Japan Car Direct | Blog

Latest Industry News

Japanese Campers (Part 1)

Motor Homes, Van Conversions, and Mini Campers Compact but Packed (With Features)

If you live in the USA or Canada or Australia, with their big, wide, endless roads and you want to buy a used camper van, why import one from Japan? And if you are in the U.K. or Europe, with their narrower roads, you could still ask: Is buying a second-hand Japanese camper or motor home the best option?

I certainly know why people love campers and motor homes. It was years ago, but I will remember till the day I die the wonderful camper trip we took one long summer from Toronto to Prince Edward Island in Canada. The old motor home we had for that trip was based on a Ford pickup truck like this one:

Japanese campers are much better

What a pig it was to drive! It had a turning circle measured in light years, and even with the extended side mirrors we were always leery of backing up. When backing that old hog, one of us would take the wheel and the other would climb out and check behind. (So on rainy days, we would fight over who got to drive and who got to direct.)

That old motor home had everything in it: Dining table, shower, kitchen, kids’ bed above the cab, bigger fold-down bed for two adults, toilet, and plenty of storage compartments. But there was one thing that it did not have: Reliability. It’s not that nothing ever worked, it’s just that nothing ever seemed to work for very long. The water heater would work when it felt like it, and then go on strike. The toilet would get angry at one of us and use its whole reserve tank of water to flush a single cup-worth of piddle out and down the trailer park drain system. The gas stove just would not light unless it liked you personally. Ditto the room heater.

But we loved that old motor home and I’d have it back in a minute. The engine and transmission, by the way, were supremely reliable and I can’t recall any trouble in that department but, boy, did it suck gas!

Japanese motor homes, and especially the van conversions, get good fuel economy now; better than we could have dreamed of getting with the campers of years gone by. And things work on a Japanese-built camper. A good second hand Japanese camper has the quality that we have come to expect as the norm with Japanese products. So, just as with the other good used Japanese vehicles that we export, from sports cars to luxury cars to super cars to kei trucks and solid daily drivers, the second hand campers that you can import from Japan to your nearest port (Jacksonville, Savannah, Tacoma, Baltimore, Bremerhaven, New Westminster, you name it) will be machines with the fundamental good quality and reliability that make them a good bet when you are looking to buy second hand.

Let me show you some of the campers that we have exported recently to the USA.

A nice, clean Toyota Townace Camper.

Hiace Camper from Japan

A Fargo Camper by Isuzu.

Clean secondhand fargo camper from Japan

A Toyota Hiace van conversion with a rear extension that gives you toilet and washing facilities. This camper van was a real find for our happy customer in America.

Hiace camper from Japan with toilet and shower addition

Now, let’s take an overview of Japanese campers. (And don’t miss the campers page on our main site here.)

Basically, the campers most commonly available in Japan fall into four classes:

Motor Homes,
Full On Van Conversions,
Budget Van Conversions,
Mini or Kei Campers.

Let’s go from biggest to smallest.

Japanese Motor Homes

The bigger ones are the motor homes. These campers are based on a light truck chassis such as a Toyota Liteace, Toyota Townace, Isuzu Elf, Mistusbishi Delica, and others. With these campers the obvious thing is that the camper body extends over the lines of the standard van or truck version of the chassis, both to left and right of the chassis frame, and up in height higher than the roof of the cab. Many of these motor homes also have the camper body extending out the back of the vehicle a bit beyond the truck frame.

This nice side view here of a Toyota Camroad shows how the motor home body extends beyond the basic light truck chassis:

Toyota Camroad Camper Motor Home import from Japan

With a Japanese motor home you’ll get features like: a table with seats for four adults, a proper kitchen set (meaning sink, stove, and small fridge), a closet and more than one cupboard, and usually, but not always, a toilet. For sleeping accommodation the table and its two benches will convert into a bed that accommodates two adults, two more can sleep in the upper bunk, and there will be, in most cases, one other single bed either across from the kitchen or toward the back of the motor home. If it’s to the back, this third sleeping area may in fact accommodate two people. One advantage of a motor home is definitely greater storage spaces: cupboards above the dining area, below a bed or bench, here and there and really everywhere; and these cupboards, cabinets and cubby holes are what make taking a trip in a motor home just so much more comfortable: you can bring with you well more than what you need, be it clothing or pots and pans (or, in my case, books).

Here is a photo showing part of the interior with kitchen area of the Townace camper I showed you above that we recently exported to the States.

Toyota Townace Camper Motor Home import from Japan with kitchen.

Simple and nice. Really “Home Sweet Home.”

Van conversions have notably less storage space and the kei-based campers are definitely tight in the area of free storage space.

“Full On” Converted Van Campers

The next class down in size in Japanese campers is the fully converted full size van. With what I call the “full on conversion,” the van has had lots of changes done to it, the most obvious being the special camper top that provides a sleeping area (and often extra storage space) above the main body of the vehicle. These extended roofs come in a wide variety of shapes and often incorporate a pop-up bedroom of either the lean-to type or the box type.

