The Overlanders’ Guide to Japan

The Overlanders’ Guide to Japan

Welcome to our motorcycle travel guide for Japan. Here’s everything you need to know about travelling overland in your own vehicle through Japan. You’ll find links to our in-depth guides, info on roads, visas, accommodation, paperwork, tips, tricks and loads more.

How to ride motorbikes in Japan

Here’s what you’ll find on this page

Is Japan good for motorcycle travel?

Travelling is extremely subjective and completely down to personal preference. However, if you’re wondering what our viewpoint is, well… the answer is no, but that’s not a flat-out no…

Japan is expensive to get your vehicle into and out of. It’s also expensive travelling around and very slow going because of low speed limits and heavy traffic anywhere near cities. There’s no, or very little, adventurous off-roading, a billion rules, it’s expensive to fix your vehicle if anything goes wrong and the time it takes to get places can be frustrating.

That’s not supposed to put you off though. Japan is an incredible and amazing country and you must visit. Whether you choose to rent a vehicle, use public transport or take your personal vehicle in all depends on what you want to do and how long you’ve got.

Let’s say you’ve got one month and want to see a few of the main attractions. It’d be  easier to save the hassle of importing by renting or buying a bike there or using public transport. It’s very time consuming using Japanese roads (unless you opt for the incredibly expensive toll roads). You’ll spend far more time travelling than planned, reducing the amount of time sightseeing.

If you have three to six months and want to see everything, then of course, your own vehicle would be better as you’ll offset the amount rentals and public transport cost. 

Epic shot of BMW G310GS adventure bike in Japan

Our experience

We spent five months and 5,000 miles exploring the country on our own motorcycles. We wouldn’t have enjoyed it with public transport because we crave the freedom our own transport offers and also because we wanted to see so much. Click here for our feature on what it’s like motorcycling in Japan.

What paperwork do I need to take my vehicle into Japan?

We have a dedicated guide on what paperwork you need for Japan here.

If you’re travelling in your own vehicle you will need a carnet de passage or a temporary import. You will no doubt find a lot of information on the carnet for Japan, but you can enter without one (using a temporary import). The caveat is that you must enter and exit Japan using a RORO ferry (roll on, roll off) (click here for our guide on how to get from Russia to Japan via ferry). To be clear, that means you can’t enter via ferry, get a temporary import and then ship your vehicle out in a container. It must be ferried out, and not necessarily to the same location it was shipped in. You can ferry in from Russia and ferry out to South Korea.

Click Here for a full guide on the differences between using a carnet de passage and temporary import for Japan with a bunch of extra tips. 

What visas do I need for Japan?

The visa situation in Japan makes motorcycle travel easy. UK citizens can enter Japan for up to 90 days without a visa. You’ll get a 90-day stamp in your passport when you enter.

You can extend your visa while you’re in Japan for a further 90 days before it expires. You can do this at an Immigration Bureau (Nyukoku Kanrikyoku). These bureaus are dotted all over Japan in major cities and just need a quick Google to find. Once you arrive, you will be directed by the staff on what paperwork to fill out.

We applied and received an additional 3-month stay; however, it was a little touch-and-go. The staff said we could not receive a further stay purely to extend our sightseeing. It took a little wrangling but they allowed it in the end. So, if you are planning on extending, plan carefully (you can not extend too far in advance either).

You can leave Japan and leave your vehicle in the country. You won’t be asked anything about your vehicle on leaving or when you re-enter. 

How do I get my motorbike or vehicle into Japan?

To get your own vehicle into Japan you can either ship it in via cargo ship, fly it in or use a ferry.

If you’re shipping or flying your vehicle in, then the research will need to be done from wherever your crating and sending from. Your shipping company will advise on pricing and fees at the arrival destination.

If you are using a ferry, then you will either be coming from Vladivostok, Russia using DBS ferries (click here for the guide).

Or you will be coming in from South Korea using Kampu Ferries (click here for the guide) or Camellia Line Ferries. 

Visit our South Korea page

How to rent a motorbike in Japan

Japan Bike Rentals rent out a selection of motorbikes including a BMW F800GS or R model, Yamaha MT-09 Tracer or 07 or 03 models. Prices start at about £70 a day, including fully comprehensive insurance and tax. You can also opt for a guided tour if you don’t fancy going it alone. Visit japanbikerentals.com for more info. We have no affiliation with this company and we haven’t used their services, we just know they exist!

