by GPS we drove straight through the centre of Tokyo, direction Mount Fuji. It was too far a goal for that day but we felt amazing to actually drive there, seeing famous names like ‘Shinjuku’ and ‘Shibuya’ on the signs. Occasionally the skyline of Tokyo appeared from an overpass; blaring neon into the sky. The kids, 1 an 2 years old at the time, asleep in their seats.
We had researched plenty to find out if it is allowed to park and sleep anywhere you want in Japan. In English of course, and our friend in Japanese too. It didn’t say anywhere you cannot, nor that you can for that matter. So we figured that as long as the spots were not illegal to park and we would not obviously be in somebody’s way, it should be all right. Tonight would be the first test.
5am… angry local or just a sense of humor?
At 11pm we left the toll road. Tired but more importantly, the GPS showed green patches of empty space for the first time. 30 million plus people have to live somewhere, right, so no wonder it had been a sea of houses since departure from Tokyo. But here it looked like a quiet spot could be found for our first night. Five minutes of the highway on a bit of a curvy road, we rolled onto a wide open parking. A simple gravel surface, no obvious signs warning us off and several large trucks quietly parked. Good enough, good night!
Terrifying! The massive horn of one of the massive trucks pulled me away from an otherwise very good sleep. And yes, I did bump my head against the roof, not yet used to sleeping in the rather low compartment above the front seats. Peaking through the curtain I saw the truck slowly moving away. It was 5am and the day had just started, apparently. Within 10 minutes all trucks had left, leaving the now peaceful parking to us.
Private view of mount Fuji
On to the lakes in the Fuji-foothills was a short trip. As a Dutchman I am automatically attracted to anything higher than the 322 meters we call ‘a summit.’ Fuji san reaches 3,776 meters, and has the perfect volcano shape. No wonder it is the most sacred mountain of Japan. And imagine this; you cannot officially climb it, as it is a Holy Mountain. Except in July and August, when thousands of devotees climb it, everyday!
We drove around, enjoying a couple of lakes until we found an small parking, right on the lake. It was a bit of a trick to reach as it seemed to be along a cycling track while the main road disappeared into a short tunnel. But we decided it would be okay and sure enough, the parking spots were slightly on the large side for bicycles only. Wooded hill behind us, calm lake in front and towering above… you guessed it; a great spot!
The police car appeared. Slowly. Watching us.
The kids were playing and we enjoyed the typical Japanese end-of-an-afternoon-calm; that magical moment when all day trippers return home or to their hotels and the land quietly turns local again. With just the lucky few and their camper car to enjoy the beauty. Just than, the police car appeared. Slowly. Watching us. This was the test, could we really camp like this in Japan? A wild guess on the map, a brief look online and the rest left to be decided when it was time to stop?
Two officers clearly checked us out. Windows rolled down. Speed low. And lower. I tried something in between a polite nod and a Japanese bow and secretly suggested the kids to wave. Obviously, they were staring at the super cool police car anyway! Then, the moment passed. They nodded back and were gone. We had passed the test. Japan was ours! Go Camper Japan!
Free camping; is it allowed?
Yes. In Japan in general you can park your (camping) car anywhere unless it is mentioned that you cannot. And you are allowed to sleep in it. Sometimes with a maximum of 24 hours. Simple enough.
So you could even sleep in your camper in the centre of Tokyo, on a proper parking spot. Your car needs to fit the spot though, another reason why campers here are almost always under 5 meters in length. Which saves you parking fees too.
In actual though, does it work like that?
From experience I prefer to advise keeping two logical basics in mind…(read all you need to know in How to.. overnight in a camper in Japan)
Create your unique trip! Go Camper Japan!
Other ‘rules and road-related’ camper car subjects are:
How to.. drive in Japan. Know your roads and rules
How to.. paperwork in Japan. Visa and driving license
The Japan Automobile Federation (their English website)
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