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Small truck campers show off owners’ individual tastes at mountain resort in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A software company owner and engineer from Tokyo shows off his small truck camper, which resembles an antique dollhouse, at Geto Kogen Resort in Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture. He uses it as a mobile office, a coffee zone, as well as for shopping, travel and sleep.

Small truck camper enthusiasts from Hokkaido to Osaka gathered to show off their mini-DIY campers, at Geto Kogen Resort in Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture, in mid-October. Twenty-eight light trucks and one motorcycle were lined up at the overnight event in the mountainous Tohoku region. It was the second year in a row that such an event was held.

A small truck camper, sometimes referred to as a “light truck house,” is a truck that can carry up to two people, has an engine size of 660cc or less and has living quarters built onto the truck bed.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A small truck camper, owned by a man from Iwate Prefecture, is filled with items and gadgets he needs for his job and daily life.

Since the camper portion is legally considered as freight, the base has to be about the same size as the truck bed, which is about 2 meters long and about 1.4 meters wide. Its height cannot exceed 2.5 meters from the ground and cannot weigh more than 350 kilograms, the maximum loading capacity of the truck. It has to be removed during vehicle inspections, must be firmly attached when the truck is in motion and no one is allowed to be in the camper portion while the vehicle in motion.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A man from Chiba Prefecture describes his small truck camper, which is modeled after a train he used to take in high school.

Such restrictions have forced camping enthusiasts to get creative, such as having the camper portion expand after the truck has been parked. Since light trucks are relatively cheap, it is possible to build a small truck camper at a low cost if the living quarters are constructed in a DIY manner.

Small truck campers can be customized in a variety of ways depending on how they will be used, such as for teleworking or for travel. Some owners tend to focus on making a comfortable bed, while others prioritize kitchen amenities.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A couple from Gunma Prefecture relax in their spacious small truck camper, which expands horizontally and vertically when parked.

An attendee of the event, Hiroshi Aoyama, 54, a company employee from Sakai, Ibaraki Prefecture, built a small truck camper in 2017. He had never built anything on his own before, but it only took him about four months to complete. He spent about ¥150,000 to buy a used truck and around another ¥150,000 to build the living quarters. He lined the inside with insulation and uses the camper for ski trips. During winter, he often drives directly from his workplace to a ski resort, stay overnight in the resort’s parking lot or elsewhere and then go skiing.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A man from Miyagi Prefecture stands next to this motorcycle, which pulls his small trailer camper built to resemble the caboose of a train. Once parked, the camper can be extended lengthwise so he can sleep with his legs extended.

“It’s definitely a plus that I can go anywhere I want at any time,” Aoyama said. “It’s great to come to an event like this because you get to meet other owners and see the insides of their campers. Since many of them are able to build something simple themselves, such as shacks, they have many creative and unique ideas. The camper space is the same for everyone, but the insides are all completely different.”

The second day of the two-day gathering was stormy in the early hours, but the event continued after the owners drove to another parking lot away from the wind. Through the inclement weather, the small truck campers were able to show off their abilities to keep on trucking.