Toyota Hiace Wagon Camper Van Conversion in Japan with pop top

Your typical Japanese full on conversion camper van will have many of the features of a motor home: you’ll often get the fridge, stove, and sink, and decent storage space (but, of course, not the storage space you’ll get with a big motor home). Typically, a van conversion will give good sleeping accommodation for two adults and, usually, will offer further sleeping space for one, two, or maybe even three kids, depending on the layout. But it is not likely have a full shower or toilet. (Of course, that Hiace conversion I showed you above does come with toilet and washing area, but that unit is a bit of a special conversion job.)

Points to check with any used camper that you import from Japan are: Does it have a dual battery system? and: How many seats does it have that are equipped with seatbelts? Obviously, you don’t want your kid perched on a kitchen stool or stored in a cupboard while you zip down the highway. The only way to go is belted, and there are van campers from Japan that have five seats with belts. (And there are Nissan campers that come with eight.)

Going down from these full on van conversions you get into what I call the “budget” van conversions.

“Budget” Van Conversions

Unlike with the full on conversions, with the budget conversions you are looking at a vehicle that has not been so fully modified and definitely has fewer camper features. The same Japanese vans as used in full on camper conversions will be used for the budget jobs, of course, but you may not get things like the pop top or raised roof with its more generous sleeping accommodation.

With these budget conversions you’ll often get a fridge/freezer but not a sink, in many cases. But there will be room to store a portable-type gas stove.

An advantage of a budget conversion camper van is that the van itself may retain more of its “vanny” features like load carrying space, since this space is not taken up with the camper features.

There is really quite a range between “full on” and “budget” when it comes to camper van conversions and you can usually find a clean unit in Japan that has features anywhere between these two poles.

Now, when a small Japanese bus like a Toyota Coaster or Mitsubishi Rosa

Toyota Coaster Bus Camper Conversionis given a full camper conversion, it may very likely come with a shower, and almost certainly a toilet, and have fairly generous seating accommodation as well.

Toyota Coaster Bus Camper Conversion with toilet from JapanAt Fuji Speedway one time I saw a Rosa bus converted to a sort of conference/entertainment vehicle and it had the whole rear one meter of the bus sectioned off and turned into a shower room, sort of like this:

Japanese Camper with Shower

It was kinda…..sexy, that bus camper conversion: Full bar, table, padded long lounge bench along one wall, impressive stereo and entertainment console. Yeah! You could drive to the beach and have real fine conference in there, and if the conference participants got too heated in their debates and discussions, there was always that full shower at the back of the bus camper to give everyone a chance to cool off……O.K., O.K., I’ll stop; but I do wish I’d taken some pictures of that converted Rosa bus. The only problem I could see with the specific design that I saw that day was that you had to access the shower from the rear outside door. There was no shower access directly from the cabin.

This bus camper conversion thing leads me to the whole topic of creative, out-side-the-box, Japanese camper conversions, especially in the small “kei” class.

We’ll have a look at these, and more, in Part 2 of this article.

google-review
  • 5 star review  Great experience working with Japan Car Direct. Very helpful, great communication and very patient with a first time mini truck buyer and importer.

    thumb Sven MacAller
    4/06/2021

    5 star review  I can't recommend JCD enough. Mathew was a fantastic person to work with. As a newbie to the Japanese auctions, I was quite naïve and had far too many questions. Mathew was kind, knowledgeable, and patient through the entire process. My Minicab arrived last week and I am quite pleased. I would not hesitate to work with Japan Car Direct again in the future. Thank you Mathew!! Jay A.

    thumb Acute Autoworks
    2/26/2021

    5 star review  I purchased a suzuki carry from here.. They made the whole process so easy..fantastic communication,and I got what I wanted.. highly recommend using this company for your next purchase. 5 stars

    thumb Alec KELSEY
    2/21/2021
  • 5 star review  IF YOU ARE OVERLY CAUTIOUS READ THIS I am over the top and I am aware of it. Matthew probably should get an award for dealing with me. I dig into everything and am used to fighting for fairness at auto auctions here in the USA - we own a small dealership. Early into my fist purchase (of many) Matthew earned my trust. He’s a rare breed: a true professional and exceptional at what he does. The world NEEDS more like him in every industry. Matthew is one of our most valued partners now, as we strive to bring JDM to Rochester and the Great Lakes. I’m a tough case, I openly admit, but he worked through my caution and I’m now very happy to purchase through him. Call me if you want, I’ll recommend Matthew to anyone. Drew

    thumb Drew Carapella
    2/19/2021

    5 star review  IF YOU ARE OVERLY CAUTIOUS READ THIS I am over the top and I am aware of it. Matthew probably should get an award for dealing with me. I dig into everything and am used to fighting not to get taken at local auctions (I own a dealership and believe strongly in integrity). Early into my fist purchase (of many) Matthew earned my trust. He’s a rare breed: a true professional and exceptional at what he does. The world NEEDS more like him in every industry. Matthew is one of our most valued partners now, as we strive to bring JDM to Rochester and the Great Lakes. I’m a tough case, I openly admit. Find me and call me if you want, I’ll recommend Matthew to anyone. Drew

    thumb Drew Carapella
    2/19/2021

    5 star review  I always wanted a Land Cruiser ! Mathew helped me find 2 beautiful trucks from the Japanese auction. Had them delivered to Freeport, TX last week. He was amazing to work with. Fast response time on bids, super easy to work with, he has a lot of experience and answered all questions promptly. Will be working with JCD more in the future to purchase more vehicles !

    thumb Vince Jabbal
    2/10/2021
  • 5 star review  Very pleased with my experience with JCD. Mat helped me with my purchase of a Honda Beat and its shipping to the port of Baltimore. Everything was seamless and I would (and already have) recommended this company to several friends.

    thumb Justin Marvel
    2/01/2021

    5 star review  Thanks to JapanCarDirect for the opportunity, Yoshi took well care of my requests with a incomparable patience and fast follow up. Will definitely pass the word around !!! 👌🇨🇦🇯🇵

    thumb Ray Mechanic
    1/25/2021

    5 star review  Fantastic service, helped me through the process of importing my JZX100 to the UK, Everything was clear and fees were low, worth every penny though, fantastic and couldn't have asked for more!

    thumb Jack Ellis
    1/19/2021
  • 5 star review  I just picked up my dream campervan from port and have to say that Japan car direct was with me the entire way. I felt so supported all my questions were answered and I could not imagine doing something like this without them. I highly recommend the whole team, trust them and would encourage anyone to use there services.

    thumb scott snow
    12/23/2020

    5 star review  Mathew and all stuff JCD are best. I ordered 4 cars to UA. Support was 24H. The team did its best to solve my problems. They are really good. Now I can recommend them. Unique condition of the car. P.S. sorry but the photo was taken immediately upon arrival. Thank you again!

    thumb Oleg Dziuba
    11/23/2020

    5 star review  I just wanna thank Matthew and the whole team at Japan Car Direct, they always went above and beyond in making sure their clients are always happy and informed about the vehicles they are purchasing. I am still in the buying process but so far 5/5 definitely. I’ll keep everyone posted when I do find a car!

    thumb Mahad Awan
    11/10/2020
  • 5 star review  Do yourself a favor, call Mathew at Japan Car Direct. Let him take the worry about doing business over seas off your plate. Not knowing anything about importing vehicles from Japan, I spent countless hours studying and trying to figure it all out. The headaches were too much! After Mathew walked me through the process it was a piece of cake. We've already bought a couple and are now buying more with complete confidence. Thanks guys, much much appreciated.

    thumb Richard Harris
    10/23/2020

    5 star review  Can not recommend these guys enough. I dealt with Matt, who was extremely helpful and patient with all of my stupid questions. The way they have the whole process is so convenient, especially with the live video translations of the auction sheets. I will absolutely be returning to them in the future.

    thumb Seaver Brown
    10/10/2020

    5 star review  Trustworthy group here! They made it easy from point a to b. So glad this was the first group I tried as I have heard horror stories about the import process. Highly recommended.

    thumb Cory Cheyne
    9/22/2020
Japan Car Direct provides friendly, honest, efficient service. Get the vehicles you want today at a price you can afford!!

We accept refundable deposits by PayPal to ([email protected]). Log into your account, and lets start working together today!
paypal-logo3

5 Comments

  • Rob| March 20, 2021 at 7:59 amReply

    Hi,I live in N W Scotland and I’m interested in a maybe 4×4 ? 5m or less camper/motorhome like a Nissan atlas Alamo or a Toyota Dyna or hi-ace or something similar..Doesn’t have to have Shower,cooker or toilet as long as it is super clean,lowish miles and bulletproof reliable engine..ps there are several for sale about 500 miles from me ——1996,1997 registered at £17 to £20,000 GBP…Would I be cheaper to try and import my own or buy from a dealer who has already imported..?

    • JCD Editor| March 20, 2021 at 8:49 amReply

      Hi Rob,
      Thank you kindly for commenting! Self import is probably easier than you think, and by cutting out your local dealer’s margin you’ll no doubt be able to reduce your cost. To learn more and see what is available at the dealer auctions across Japan, please come and register on our search engine: https://pwa.japancardirect.com/registration/ We look forward to the opportunity to work with you!
      Best Regards,
      The JCD Team

  • Charlie Scollard| March 17, 2021 at 8:00 amReply

    I am a Canadian retired in California and I am interested in a Toyota Camroad with toilet, shower and reliable engine. Where are you located first of all? I would want to see any campervan I am interested in in person.
    Thanks for any help. Oh, the campervan is for one person just me. Charlie.

    • JCD Editor| March 18, 2021 at 8:47 pmReply

      Hi Charlie. Thank you for your comment! We are located in Japan and can most definitely help you import a camper. Please come and register on our search engine so we can get the conversation started!
      https://pwa.japancardirect.com/registration/ Thanks!

  • peter montgomery| February 11, 2021 at 9:04 pmReply

    Hi i would like to find out about importing a motor home to australia , could you please let me know what is available thank you.

Leave comments

Your email address will not be published.*



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Back to top
JCD Menu logo