How to buy a bike in Japan for your adventure and then sell it

We’re working on this section right now. Coming soon! Promise!

Is Japan as expensive as everyone says it is?

Japan is expensive compared to most overlanding destinations like South East Asia, Central Asia and South America. You’re paying first-world country prices. A hefty chunk of your budget will be spent on entering and exiting the country (regardless if you’re using RORO or shipping/flying), insurance and the big one – accommodation. So, it is expensive but that’s relative to where you’ve been and what you’ve done prior. Read on to find out how to save money and make Japan more affordable for motorcycle travel.

How to travel on the cheap

Roads

Japan has two types of roads: the free national road and the jaw droppingly expensive toll road. Toll roads will eat away at your budget. If you use a debit or credit card to pay, then they charge the full amount twice and reimburse one payment later. The national roads can be pain stakingly slow, especially anywhere near a city. Plot your routes away from major cities, avoid toll roads and you’ll be fine.

BMW R1200GSA touring in Japan guide

Accommodation and camping

Hotels are a big expense in Japan. Turning up at a hotel without a reservation can sometimes appear rude to Japanese and you’d be surprised how full hotels get, so booking online in advance is worth it. Booking.com is your best bet for Japan. There are other similar Japanese websites, but they’re tricky to use and complicated.

We used AirBnB for longer stays as it proves a lot cheaper than hotels. We used an AirBnB for a four-week stay in Osaka and a three-week stay in Kyoto, had the entire apartment to ourselves and saved a mini fortune.

Love Hotels are also a good option. Before you spit out your breakfast in disgust, let us explain… Love Hotels in Japan are not the seedy and gross hotels that spring to mind. They’re immaculate, well looked after and socially acceptable establishments… that can be booked out for the hour. They’re dotted all over the country and are easy to spot. The prices are listed outside and you can book the room for 8 hours for a much cheaper rate than most hotels. The love hotel room is more often than not, twice the size of an average hotel room, packed with amenities, easy to check in and out and cheaper. Check them out!

For a rough idea, expect to pay 20 USD for a dorm room hostels, 50 USD for a hotel room, 30 USD for a Love Hotel and 10 USD for a campsite. 

BMW R1200GSA and BMW G310GS motorcycles camping in Japan

Camping for motorcycle travellers in Japan

There are three types of campsite in Japan: privately owned campsites, official free campsites or wild camping.

The privately owned campsites can prove quite expensive. They are lovely though, usually very well looked after and super clean.

The official free campsites are dotted all over the country and excellent. They don’t usually have showers but do have working toilets. They’re an excellent way to save money. We recommend the fantastic Facebook group Free camping and hotsprings in Japan. Download their map to your Google maps and you’ll see hundreds of great campsites spread across the country.

Wild camping is relatively easy in Japan. As long as you tuck yourself out of the way and disappear in the morning you won’t have a problem.

Top tips

  • Very little English is spoken outside of major cities. Prepare to get good at Japanese charades
  • However long you think it’ll take to get somewhere, double it
  • Cash is king in Japan
  • 7-Eleven is your best friend. They’re a huge franchise in Japan, use them for free wi-fi, to cool down, for their clean high-tech toilets and tasty and cheap food. Also, we only ever withdraw money from ATMs in 7-Elevens as there’s no charge. 
  • Try to avoid visiting during major national holidays like Golden Week. Cheery Blossom season is also pretty mad. 
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Resources

START HERE: Planning a motorcycle trip but don’t know where to start? Start Here!

BIKE: Get your bike ready for adventure by checking out our Motorcycle Preparation guides.

KIT: Take a look at our Motorcycle Clothing and Equipment Reviews and How to choose your Adventure Riding Gear Guide.

DESTINATIONS: Check out our comprehensive Destination Guides for Overlanders and motorcycle travellers. 

INSPIRATION: Grab a coffee and have a read of the new Stories section and our monthly Blog.

OVERLANDERS’ DATABASE: Find everything you need to motorcycle the world in our new easy access resource Here.

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