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Kuruma Tabi is a new way to travel in Japan. Directly translated, it means to “travel by car.” Although it is quite common in North America to travel by cars, trailers, or RVs, it is relatively new in Japan. Japan Recreational Vehicle Association (JRVA) has been working on a network for Kuruma Tabi travelers to fully enjoy their trips by incorporating services from different “business partners” such as restaurants, hotels, train stations, and unique spots all over Japan.
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Kuruma Tabi is gaining its popularity because of the freedom it gives to the travelers. There is no need to carry any luggages, no schedules or rules to follow, and no need to accommodate others in a tour group. West or East, South or North, you can go in any direction as you wish and travel any distance as you feel like to. With this kind of freedom, it’s no wonder that Kuruma Tabi is becoming more popular nowadays. Let us take a look at different kinds of “parks” (parking lots where travelers can stay overnight in their vehicles) that JRVA is trying to establish.
#1. RV Parks
RV parks are permitted areas of existing parking lots that are set up for travelers to park their vehicles and stay overnight. Each space is bigger than a regular parking space and you can stay up to a week. Although there is a fee to park at an RV park, there are amenities such as 24-hour restroom facilities, power charging stations, and waste stations nearby. Most RV parks are also equipped with bathing facilities. These RV parks also accommodate other types of vehicles such as trailers or regular cars. Most parks don’t require reservations, but a number of them do ask for a reservation due to limited number of parking spaces. You are allowed to set up tables and chairs within your assigned area, but the use of open fires including campfire or barbecuing is forbidden. JRVA’s current goal is to open 100 parks all over the country, but their future goal is to expand it to 1,000 parks.
#2. Yu You Parks
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The Japanese word “Yu” means “bath” or “hot spring” here. Yu You park combines traveling by vehicles with lodgings to offer travelers the convenience of using the bathing facilities of participating hotels. This allows travelers to enjoy hot springs in these participating hotels while staying in their own vehicles parked in the hotel parking lots. Currently more than 100 hotels all over Japan participate as Yu You Parks. You need to be a member of Kuruma Tabi to enjoy this service.
#3. Gurume Parks
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“Gurume” is from English word, Gourmet. In this variation, travelers get to stay at the parking lots of participating restaurants. After savoring delicious local cuisines and drinks at a participating restaurant, customers can go back to their vehicles parked in the parking lot and stay overnight. This is a great idea because, even if you usually have to pass on alcohol drinks, at Gurume Parks, you can enjoy your favorite drinks without worrying about having to drive afterwards. Because of limited number of parking spaces, customers will be asked to provide their Kuruma Tabi membership cards to use this service. However, some restaurants do reserve the right to serve premium members only or gives them a priority. Although there are only 10 participating restaurants at this point, JRVA aims to continue to expand Gurume Parks across Japan.
#4. Train Parks
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Train parks are the 4th variation of Kuruma Tabi system. It solves the problem of not being able to find a parking space for camping vehicles while traveling around popular destinations. Users can park their vehicles at a participating railway facilities such as train stations and take a train to their destination. While on a train, one can enjoy the passing scenery, exclusive railway bento boxes, and even alcoholic beverages. Since the service has just been launched not long ago, there is only one participating Train Station at this point. Yet, again, it’s JRVA’s goal to continue to expand this service as well.
#5. Min Parks
Following the different variations of parks mentioned above, came the birth of Min Parks. Min Parks allows travelers to park and stay in their vehicles at places such as historical landmarks, an island, or a small farming town far away. The goal of Min Parks is to let travelers stay overnight at places where there might not be any lodging available nearby. Currently there is only one participating Min Park because it is the newest addition to this traveling network. However, JRVA intends to promote and expand this service just like they plan to with other parks.