Explore Japan's great outdoors by camping out!
Ah! The aroma of fresh coffee in the early morning forest air. The first slow sip before my friends wake up. I take a deep breath while surveying our campsite surroundings – the trees, river and rolling hills. Nothing beats camping!
That is my favorite part of camping. It is so great to get away from hectic work and city life and commune with nature. If you have not camped in Japan, I highly recommend kicking back in the natural beauty of the Land of the Rising Sun.
There are more than 3,000 campgrounds, or “campjo” from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Camping is very popular here with families, couples and friends, especially from spring to autumn.
There are two types of campgrounds in Japan: Privately owned campgrounds run by companies and public campgrounds. Private campgrounds usually offer more amenities such as nice kitchen facilities, showers, stores, electricity and rental equipment. Some even have natural hot springs, fishing ponds, tennis court or dog run courses.
Public campgrounds have more reasonable prices, and usually offer simple kitchen-like facilities, restrooms and showers (or not). Flush toilets and hot water are often considered luxuries at public camp facilities. So private campgrounds are more popular with families. There is also a third and rarely used alternative.
“In Japan, there are some areas other than campgrounds where you are allowed to camp,” says Hiroaki Sakai, a spokesman for Japan Auto Camping Federation. “However, there have been some accidents as a result of natural disasters and no staff being on hand to warn people. So we recommend using campgrounds to ensure safety.”
The most popular kind of camping is called “auto camp.” This is when you can park your vehicle on site and pitch a tent right next to it. You need to specifically book an auto-camp site when you make reservations at a campground. RVs are rare in Japan compared to the States - and so are campgrounds with RV hookups. Always check in advance if you need one.
The standard campsite size is about 33 foot x 33 foot, according to Japan Auto Camping Federation. It is usually large enough for a four- to 6-person tent, tables and chairs. Campgrounds in Japan typically charge per tent. So if you want to put up two tents, you need to book two camp sites.
The cost ranges between 2,000 to 5,000 yen ($20-$50) per night, depending on the season and whether it’s a private or public facility. Usually, the highest price season is late July through August. I highly recommend making reservations several weeks to a few months in advance for this season.
During the peak season, some popular campgrounds are packed, sometimes with very little space between tents. Most campgrounds close for the winter.
There are also various types of lodging available at some campgrounds such as small cabins, yurts, teepees, etc. These are quite popular because you don’t need to much gear to enjoy outdoor life. But again, prices vary depending on the season, so check the campground’s website.
Campfires are prohibited at most campgrounds because the site can be damaged. If you want to enjoy a fire at night, you need to take a portable fire pit, or some places may have them for rent.
If you are camping by the river, you have to be extra careful. Most incidents occur as a result of flooding after a heavy rain during the summer. On Aug. 1, in fact, a mother and her two young children were killed after their car was swept into a river by torrential rain at a camping site in Yamakita, Kanagawa.
It’s also important to be careful about dangerous critters such as some snakes and centipedes. The Japanese centipede, or “mukade,” can grow to be up to 7.8 inches long. Their bite is extremely painful and causes swelling. They are attracted to spaces like shoes that may be left outside a tent, especially after the rain. So I highly recommend checking your shoes before putting them on when camping.
“For your safety when camping, always listen to what the campground staff advise when you check in,” says Sakai. “Check the weather forecast and the landscape where you are camping to be sure there is no danger.”
Also remember to respect nature and take all your trash with you.
Personally, my favorite time of the year to go camping is from October and November when it starts to cool off. It’s the perfect time for a campfire. It is also less crowded, quiet and there are usually not too many mosquitos either.
In the fall, you can enjoy the changing colors on the mountain foliage as well. There’s nothing like listening to the sound of nature and the crackling of a campfire while kicking back in the camp chair under the stars with a cup of single malt whisky.
I love camping.
