Skip to main content

These tiny, cleverly designed Japanese RVs make your small camper van look like a palace

Good things come in small packages, right?

Man sitting atop a campervan with a headlamp at night.
Tommy Lisbin / Unsplash

There’s no doubt that Americans are stereotyped as liking things big. From our lattes to our SUVs to our monster LED TVs, many of us like things jumbo-sized. It’s evident in the RVs we drive, too, which tend to be unnecessarily large. Seriously, have you seen some of the priciest, most palatial, most luxurious motorhomes on the road today? They’re fancier and way more feature-packed than any apartment I’ve ever lived in.

Things in the RV world look a whole lot different overseas, though, especially in places like Europe where gas (or “petrol”) is astronomically expensive, and they just don’t have the same wide-open expanses of land that we do here in the States. A perfect example: Japan. The islands are small, the people are significantly smaller than most average Americans, and the gas prices are outrageous. So, it’s no surprise that the country’s recreational vehicles are some of the most compact and fuel-efficient in the world.

One spin around the RV section at this year’s Japan Mobility Show 2023, and you’ll start to think even the average van life van is way too big. Yet, somehow, these ultra-compact recreational vans pack all — or at least most — of the comforts of home into vehicles that aren’t much larger than a typical minivan. Here are just a few of this year’s standout models.

Exterior of the Japanese-made RecVee Solan Toyota HiAce Van.

RecVee Solan Toyota HiAce Van

RecVee pulls a page out of VW’s Vanagon playbook with its one-of-a-kind Solan (Japanese language). It’s an ultra-compact, highly customized campervan built on Toyota’s solid HiAce Van platform. It’s available in a variety of mostly bland color options, but we really dig the retro vibes of this powder blue version with old-school “dog dish”-style hub caps and contrasting white-on-black tire lettering. The sleek, two-tone design features dual sliding passenger doors that open to reveal a surprisingly bright, upscale interior.

Bright interior of the RecVee Solan Toyota HiAce Van campervan.

Inside is a generous cabin that’ll transport five but sleeps just three (although, if we’re honest, it’ll be a snug fit) with all of the rear seats folded down. But the space is well-equipped with a flat-panel TV and ample storage, plus a kitchenette with a fridge, microwave, and even a sink with running water. Passengers just need to be prepared to crouch down to use any of it. The only thing noticeably absent? A toilet. But that just means you won’t have to mess with black water tanks and nasty sewer hoses at your next campground. So, there’s that.

Oka Motors Miniature Cruise Atrai SV ultra-compact campervan.
Oka Motors

Oka Motors Miniature Cruise Atrai SV

For the ultimate in ultra-compact camper portability, nothing beats a Kei-car build. The Japanese microcars are restricted to around 11 feet long by less than five feet wide. Somehow, Japan’s Oka Motors managed to pack a surprising amount of campervan features into that microscopic footprint. The company’s Miniature Cruise is built on the Atrai platform (manufactured by Toyota’s Daihatsu subsidiary) and tuned to just 63 horsepower and 67 lb-feet of torque.

Oka Motors Miniature Cruise Atrai SV lined up in a parking lot.
Oka Motors

The interior packs a surprising amount of creature comforts, including a thick camp-style sleeping pad/mattress and a TV, plus a pint-sized kitchenette with a microwave, sink, and under-seat refrigerator. There’s even an auxiliary air conditioner. The trick is that campers will need to squat or kneel to use most of the amenities, but an exterior fold-out table does add a bit more living space to “spread out,” if you can call it that. The best part? It’s surprisingly well-priced at just over $31,000.

Nuts RV Pixis Van Camper Altopiano Mini small camper van isolated on a plain white background.
Nuts RV

Nuts RV Pixis Van Camper Altopiano Mini

Another Kei-car-class micro-camper, this model from Japan’s own Nuts RV feels like the product of a one-night stand between a Smart Car and a modern Vanagon. It’s built on Toyota’s compact Pixis platform with whitewall tires pushed to the four corners, which not only make it look smaller (if that’s even possible) but handle better, too. The 0.66-liter, three-cylinder engine is good for just 48 horsepower and 42 lb-ft of torque, so you’re probably going to want to seriously pare down your camping gear loadout.

The equally tight interior seats four for dining but sleeps only two. The latter requires some reconfiguring of seats, and it’s probably best for couples or two campers who really like each other. This small camper van is thin on amenities and feels like the ideal option for light frontcountry camping or long days at the beach. What truly sets it apart, however, is the price. It’s less than $15,000, all-in.

