Since we live in our van full time and are constantly moving to new places, we often get asked by people “where do you stay overnight?” while living and traveling by van in Japan.
Having a safe and suitable place to park overnight in a camper van is an understandable concern, especially for people who are thinking about trying van life or are about to start their van life journey!
If you follow our YouTube channel or have read some of our other blog posts, you will already know that we like to stay overnight in our camper van for free as much as possible to help save money! We also like to park somewhere that has a nearby toilet.
Japan is a wonderful country for van life since there are so many beautiful places to visit in every prefecture and there is an abundance of delicious food all over the country. With so many onsens and suitable places to stay overnight, we definitely recommend giving van life a try at least once in your life.
In this blog post, we will explain about the type of places we usually spend the night in our camper van.
1. Roadside Stations
There are over 1100 roadside stations in Japan and each station is unique with its own design. We love Japanese roadside stations since they are full of wonderful amenities such as clean toilets, vending machines and shops selling local specialties and souvenirs.
Some roadside stations only offer the basic amenities listed above, but usually there is much more on offer depending on the specific roadside station you visit. We have seen roadside stations with onsens, restaurants, campgrounds, playgrounds, tourist information centers, art galleries and museums.
It’s possible to stay overnight in a camper van at roadside stations, however it’s important to follow certain etiquette since roadside stations are not campgrounds! We usually arrive late and leave early, don’t set up tables or chairs outside and don’t wash dishes in the bathroom sinks!
Roadside stations are really convenient and safe places to park up for the night. We wrote an entire blog post about spending the night at Japanese roadside stations which you can see below.
2. Free Campsites
In every prefecture that we have visited so far in Japan, we have found free government managed campsites available for the public to use. Some prefectures such as Kochi, have over 50 free campsites, whereas other prefectures like Tokushima have less than 10. It really depends on the prefecture, but we are always grateful if we can use a free campsite for a few days.
The best way to discover the free campsites in each prefecture is to search on google and sometimes the prefectural government website mentions where the campsites are located.
Another technique we use, is to search the keyword “camp” on google maps and then read the reviews. Usually you will be able to find a review about the campsite which mentions whether it is free or not. We always save the location of the free camp site and then if we are nearby and looking for somewhere to stay for the night, we can set our GPS to take us to the free campsite.
Free campsites are our favourite places to stay overnight in a camper van since we like to stay in one place for a few days since we need to work. There is also always an area for washing dishes which is really convenient since we love cooking.
Parks are also another option for a place to spend the night. However, we are not always sure if it is allowed to stay overnight in a camper van in the park car park so we usually only choose this option if there is no free campsite or roadside station nearby.
Parks usually have a toilet which is open 24/7 and some parks also have a tap where you can wash dishes. Parks in Japan usually are busy during the day with people walking or families playing so if we stay overnight at a park, we usually leave early in the morning and head to our next destination.
4. Random Locations
We sometimes stay in random places we find and these can be observation areas, roadside parking or free car parks. All the places usually have a nearby toilet which is open 24/7 and we always arrive late and leave early in the morning before people start to arrive.
Our Overall Verdict About Places To Stay Overnight In A Camper Van
If you like to stay overnight in your camper van for free then the above locations are a great place to start. If you are willing to rough it a bit, it’s definitely possible to travel all around Japan and not pay for staying overnight!
If you are looking for a more comfortable experience, there are of course paid options available such as RV parks and paid camp sites which offer more luxury.
There are usually showers, garbage bins, toilets with washlets and electricity hook-ups available at paid campsites. Since we travel full-time in our van, we choose not to stay at paid campsites since this expense would really eat into our monthly budget.
I hope this blog post was helpful for anyone who is thinking about starting van life or is interested in where to stay overnight in a camper van in Japan!
Click here to check out blog posts about our top overnight spots in each prefecture in Japan!