Japan is blessed with abundant alpine, lakeside and seaside scenery that makes it the perfect place to getting away from it all and leave behind the memories of city life for a few days on a camping trip to the Japanese countryside.
There are currently around 2,000-3,000 campsites scattered all over Japan, mostly owned and managed by public bodies, so you should have little trouble finding a suitable place to stay - the hardest part may be narrowing it down to just one place for your nights under canvas.
See here for a full list of suggested campsites all over Japan: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/rtg/pdf/pg-804.pdf.
Camping in Japan
Many campsites also offer a range of alternative accommodation options to bring-your-own tent, starting with pre-pitched tents but also including teepees, yurts, log cabins, treehouses, caravans, mobile homes and even repurposed former train carriages.
In general, most campsites in Japan are well-equipped with good basic facilities such as toilets, fresh water, covered cooking areas, BBQ/fire pits, shower blocks, electricity, and vending machines. Many places have extra facilities such as hammocks, tennis courts, kids’ playgrounds, and even hot spring baths and coin-operated launderettes. Access to toilets and fresh running water usually comes with the pitch, but expect to potentially have to pay extra for anything else, for example, firewood supplies, hooking up to mains power or even disposal of garbage in some cases.
While serious campers can rock up with all their gear in tow, most places are well-equipped to meet the needs of casual day or weekend campers such as families and groups of friends or students. If you plan to travel light, you can usually rent or buy most of what you need from the campsite, from firewood to pots and pans, sleeping bags and even the tent itself.
Note that open fires are usually prohibited or may only be allowed in designated areas on most campsites. However, many campsites offer either BBQ or fire pits or covered cooking areas either free of charge or at a small extra cost. In other places, cooking options may be limited to your own gas stove. However, facilities at campsites in Japan vary widely from place to place, so if there is something that is essential for you for an enjoyable night under canvas then it is highly advised to check in advance with the campsite you plan to stay at.
A type of camping called “auto-kyanpu” is very popular in Japan, especially with families. This refers to camping right beside your car and the majority of campsites offer drive-on pitches specifically for campers arriving by car - in some cases this is even assumed to be the norm.
While some campsites are within walking distance of the nearest train station or highway bus stop, others can be in quite remote locations. It may therefore require some advance planning if you plan to travel without a car - check timetables of local buses carefully to ensure you don’t accidentally get stranded or miss the last bus back.
Typical prices for a pitch at a campsite in Japan are from as little as 500 yen to 3000 yen. Prices may be charged per pitch or per tent, so if you want to pitch multiple small tents on one pitch (rather than one large family-sized tent) then it is best to enquire in advance if this is permitted or will push the price up.
Camping is a very popular activity with Japanese people too, and especially during the school and university summer vacations (late July to mid August), campsites around the country can be very full with students and families enjoying life in the great outdoors, so reservations are highly recommended at weekends, bank holidays, and summer months.
Suggested Places for Camping
Shiretoko National Park is one of Japan’s most remote and unspoiled national parks, parts of which can only be accessed by boat or trekking, meaning it is the ideal getaway spot for those wanting to truly leave civilization behind. UNESCO-listed in 2005 for its irreplaceable biodiversity and precious ecosystem, go there to see waterfalls and wildlife such as deer, bears and foxes all year round and its famous drift ice in the Okhotsk Sea in winter. Try Rausu Onsen Campsite, which has views of fabulous sunsets and a hot spring facility nearby.
Okutama (near Tokyo)
Okutama is a picturesque area nestled in the mountains on the banks of the River Tama, about 2 hours from western Tokyo, that is popular with weekenders and daytrippers looking to escape the big smoke. There is plenty to do in the area, including rock-climbing, hiking, water activities such as fishing and swimming, mountaintop shrines, stalactite-filled Nippara Limestone Caves, and forest therapy at Yama-no Furusato-mura. Hikawa Campsite, just 5 minutes walk from Okutama station, is ideal for casual campers, as it has chalets and bungalows, rental camping gear, cafe and BBQ areas, and food shops nearby.
Fuji Five Lakes (near Tokyo)
The Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji Goko), a popular lake resort area at the northern foot of Mt. Fuji, is one of the best places for close-up views of Japan’s most famous peak. Each of the lakes has a markedly different character depending on its size, remoteness, and level of development, meaning they offer a great choice for all types of campers. However, try Motosuko Campsite or Motosu Lakeside Campsite on the western shores of Lake Motosu for the same views of Mt. Fuji that are printed on the back of the 1000 yen note.
Kamikochi (Japan Alps, Nagano)
Kamikochi is a popular lakeside resort in the northern Japan Alps in Nagano prefecture. Private vehicles are banned from entering the area, meaning that the fresh air you are craving from your camping experience is pretty much guaranteed - as well as stunning alpine views of lakes, ponds and marshes and viridian conifer forests blanketing the mountainsides. Kamikochi is about 5 hours by express highway bus from central Tokyo. Try Konashidaira Campground.
Yagaji Island (Okinawa)
If you’re going camping in Japan’s southern tropical island paradise of Okinawa then your aim is probably to pitch your tent as close as possible to that white sand and azure ocean. Yagaji Beach Campsite, which has communal showers, a shop, and rental equipment such as boats and bicycles, will allow you to fulfil that wish. It is in a secluded spot on Yagaji Island, a tiny conical island connected to mainland Okinawa by a long bridge. The island itself is tucked away in a calm, sheltered bay with shallow waters, making it ideal for families and enabling clam-gathering at low tide all year round.