Animation inspiration: Explore scenic Japan with Laid-Back Camp!

Courtesy photos
Courtesy photos

Animation inspiration: Explore scenic Japan with Laid-Back Camp!

by David Krigbaum

Who needs fantasy escapism when Japan’s natural beauty is pretty amazing already? With all the COVID-19 travel restrictions in place, it’s a good time to watch TV shows to help distress while you’re stuck at home. And, an added bonus is if you can watch something that transports you to fantastic corners of Japan you can see for yourself once we can roam free again.

Laid-Back Camp (“Yuru Camp” in Japan) is an anime about Yamanashi girls who love camping with majestic views or at picturesque hideaways in their home prefecture, Nagano, and Shizuoka. Every episode plays out like a travelogue and tutorial for camping and sightseeing as we follow the adventures of two groups of campers. Both groups enjoy their journeys and outdoor time differently, with many stops for sightseeing, tasting local specialty foods and relaxing in onsens along the way. (This setup basically describes all the road trips I’ve ever taken with my wife, minus the camping) Practically every location is real and they make it look like a lot of fun to go see.

Rin is a solo camper, she enjoys solitude as she travels and the alone time to read and be introspective. She instinctively distances herself from people and her horrified flinching at being invited to a group activity made her too relatable. She’s glomped onto by airheaded newbie camper Nadeshiko who’s excited for everything and can make eating cheap ramen look delicious. She bridges the story over to the other group (camp?), their school’s Outdoor Activities Club (“OutClub”) who enjoy their camping trips as an opportunity do something fun together. They’re all funny, light characters and through the episodes we see them learn from each other and share their experiences to become better campers.

The stories all have a very relaxed pace and vibe, whether a scene is set against a faithful renderings of some of Japan’s most beautiful scenery or just in a way to make viewers appreciate the mundane. Every peaceful moment is visually savored and makes each episode feel like the TV watching equivalent of sitting under a warm fuzzy blanket and drinking cocoa.

There’s no artificial drama but they deal with the real struggles of progressing in an expensive weekend hobby. As they do, they also show the audience how it’s done as they plan out trips, purchase gear on a budget (they price out everything from gear to camp fees) and make decisions that anyone visiting these places or wanting to camp may come across. Most shows encourage you to stay in front of a TV and watch more, but this one also feels like it’s encouraging the audience to get out and try all of this for themselves.

The other beautiful aspect beside the scenery is the food. Whether it’s cooking nabe (hot pot) over a little camping stove or trying out local specialties in a shop, which every prefecture and town in Japan proudly has, they make food look as impressive as Fuji itself. Watching them make and explain camp cooking is like a mini-cooking show within a travelogue and adds to that “you should try this” feeling.

Now whenever things open up again I’m looking forward to seeing that 1,000 yen view of Mt. Fuji over Lake Motosu, watching Fuji-san from in the Hottarakashi Springs, and seeing the Takabochi view of Mt. Fuji from Nagano Prefecture (Some places like the hot springs bath had their names changed or omitted on the show, but fans have found all the real places and shared them online). Though, thanks to the show’s popularity these destinations are going to be a bit more crowded than they used to be. In the second season they mention a real world first season campground has now expanded and no longer offers free firewood. This is the only time I’ve seen a TV show feature in-show repercussions for the show’s real world success.

The first season aired in 2018 and the second season is currently airing. It can be viewed with English subtitles on US Netflix and Crunchyroll, Netflix Japan also has it but in Japanese only.

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