Japan in a Van: Kamikochi

It was time to hit the road and we had a three-hour drive north to Nagano and our first night at a Japanese road station. Campsites here are expensive as they charge for the vehicle and per person, and for electricity, all on top and all you really get is a parking space and toilet and shower facilities.

Therefore, I researched road stations, or ‘Michi-no-eki’ as they’re known locally, where you can park overnight for free and use the 24-hour toilets which are fully loaded with the usual functions. The Japanese are travelling people and campervans are very popular here so we were never alone overnighting at these road stations. They also have farm shops during the day and vending machines at night so food and drink are never far away. The only downside to staying at road stations was the lack of shower facilities but with temperatures seldom over 12 degrees during the day and down to 4-6 at night, we didn’t miss them.

Our first road station experience went well, and it was just 20 minutes away from the departure point for tomorrow’s adventure.

Day 4

Up early for the twisty mountain drive to Sawando where we would leave the van and take a bus into the national park and up to the scenic Kamikochi area in the Japan Alps region.

This was very popular with the locals as it is an area of natural beauty and the Japanese love their cameras and taking photos. The big attraction this time of year is the autumn foliage with every shade of green, yellow, orange, ochre, red, and brown exploding from the hillsides in a kaleidoscope of colour.

The views along the hiking trails in the national park were simply breathtaking. However, it was very busy with hikers, ramblers, photographers, nature-buffs, tourists, and the Instagram generation.

Many of the younger Japanese girls looked like they’d just stepped out of a nightclub with short skirts, high boots, and designer handbags being the fashion (not that there’s anything wrong with that). While we froze our asses off rucked up in fleeces and beanies, they preened and posed for selfies like axiomatic birds of paradise. Why people travel all the way to places of outstanding natural beauty to take pictures of themselves is beyond me, must be a generational thing.

Another attraction of the area was the wild snow monkeys that flitted across the pathways seemingly unfazed by the humans snaking along the trails.

Japan is an aged country but the elderly have a lot of energy compared to the average westerner of similar age. The Japanese are very active people and often work into their seventies, therefore, there were a lot of older hikers on the trails of Kamikochi.

By early afternoon the weather had begun to close in with mist and light rain enveloping the mountains. It was time to take the bus back down and reunite with our van to drive to the next road station and settle in for the night.

Food on the road was sourced in local supermarkets such as Family Marts and 7-Elevens which are way better than what Thailand has to offer. Fresh sushi and sashimi and a bottle of South American wine for very little cost made most of our meals since restaurants at road stations closed early.

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