Japan Van Life: Winter Budget Travel

Written by Anya Marie

Ever dreamed of a winter in the famous Japow of Hokkaido to ski/snowboard your heart’s content? Too expensive? Difficult to figure out public transportation? Well, think again! Van life is your key to a budget-friendly and accessible winter holiday in Japan! Between plentiful overnight rest areas, convenience stores, and that Japan, you’re in for a spectacular treat!

Camper/Campervan Options

After searching for awhile, I was able to find the best value with a company called Ureska. We ended up spending ~$50 USD per day, which was a discounted rate for a rental period over 21 days. The owner of the company built a sleeping platform with storage underneath, so it was absolutely perfect. In addition, it came with EVERYTHING; a heater that we could use for nighttime, a tea pot, lanterns, sleeping pads, pillows, and blankets. It was the ULTIMATE setup.

#vanlife at Mt Yotei

Gas was about 141 YEN (~1.20 USD) per liter for diesel fuel, which is a bit pricey, but the gas mileage on the Hiace is 8.4 Liters per 100 km or 33.6 MPG. Therefore, despite higher gas prices, we were paying roughly what we would have back home with our vehicles due to the high efficiency of the Hiace.

In addition to fuel, the only other cost to factor in would be tolls. With that said, we were able to avoid toils by taking detours and it only ever added 20-40 minutes of driving. This was very useful as tolls in Hokkaido can be quite pricey, ranging from $15 USD to $55 USD depending on which expressway you use.

There is a toll pass specifically for visitors, but I would recommend evaluating whether you’d truly need it to make it worth purchasing. This website has everything you need to know about where the toll booths are located, as well as how to purchase the toll pass.

Camping Spots

Michi-No-Eki means “roadside rest area” in Japanese. These rest stops are designed for those driving long distances. The greatest advantage of the Michi-No-Eki is that they have bathrooms (and heated toilet seats!!) open 24 hours a day, as well as vending machines with cold and hot drinks. Depending on the location, some of them even have free WIFI, a cafe, and even a shop with local products. In addition, they have pamphlets with local attractions and events. We were able to camp in the parking lots of these rest areas and never had any issues!

Michi-No-Eki bathrooms near Mt. Yotei

Below is a PDF that features information about Michi-No-Eki in Hokkaido. I highly recommend downloading the app, which is listed on this PDF.

In addition to Michi-No-Eki, if you search “Parking” on Google Maps, you’ll be able to find some other rest areas with toilets that you’re able to park overnight.

Backcountry Ski/Splitboard Resources

In January/February 2020, we skied near Furano, Asahidake, Sapporo, and Niseko.

Our ski tour “Bible” was Hokkaido Wilds. It has an incredible amount of routes, including topo maps and trip reports. With the flexibility of the van, we closely monitored the weather with Windy to determine where to head for the most pow and best forecast.

Mt. Asahidake Steam Vents Ski Tour
Mt. Sandan-yama Ski Tour

Food/Water

Lucky for you, Japan has very safe drinking water, so bring that reusable water bottle and just fill it up in any tap (unless it states that it’s unsafe to drink of course.

For food, convenience stores are littered EVERYWHERE in Japan and Hokkaido is no exception. One thing to know about these types of stores, they are nothing like the ones in the US. Asia loves their convenience stores and within Japan, it’s even better than what we experienced in Thailand and Vietnam. Convenience stores will heat up anything for you, provide utensils, and even a wet wipe cloth.

There are 3 main convenience stores that we used: Lawson’s, 7-11, and FamilyMart. They all have about the same types of Japanese fast foods such as curry with rice, rice triangles (onigiri), sushi rolls, ramen, and tons of snacks. I highly recommend the onigiri and steamed sweet potatoes; they’re great for ski tours!

Lawson’s is considered to be better for “healthy options”

Showers

One word: Onsens (aka hot springs). Onsens can be found at hotels, as well as in the wild. If you’ve been skiing/boarding all day, this is the best way to conclude the day! At the “resort-style” Onsens, they have showers with free shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and even sometimes face wash. (At a minimum, most will have shampoo and body wash)

Onsens will set you back between 300-1000 YEN. Be sure to bring your own towel, as it will save you between 100-500 JPY each visit. Be sure to read up on the etiquette for onsens as there are some norms that you are most likely not familiar with. (Note: Most onsens do not allow tattoos; therefore, read reviews online before going if you have any tattoos.)

Makkari Outdoor Onsen – Photo from ExperienceNiseko

Some of our favorite onsens that we went to in Hokkaido:

  • Makkari Onsen
    • Near Niseko and Mt. Yotei
    • 500 JPY Entrance
    • Has great high speed WIFI
    • Many foreigners and English signs
    • Views of Mt. Yotei from the outdoor pools
  • Kuranoya Onsen
    • In Sapporo
    • 450 JPY Entrance
    • Great restaurant
    • Many locals and no English signs
  • Kyokoku Onsen
    • Near Niseko and Mt. Yotei
    • 600 JPY Entrance OR 1000 JPY for Entrance + Meal set (Choice of Ramen, Curry, or Noodle Bowl)
    • Lavender pool and cold baths (2 different ones)
  • Hakuginson Onsen
    • 800 JPY Entrance
    • No restaurant
    • Shared Kitchen
    • Outdoor mixed gender onsen! (Bring a swimsuit if you want to partake!)

Now You’re Ready!

Don’t let anyone dissuade you from seeking the famous powder of Japan. With some proper planning, you can be budget-conscious and have tons of flexibility to chase the powder. I hope this guide is useful and if you have any additional tips, comments, or questions, please feel free to post in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Japan Van Life: Winter Budget Travel

  1. TomV says:

    No tattoos?! Wow 🙂 I understand the history of Japanese tattoo but this is still surprising today

    • Anya Marie says:

      Yeah! There are some that allow them, but I’d say 99% of the ones we have been to have been explicit in saying they don’t. Quite interesting it’s still a rule, for sure! I read if they are small you can wear a bandaid to cover them up..

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