Utarube Campjo (Aomori)
It takes about an hour and a half drive from Misawa Air Base. This beautiful campground is run by Towada City Office right in front of Towada Lake. It is in Towada Hachimantai National Park. This is a popular campground for military members from Misawa. You can enjoy fishing, hiking and sightseeing by boat. Kitchen, toilet, shower, laundry, rental gear and a shop are available. They have cottages as well. The cost is 200 yen per tent plus 300 yen per person. Parking cost 510 yen. Open from July 1 to Oct. 31.
Address: Kokuyurin,Utarube, Okuse Towada-shi, Kamiya gun, Aomori
Website (Japanese): plaza.rakuten.co.jp/utarube
Yamanakako Forest Cottage (Yamanashi)
At the foot of Mt. Fuji, this campground overlooks beautiful Yamanaka Lake. It offers a dog run course for those camping out with pets (reservation needed). Around the camp site, you can enjoy wakeboarding , banana boats, cruises, canoeing, cycling and fishing. Kitchen, toilet, shower, laundry, rental gear and a shop are available. Enjoy the gorgeous view of Mt. Fuji and Yamanaka Lake. There are bungalows as well. The price is from 3,150 yen per campsite, depending on the season. Open from March to November 30.
Address: Kokuyurin,Utarube, Okuse Towada-shi, Kamiya gun, Aomori
Website (Japanese): www.odakyu-forest.com/top.html
Tama Hills Recreation Area (Tokyo)
Tama Hills Recreation Area comprises about half of the 500-acre Tama Services Division Annex, the other half being the very popular Tama Hills Golf Course. It’s the most popular camp site for military folks in the Kanto Plain area. It’s easy 60-minute drive time from Yokota Air Base and a couple hours-drive from Camp Zama, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Yokosuka Naval Base. It boasts a fine selection of lodges, cabins, and campsites nestled amid serene hills. Paintball, horseback riding, a tennis court and rental gear are available on site. For camping, the cost is $2.50 for each person. Open all year around.
Address: 1310 Oomaru, Inagishi, Tokyo
Tel: 0176-75-2477 DSN: 224-3422
Website (English): www.yokotasupport.com/tama-hills-recreation-area/
Kujyukurihama Seaside Campjo (Chiba)
Just about 100 yards from the white sands of Kujyukuri Beach in Chiba Prefecture, you can hear sounds of the waves as you gaze at the stars. In the morning, grab your surfboard or body board and take to the waves of this famous surf site. The fishing is also good here. Some people camp out here on the New Year’s Eve to see the first sunrise of New Year. You can bring your dog but there is a mandatory leash policy. Kitchen, toilet, shower, outside baths, rental gear and a shop are available. There are bungalows as well. For camping, the price is from 4,200 yen per campsite, depending on the season. Open all year around.
Address: 17146-935 Note, Sousashi, Chiba
Website (Japanese): www.kujukuri.co.jp/stay.html
Katazoe Beach Campground (Yamaguchi)
About an 80-minute drive from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, this campground is located at Katazoe Beach on Yashiro Island. From the campsites you have a panoramic view of Setonaikai. Enjoy fishing, snorkeling, swimming or just relax on the beach. There is a hot springs facility within walking distance. Kitchen, toilet, shower, rental gear and a shop are available. There are also cottages. For camping, the price is from 3,600 yen per campsite, depending on the season. Open all year around.
Address: Katazoe, Souoshimacho, Oinshima gun, Yamaguchi
Website (Japanese): katazoe.ac
Isanoura Koen Campjo (Nagasaki)
A popular campground with Sasebo Naval Base community members, it takes about 40 minutes by car to Isanoura Koen Campjo. The setting here is a dam in beautiful Isanoura Park. You can enjoy bass fishing, cycling and pedal boats here. There are also nice cottages and bungalows in the park for reasonable price. Kitchen, toilet, shower, rental gear and a shop are available. For camping, the price is from 1,050 yen per campsite, depending on the season. Open all year around.
Address: 1133-48 Nakaura Minamigo, Saikaichou, Saikaishi, Nagasaki