LAC Group Hilux SUV Adventure Camper BR75-G conversion.
Direct Cars

LAC Group Hilux SUV Adventure Camper BR75-G

Of course, if a micro-camper van isn’t disco enough for you — if you need an overlanding-ready rig with serious offroad chops — there’s the rugged BR75-G Adventure Camper from LAC Group/Direct Cars. It was among the most extreme driveable RVs showcased at this year’s Japan Mobility Show in Tokyo, and, frankly, it’s probably overkill for touring most of the country. It’s built on Toyota’s very capable Hilux platform, which, sadly, isn’t available in the U.S. For this model, the pickup’s bed was swapped with a generously sized in-bed camper that extends nicely over the truck’s double-cab body. An additional pop-top roof adds even more interior standing room.

The Toyota Hilux BR75 Camper that Will Blow Your Mind

Inside, this small camper sleeps two on the permanent mattress, while the dining area converts to a bed to sleep two more. What’s most surprising is the long feature set, including tons of storage, a legit shower stall, and a decent-sized kitchenette with a sink, fridge, and plenty of cabinetry. This camper is a bit pricier than the other more compact models on this list. The starting sticker price is around $73,000, while the flagship model tops more than $82,000. You can opt to recycle the pickup bed into a matching lightweight towable trailer, though, which is strangely cool.

Editors' Recommendations

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
A guide to different ski types, no matter what your skiing adventure looks like
Learn your piste skis from park skis and get the right setup this winter
Skiing down hill

Not long after starting skiing, you quickly realize how much ski jargon there is. When your rental skis have taken you as far as they can and it's time for you to look at buying your first pair, you'll need to know what you're getting into. After entering a shop, it's easy to be blown away by the sheer number of ski types. They range from huge, fat skis to narrow, skinny options — and don't get us started on what a twin tip could be.

Like all of your ski gear, the right skis are important. While we're always on the lookout for a good pair of ski pants, the truth is, besides a well-fitted pair of ski boots, getting the right skis is one of the biggest differences you can make to your skiing. We've put together this guide so you can understand your piste skis from park and powder skis and understand terms like "twin tips" and "camber." That way, when you hit up the shops to get your perfect set of skis for this winter, you can go in confident that you're not going to get sold the wrong setup.

Read more
Everyday carry label The James Brand has a new collab for something you definitely shouldn’t carry daily
The James Brand's latest collab involves a hatchet
The James Brand Hatchet

The James Brand is well-known for its sleek pocket knives and minimalist multitools. This Black Friday, they're breaking new ground, unveiling a collaboration that might just be the coolest ever. It's a pleasant surprise to us that The James Brand has teamed up with Adler, a renowned German hatchet and axe maker, for their newest collaboration. And no, you read that right—it's not your typical pocket-friendly gear.
The James Brand reveals a new everyday carry hatchet for their lineup
Set to launch just in time for Black Friday, The James Brand and Adler are introducing the TJB x Adler hatchet. Crafted with precision, this collaboration embodies the ethos of both brands — a commitment to quality, functionality, and timeless design. Priced at $149, this hatchet features an American Hickory handle with a non-slip coating, offering a firm grip even in the most challenging conditions. The forged steel head, complemented by a protective sheath, ensures durability and sharpness, ready to tackle any task at hand.

If you're thinking of gifting this baby to a friend or loved one, this hatchet nestles within a stunning wooden box which is perfect for gifting and secure storage.

Read more
This popular Kershaw pocketknife is $10 for Black Friday
A man holding a Kershaw Cinder pocketknife.

It's Black Friday, which means huge price cuts on big dollar items. But it also means that you can get a pretty good deal on smaller items, like this pocketknife. While this Kershaw pocketknife, which has dropped to just $10 for Black Friday, isn't from one of our usual recommendations of pocketknife brands, it does have the backing of customer satisfaction. The Kershaw Cinders is $4 off for Black Friday, bringing it from $14 to $10 for the holiday event. Tap the button below to grab yours today, or keep reading to see why we think this is a good deal.

Why you should buy the Kershaw Pocketknife
The Kershaw pocketknife is a small pocketknife that is perfect for getting everyday tasks done, such as box opening or trimming growths off of trees. About the size of a key, it isn't meant to do the job of the best self-defense weapons, but rather to be something that helps you throughout your day. Far from being a true disadvantage, we consider the size of pocketknives to be an advantage as part of your array of knives. As per our knife guide, pocketknives are good for precision cutting and are easy to clean. An overly large knife can actually be a disadvantage when your foe is ridiculously thick tape.

Read more