We have spent most of 2020 living in our self-converted camper van in Japan and it has been an incredible experience! Travelling by van in Japan is a great way to get away from the crowds and explore the more undiscovered parts of the country. We recently wrote a blog post covering the reasons why we love van life in Japan, find it by clicking here!
Although we are huge fans of van life in Japan, there are some challenges! Living in a van is not an easy way of life and is definitely more inconvenient than living in a house or apartment.
In this blog post, I will share some of the challenges and difficulties we have faced while living in a van in Japan! These challenges are related to van life in general and also cover some points which are more specific to van life in Japan itself!
The Challenges of Van Life In Japan:
1. Throwing Rubbish
Throwing rubbish has been one of the biggest challenges we have faced while living in a van in Japan! There are not many public rubbish bins, and people usually take their rubbish home with them, therefore it can sometimes be difficult to dispose of rubbish.
The recycling rules in Japan are strict so it’s always necessary to separate rubbish and dispose of it in the correct rubbish bins.
It’s possible to dispose of rubbish on the general rubbish collection day of the area you are in, however, this means that you need to find out when the rubbish collection day is and also purchase special plastic bags specific to that area! If you are travelling to new places often, this method is quite inconvenient.
For van lifers, the best way to dispose of rubbish is at camp sites or roadside stations which provide rubbish bins, gas stations as you are filling up, supermarkets or convenience stores. We are dealing with the issue of throwing rubbish on a daily basis and will share some of our best tips below:
- If you have the chance to throw rubbish, always take it! For example, if you go to a convenience store to grab a coffee, finish your coffee in the van or pour it into a flask before going back inside the convenience store to throw the coffee cup plus any other rubbish you have.
- Have a very small bin. This means the bags of rubbish you will have are very small and will be easier to throw. Large bags of rubbish are very obvious and might be mistaken for household rubbish which you are not allowed to throw in convenience stores or supermarkets.
- Unpack all supermarket shopping before leaving the supermarket. After visiting the supermarket, we unpack everything into our van. If we buy food which will be stored in the fridge, for example, chicken, we transfer it into a tupperware container. We also remove all the beer cans from the box and then throw any rubbish before we leave.
- Avoid buying pre-made food that always has a lot of bulky plastic packaging.
2. Being Naked While Showering
The easiest and most common way to shower while travelling by van in Japan is to visit hot springs (known as onsen in Japanese). When visiting an onsen, it is necessary to be naked and you will need to shower in front of other people. Some people feel shy or don’t like being naked in front of others and this is understandable.
Since Ruth is not Japanese and is not used to being naked in front of others, it took her some time to get used to visiting Japanese onsens.
There are many amazing onsens in Japan and they are sometimes in the most beautiful locations. It can be a challenge to be naked in front of others to begin with but if you can embrace it and get used to it, then it will be worth it!
3. Low Speed Limits
In Japan, there are roads which have very low speed limits compared to similar roads overseas. For example, a road overseas might have a speed limit of 100km/h whereas in Japan, the speed limit will be 50 km/h.
We are not really sure why the speed limits are so slow but we guess it must be to do with safety! When driving, it’s important to always pay attention to the speed you are going as it’s easy to sometimes go over the speed limit.
The slower speed limits means it takes longer to get to places, however most of the time, the views are great, so we don’t mind!
4. 24/7 As A Couple
Spending 24/7 together with your partner is tough! We live together and work together in a very small space so it’s normal that we sometimes get on each other’s nerves.
We have found that communication is really important and it’s also a good idea to sometimes spend time apart, for example, one person goes to a cafe to work for the day.
Our electricity system is powered by solar panels so if it’s not sunny, we don’t have power! We can charge our portable batteries by plugging them into mains electricity but usually try to avoid this since it means we need to pay a campsite for an electric hookup.
Since we both work online, we use a huge amount of electricity to charge our laptops, drones, cameras and phones. For people who don’t work online, this might not be an issue!
Luckily, Japan is quite a sunny country in general, however, there have been times we have had huge challenges with the amount of solar energy we were able to receive, for example during the rainy season!
6. The Weather
When you live in a van, the inside of the van is pretty much the same temperature as the outside! For people who have proper campervans, they are sometimes set up with heating and air conditioning systems.
However, since our van has been self-converted and is quite basic, we don’t have those luxuries!
During van life, there will likely be times when you will be too hot or too cold! We have already experienced a very hot and humid summer and when we needed to cool down, we drank cold drinks, took cold showers and always had a fan running!
We are yet to experience a winter in our van but plan to make some changes to ensure we are always feeling cosy and warm!
7. Expensive Groceries
In general, we find groceries in Japan more expensive than in some other countries. If we compare a weekly grocery shop to that of the UK, it is probably double the price in Japan!
Fruit and vegetables in Japan are expensive if they are not in season. A good tip is to always try and find what is in season or what is on special offer then search for a recipe to cook it rather than choosing the recipe first.
Even though groceries are expensive, eating out in Japan is much more affordable than in the UK! So we tend to eat out more often when we are in Japan!
In Japan, if you want to take a highway or bridge, you might have to pay an expensive toll. The tolls can really add up and eat into your monthly budget.
Luckily there are usually free alternative routes to highways but these take much longer and involve a lot of traffic lights. The views are often much better though, so if you have the luxury of time, we definitely recommend you to avoid the highways!
Our Overall Verdict
We hope that by sharing some of the challenges we have faced during van life in Japan that it will paint a clearer picture of the realities for anyone who is considering it!
Living in our van in Japan has been one of the most incredible experiences of our lives and we definitely feel that the pros of van life in Japan outweigh the cons!
It’s one of the best ways to discover the real Japan and if you are considering van life in Japan as something long term or even just for a short trip, we without a doubt, recommend it!