Should You Rent an RV in Japan? What to Know Before You Go

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Last spring we took an unconventional trip to Japan. Instead of the traditional few days in Tokyo and other big cities, we opted to rent an RV in Japan and spend two weeks exploring backroads and small towns. We still enjoyed some of the highlights in Tokyo, Kanazawa, and Kyoto, but some of our favorite memories were spent next to streams, mountains, and beaches across rural Japan.

If you’re currently planning a trip to Japan, I wanted to share a few things I wish we had known before renting an RV in Japan.

Why Would You Rent an RV in Japan?

Japan is known for having some of THE best public transportation in the entire world. Plus, so much of the cultural experiences that tourists seek after can be found in Tokyo or Osaka.

But for an authentic Japanese experience, you can rent a motorhome and take a road trip across Japan.

Why would you stay in an RV versus a hotel?

For most people, you’re probably far better off staying in hotels or Airbnbs in cities. However, for us, RVing has always been our favorite mode of travel. We can sleep in the same bed every night, camp in nature, and get away from the crowds to explore off the beaten path.

If you’re someone who likes to explore smaller towns and nature, renting an RV in Japan (or a van) could be a great option.

Especially if you want to wake up with views like this.

Campsite next to Mount Fuji
Fumotoppara Campground next to Mount Fuji

Or drink coffee with views like this.

RV with a view of Mount Fuji

Where to Find RV Rental Companies in Japan

There are several companies to choose from when renting a camper in Japan. Many of them offer vans, but there are also several who offer motorhomes too. We visited during peak season and rented our RV relatively late, so many were booked up.

Below are two RV rental companies in Japan that I researched before finding our chosen rental provider. Both had great reviews, but no availability during cherry blossom season when we visited.

Japan Campers

This was the first company I reached out to while researching. They showed up first in Google and had several different vans and a couple of motorhomes to choose from. Unfortunately, they did not have availability for our dates. They seem to be a good option for travelers based on the number of positive Google reviews they have on their page.

Dream Drive

This company builds out and rents its vans. Their reviews are top notch and the interior design of their vans is beautiful. If you’re visiting Japan as a couple or solo traveler, they could be a great option for renting a van in Japan, but the vans are likely too small for families.

Who We Rented Our RV From

We rented from a company called El Monte RV. They have a handful of pickup locations around Tokyo to choose from. We picked up ours from the Funabashi branch.

By the way, if this RV company sounds familiar and you’re based in the US, it’s because El Monte is a popular RV rental company in the States. We reached out to the US company to ask if there was an affiliation. Turns out, it is the same company!

Family in front of RV in Japan
Our traditional RV pickup picture!

The pickup process was relatively straightforward. It took us a couple of minutes to find their location as it’s nestled behind a home goods store. Like many rental companies, they have a massive parking lot and ample room for parking motorhomes.

We were greeted by the manager who took us through a tour of the RV and talked with us about toll passes, GPS, and any other questions we had.

I was very worried about not speaking Japanese on this trip and handling communication. Everyone warned us that no one in Japan speaks English. What we encountered during our time in Japan was that almost everyone used Google Translate or a translation device. Even if you walk up to someone and ask for their help, most people would not be offended if you had your Google translate app out and ready to use. In fact, they might have theirs out before you!

We had no translation issues while picking up our rental.

If you want to see our experience picking up our RV rental and driving it through Tokyo, you can watch the video below.

What It’s Like Driving an RV in Japan

The roads in Japan are impressive. They are clean, the signage is incredible, and Japanese drivers are the friendliest I have ever encountered in any country. They do drive on the left side of the road and the right side of the vehicle, like in the UK or Australia.

I’m always a little nervous when it comes to driving in a new country. I should not have been concerned in Japan. Even when I accidentally exited the highway in downtown Tokyo, I was able to navigate back onto the main road.

An unexpected benefit of our rental was our toll pass. I didn’t know it at the time, but there are toll roads virtually everywhere in Japan. We occasionally would compare our routes to go non-toll versus toll, but it never made sense to avoid tolls.

Our toll pass, called an ETC, made driving through the tolls seamless. We would slow, but note stop at the gates and they would automatically lift. Our ETC would say how many yen we were charged at that toll gate. At the end of the trip, El Monte calculated the toll bill and we paid them directly. For two weeks, it was about $250 USD for all tolls.

What to Expect from an RV Rental in Japan

As you can imagine, many of the motorhomes are very small. Our motorhome was 16 ft long. For reference, this is smaller than an American minivan (which is about 17 ft).

However, for a two-week road trip, there was enough space for the four of us.

One great thing about the RV being so small is that you can park anywhere a normal car can park. We drove into the old city of Kanazawa and were able to park in a downtown city parking lot with no problem.

Unlike other RV rentals, not everything came included. For add-on purchases, we rented extra bedding, pots and pans, table and chairs, and an unlimited wifi package (highly recommend, worked great). You’ll be able to select these options at checkout.

My biggest fear about renting an RV in Japan was the bathroom.

I could not find ANY van rental companies in Japan with a real toilet or cassette toilet on board. Our motorhome rental came with an “emergency toilet”. I had no idea what constituted an emergency before picking up this RV. We have a four-year-old and a two-year-old. We are perpetually in a state of emergency bathroom situations.

That being said, the bathroom situation wasn’t all that bad. The bathroom looks similar to other RV bathrooms. You have a closed-off door and a proper-looking toilet. But instead of your toilet being hooked to a black tank, it just has a sack/bag in it.

Our “emergency toilet”

You fill up the bag and then dump it in the garbage.

Did I feel weird walking through campsites with a bag of my pee in it? Yes.

Was it the worst thing in the world? No.

If you want to see a full tour of our motorhome, you can watch our video below.

What Japanese Campgrounds Are Like

Japanese campgrounds are different.

Several of the ones we encountered were large fields versus individual campsites. There are no dump stations since vehicles don’t have running toilets. There’s a jug under the sink that you can empty and refill at campsites.

Most people were in tents. We saw a handful of vans and even fewer motorhomes like ours. As our trip progressed, we did find campgrounds that more closely resembled RV parks in the US with individual campsites.

Do you need reservations?

For 90% of our RV travel plans, we do not book in advance. We love to see what we find along the way. However, we were unsure of how easy it would be to call campgrounds in Japan with the language barrier. And when researching we noticed that almost every campground website said reservations are required.

We booked every night in advance. It was relatively easy as most campgrounds have some form of online booking or reservation inquiry form. Some campgrounds do say to call, which was next to impossible to do from the States. We searched and found email addresses for any campgrounds where we wanted to stay. This took a significant amount of time but was well worth it. Every night of our trip was planned and coordinated. We did cancel our last campground reservation so we could go back to Tokyo early and take the kids to Disney Sea. They were the only campground that was paid in advance and we saw a portion of our fee refunded.

While we made reservations, very few campgrounds asked us to pay online or reserve with a card ahead of time. Most accepted yen in person instead. We picked up yen before leaving the States, which I would recommend if possible. Cards are not frequently accepted across the country.

Pro tip: Print out all of your email confirmations so you can simply hand them to the park upon arrival. These will be in Japanese, so we wrote the date and Google Maps name on the top of each sheet. This made it easier for us to find our campsites every afternoon and made check-in even easier.

Should You Rent an RV In Japan?

If you want to have a truly different experience than 95% of the people who visit Japan, I would highly recommend renting an RV.

Our favorite experiences in Japan were meeting people and discovering places off the beaten path. One night, we camped at a family-owned restaurant and the owner took me out and let me dig up bamboo and taught me to cook it. Another day we toured a rural green tea plantation.

While you can have incredible experiences in Japanese cities, many of our favorite memories wouldn’t have happened had we not gotten off the beaten path.

Questions about planning a Japanese road trip? 

Drop them in the comments! We are happy to help!

One Response

  • Hello,
    Sounds like a great trip, and thinking of doing the same with my family. Did the campgrounds have Wi-Fi?

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