We are Hannes & Laura, and welcome to our Japan road trip article! We have been a couple for over two years now. Before we started our journey together in April, we had a long distance relationship in Germany. Both of us have a passion for traveling, discovering cultures, thinking outside the box and finding new perspectives on life. The beauty of the world, with its amazing landscapes and animals, fascinates us and we want to explore, taste, feel and capture it all. So we decided to travel together for a year.
Our journey began in Thailand and from here we headed to places that drew us in. The decision to visit Japan was a spontaneous one while we were in Indonesia. To extend our visa, we had to show an exit ticket and had Japan in mind but never thought we would actually end up there. We had no idea how to travel the country, as it always seemed too far away and too expensive. However, we found affordable flights and thought: “why not”?!
Inspiration to Take a Japan Road Trip
We were thinking about how we could travel through Japan as cheaply as possible, because it’s quite an expensive place. Having seen people on Instagram explore the country in a camper, we became enthusiastic as we both like this way of traveling. We felt like it would be a welcome change to backpacking. So we found a suitable camper rental. Since our request was short notice, there was only a limited selection of vehicles available. But our compact Nissan Caravan with a camper extension was the perfect fit!
Our 41-Day Journey Across Japan
In total, our Japan road trip lasted 41 days. Of those, we stayed in a Tokyo hostel for 7 days before picking up our camper and starting the adventure. From Tokyo, we headed north to Nikko National Park. We drove through the Japanese Alps and stayed here for a while (the cooler climate attracted us). We visited picturesque little towns, like Kusatsu (onsen town), and unique destinations like the famous Snow Monkey Park.
Venturing south, we continued through the beautiful and traditional town of Takayama to Lake Biwa – the largest lake in Japan. We spent a few days here before exploring Kyoto for a bit. Leaving Kyoto for the coast of the Sea of Japan, we visited the charming fishing village of Ine on our way to the city of Hiroshima – the southernmost point on our epic Japan road trip.
Via Osaka and the Universal Studios Japan, we drove to Fuji Five Lakes in the Yamanashi region. We enjoyed the views of Mount Fuji here before driving back to Tokyo. In short: we started north of Tokyo and went south over the mountains towards Kyoto, along the coast to Hiroshima, and back to Tokyo via Osaka and Mount Fuji. It was an unforgettable experience!
What it’s Like Driving in Japan
The road conditions in Japan are very good. Although the left-hand side traffic is initially difficult for us Europeans to get used to, we found driving relaxed. It was easy because the Japanese are considerate on the road. All the highways are toll roads, which are in great condition and quickly bring you to your destination, but they are also expensive. Off the highways you travel slower, however see more. The scenery along the way was diverse – from mountains to fields and coastal roads, small towns and metropolises.
How We Planned Our Japan Road Trip
Fortunately, our camper offered an app with a suggested route for a Japan road trip – including places to visit and overnight stays. This helped a lot, especially at the start, because we had no plan. We got a feeling for the distances and always knew where we could stay, if we found nothing else. We were able to travel the country without the fear of missing out on anything and with enough space for spontaneous stops. In the end, we didn’t plan much for our Japan road trip and think you could do the same.
Staying Overnight in a Camper
Throughout our trip, we slept in our camper. In our app we had many suggestions for sites, but it’s also easy to find free places for the night without an app. Japan is camper-friendly, with many campsites but they are quite expensive. Even in big cities it’s possible to stay in a camper as long as you are not demanding – facilities are always available and clean.
Highlights of Our Japan Road Trip
The entire country was a highlight for us, with many facets that we didn’t expect. In any case, the culture and people fascinated us the most. This was especially noticeable in the onsens – the traditional bath houses where you can participate in a living tradition. In retrospect, we remember a certain atmosphere in Japan: a calmness (even in the big cities), organized, clean and a certain togetherness. Of course, cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto, the green landscapes and Mount Fuji were also a big highlight for us!
Tips for Your Japan Road Trip
Japan is an easy and safe country to travel to, so we don’t think there is too much to consider before you go. One of the most surprising things though, which you should keep in mind, is the fact that English isn’t widely spoken. This takes some getting used to, but also works thanks to translator apps and hand gestures. In regards to budgeting, you need to be prepared for high prices – especially for fresh food, restaurants and packaged goods.
Above all, it’s important to take your time when planning a Japan road trip. There is much to see and you often travel slower than you think. If you only have a short amount of time (2 weeks for example), we think it’s better to travel differently. For example, the trains in Japan are superb and you can easily head from one city to the next via the Shinkansen.
Thank you for reading. We hope your Japan road trip turns out as well as ours did. Feel free to follow us on our Instagram page where we share our travel impressions on a regular basis. We also track our trips on Polarsteps from time to time. You can find the link on our Instagram profile or search for peanut.and.date on the travel app. Happy and safe travels everyone!