So far in the 8am Coffee series, I’ve met with people I generally know, but the extremely likable Luke Bridgford is different. We hadn’t met before, and this was the first time to meet up (after some Insta chat) in person and get to know each other. Tokyo is a city with a multitude of stories and I’m naturally curious to hear about Luke’s experiences and the concept behind his new project which seems to have been keeping him super busy since its inception a few years ago. 

So, I met up with Luke, one overcast day in March, in Nakameguro for a coffee at the very chic Swell Coffee Roasters just behind Meguro River and chatted for an hour about his varied experiences in Japan and his new venture, Overland Campers Japan a firm which rents fully equipped custom-built camping cars. 

Luke Bridgford of Overland Campers Japan

Hi Luke.  Lovely to finally meet you in person. Before we talk about Overland Campers, could you tell me a bit about your relationship with Japan?

Well, I was applying for working holiday visas years ago and I really wanted to go to South America, to be quite honest with you. But Japan was the first country that said okay — by fax. Japan had never been on my radar; I had no interest in anime or samurai and so on. But the moment I landed it just struck me. I’m interested in humanity, society and culture and the way societies function and when I got here, I saw a different set of rules and human interaction that seemed to be working. 

I came to teach English, but it didn’t work out. I was in Sapporo at the time and I went to the Australian consulate there with a backpack and a guitar (as a 19-year-old kid) and I asked them if I could leave my bags there so I could find somewhere to live and, strangely enough, a week later a very obscure Japanese company were looking for a bilingual foreigner to come and work with them. The consulate sent me over even though I was a kid and not bilingual at the time. So, I got a job after a beer with the president who couldn’t speak English. It’a long story but after that first experience, I ended up in sales, consulting, modeling, acting and recruitment in both Australia and Japan. 

Sounds like quite the experience. How did the interest in overland camping start from this?

So, I went back to my Australian roots. I thought I needed to do something (after the recruitment business I was involved in was successfully sold). I fixed up a little camping car then started buzzing off at the weekends. It saved me. It made me love Japan again. I felt like I’d done something not just getting over a hangover, for example. I didn’t make any plans. I just dropped a pin. That’s the beautiful thing about Japan. And then people around me became curious. 

I wanted to learn how to build a brand. A brand with values. Values that I thought people were yearning for. 

There has been an upsurge in outdoor and wellness activities recently. Is your project part of that ideal?

Yes, my theme is basically you, yourself in nature. That’s it. I want people to go out there and live a little bit. The beautiful thing is that there’s a certain sense of adventure and danger involved. You have to set up a tent. It could rain. But having a feeling of accomplishment is great and many people come back feeling like Bear Grylls. I’m basically setting people up to succeed in nature. 

So, you basically started by buying one car? 

Yes, I bought one for myself. I then floated it on a Japanese service called Anyca, which is a peer-to-peer lending service for vehicles. The car started to get booked and then Anyca got in touch and asked if they could use my car as part of its marketing campaign. Eventually, I decided to go out on my own and a wonderful piece of fate happened when one of my Swedish customers put me in touch with the president of Land Rover Japan, who is also Swedish. We ended up being quite similar in terms of personality and we got along. After a big presentation the company said it would help me out by allocating me vehicles. That deal gave me immense credibility. I now import overlanding products and Land Rover has actually become one of my customers. 

Any thoughts on a proper physical retail space for Overland Campers Japan, Luke?

Yes, I’m ready for retail now. I feel like east Tokyo would be good. Somewhere like Kiyosumi Shirakawa would be nice or Bakurocho or Ueno or somewhere like that. A place with old bones. But we’ll have to wait and see. 

For more information about Luke and Overland Campers Japan check their social media pages: