With more than 3,000 official camp sites, Japan has a huge outdoor activity scene. A relatively small island nation with 120 million people, means that of course lot of people want to get away from the crowds at weekends and public holidays – get away from the city and spend some time outdoors or with the family.
Ironically, this makes many camp sites rather crowded, but at peak season everywhere in Japan tends to be crowded. During public holidays you need to head very far north or very far south – think Hokkaido and southern Kyushu, if you want to avoid crowds.
Peak camping season in Japan is late July through mid August. Students have holidays and fill the campsites. Visit the same camp site in September, and although the temperatures will still be high there may be almost nobody there. Camp sites near cities have a longer peak season, but mostly there is only one month, plus public holidays, when you’ll require a reservation.
Facilities are often basic when you go camping in Japan. Some campgrounds have good showers and you may even find an onsen in some cases. Fire is normally prohibited, meaning cooking is limited to a gas stove. Some sites have a barbeque area. Generally each time you wish to use something other than your own tent space, you need to pay extra. Many foreign visitors feel that Japanese camp sites are well over priced for what they offer.
Camping beside your car is very popular in Japan. It makes sense since most people need to drive quite far from the city to reach the camp ground. Renting everything each time tends to reduce the number of times you go camping, so most people prefer to drive. The various rural and coastal areas known for tremendous views are never far from a camp site, but there may be no chance of reaching them by public transport.
Of course Japan also has lots of road side rest stops and rest stations known as ‘michi-no-eki’ and many people just sleep in the car instead of camping.
Where is camping allowed?
Generally camping is allowed anywhere that it isn’t specifically prohibited. Of course common sense prevails, and you shouldn’t be camping on private land. Pitch a tent in an inner city park, and the police will be along to move you, but pitch a tent around the corner from a Shikoku bus or train station and you’ll probably be fine. This is because city officials are worried about crime and anti-social behaviour whereas Shikoku welcomes pilgrims and tends to be (although not always) quite relaxed about where those people put their heads down for the night during their spiritual journey.
National Parks normally forbid camping, unless there is an organised site. Mount Fuji is strictly no camping. This is mostly the case in the summer hiking season though, and outside of peak times there are people who camp all over the country – in line with the rules or not.
Again, it is common sense. Rules are in place to protect areas of natural beauty because of noise, litter and fire which are problems associated with many campers.
Beach camping, mountain camping and snow camping
Staying on the beach overnight is perfectly fine, although it tends to be something only students do. Mountain camping is very popular. Mountain huts can cost 8,000 yen per night for the most basic of facilities and minimum space, which encourages a lot of hikers to pay 500 – 1,000 yen for a spot to pitch a tent and have access to water. It goes without saying that you’ll need a sturdy tent if you camp on a mountain, as well as something lightweight as you will be carrying that and your sleeping bag up and down the mountain trails.
Snow camping requires more preparation and someone with experience to show you, but can be great fun. Snow camping in Japan is likely to be a very quiet experience – even the animals will have deserted the hills in many cases. An easy hike and snow camp can be great fun for the weekend. Some serious hikers camp in the snow on 2,000 and even 3,000 plus meter mountains. The winter alpine views are tremendous, but you’ll certainly need appropriately graded equipment if you don’t want to freeze.