Try Campervaning in Japan
Let’s get this straight. It’s a flat out privilege to travel. And any way you do it, it’s an opportunity to discover new things.
Not that it feels good travelling in a coffin.
When we booked a campervan to get around Japan one thing never occurred to us. That Japanese people are, well… smaller.
Not all of course. A few Japanese are tall enough to tap you on the noggin and point out your hair isn’t parted straight (thanks to that guy for doing that…).
But Japanese people seem mostly cool about living in small homes and dining out in cupboard-sized restaurants, under stairs, and in small storerooms.
You could call it all a matter of proportion. But, let me tell you: size really does matter.
Before I explain, I’ve got to say travelling around Japan is amazing. Whether you’re puny or huge. Though, with some roads not much bigger than a pedestrian path, you’re left scratching your proverbial working out whether you’re tootling along a quiet country lane. Or hogging the footpath.
It’s only when you notice locals making sideways dive bombs into the rice paddies. That's when you realize you’re driving on a walking track.
For that, I blame Google Maps.
Bloody Google! Sends you up the back way to nowhere via rear alleys and animal tracks. Then, when your front wheels are teetering over the side of a disused jetty, it calmly says, “You have reached your destination”.
Yep, size matters. Especially when you're in a crypt-like campervan.
But I can handle tight spaces. Or I thought I could. Having your partner's big toe up your nose every time you sit down definitely challenges that.
Compact, in this case, is an understatement. Nicknamed the ‘ice cream van’, this campervan vehicle was tiny.
There were half a dozen times I jumped out and jogged next to it going uphill. And I outpaced it.
True, we were on a budget. But its checklist of nitty gritties was basic to say the least.
Cutlery? Nope. Plates? Nope. Pots and pans? Nope. Blankets? Nope. Pillows? Nooo. Stove? Nope. Water? Are you kidding. Bring a bucket and get your own.
That wasn’t a big deal really. Nor the fact I had to sit diagonally in the front seat (obviously headroom was an optional with a box we we hadn't ticked).
The real problem was the coffin.
Now I wouldn’t describe myself as claustrophobic. But, trying to sleep in the over cab bed space that was too tight to lie straight in was not a good start.
Actually, I thought it would be all right in the foetal position. Figure it worked was fine for nine months back in the day. So at least I had practice.
But the biggie for me was having the ceiling 3 inches from my face. You can talk yourself into it. But there's no denying the "I can't breathe" panic that sets in around 3.00. When, in total darkness, it feels like you’ve been buried alive. In a rather cosy casket.
Did I say it was also hopeless for doing horizontal star jumps? Well that too.
Now, sleeping in a squashed box doesn’t give you good dreams, let me tell you. Nor does tossing and turning in a bed that's as wide as the space below your kitchen sink.
And let’s not talk about trying to go to the toilet in the wee small hours. That required a sideways slide to go over the side and drop my cramped legs, trying to feel something underfoot to rest on. Then clamber down safely. While trying to be as quiet and delicate as a Japanese camper mouse.
After crashing down onto the fold up table and knocking over the teapot three times, I actually got quite good at it. Which is important because you’ve got to be good at something in life.
In my case, I can put that down on my resume: “Good at sliding sideways out of a coffin from a height at night. Then landing without tipping any teapots over”.
On second thoughts, probably not a good idea.
Anyway, not being able to roll over in my sleeping coffin and spending a third of the trip in the foetal position started to get to me. So, I decided to do something bold.
I slept on the table instead.
Well, kind of. You drop the table down first, of course. That’s standard. Only, the ice cream van had a few issues. Like the drop down table was stuck and the seats had what psychologists call 'adjustment disorder.'
That meant I spend rest of the trip planking. Half of me lay on a flat seat. After that there was a gap. All the way to my heels.
Not comfy. Not even close. But supposed to be okay for the core muscles.
My partner just kept laughing. But I reckon it wasn’t funny.
Planking all night.
Cooped up in a cramped cupboard and bereft of any necessities. Not even a pair of chopsticks. Heck, even one chopstick would have helped (they say it's a great way to diet).
Bottom line: life in a Japanese campervan is tiny, troublesome, and tough. So, larger people need not apply. Unless you like sleeping under chairs.
Or curling up to say 'nigh nights' under your sink.
Now I know why the Japanese are so heavily into miniaturisation. There's not enough room to swing a cricket. Let alone a cat in a camper.
You got to think small if you're tall. Stay foetal to be festal. And, whatever you do. Make no sudden moves.
Then, like any true compact campervanner, you can see the sights by day. And plank yourself out by night.
Like the campervan brochure says (but I was too blind with excitement to read between the lines), "Thanks to being small our camper lets you travel and have it all." Yep. Bonus cramps and panic attacks with every van. Bargain.