Sushi, yes. Karaoke, of course. But camping!? Not the first thing to spring to mind when you think about the stereotypical passions of the Japanese. But it’s true! Pitching a tent, starting a campfire and relaxing together in one of the country’s thousands of gorgeous campsites is an extremely popular pastime amongst natives of the Land of the Rising Sun. And the Japanese certainly don’t muck around when it comes to the quality of their camping equipment. In fact, comparing the often palatial set-ups on display at the campsite is almost as fun as sitting around the campfire itself!
Summertime in Hokkaido in particular, is a camper’s dream – milder temperatures than down south, generally dry weather for at least a few months of the year and best of all, many stunning campsites to choose from. Here are a few of my favourites!
Jozankei Nature Village
Jozankei is an onsen town less than an hour from Sapporo which is famous for the quaint running river which dissects the village and the vivid autumn colours which adorn its trees every September and October. There are a number of great ryokan and onsen hotels in Jozankei but for those looking to pitch a tent, there is one fantastic choice.
The Jozankei Nature Village is a well-organized and comfortable camp site, with a manned reception offering tents, BBQ’s and all manner of other camping equipment to buy or rent. Many family friendly activities are available, including guided hikes, arts and crafts, and even a wood-fired pizza making workshop. The campsite boundary is marked by a bear-proof fence, which is 50% scary and 50% downright awesome!
Winter camping is also available, with warm log cabins the setting and snowshoeing the activity of choice. It’s important to call ahead and book here, as spaces are limited.
Website (Japanese only): https://www.sj-naturevillage.jp/
Nozuka Campground, Shakotan
Hokkaido’s glorious Shakotan coastline is home to many great camping spots. Its turquoise waters, lapping ocean, jutting cliffs and mild summer temperatures make it a fantastic destination to pitch up for a night or two. And did I mention the seafood? The herring, uni and ikura here are considered to be among the best available in Japan.
My favourite spot to camp is in the free, beachside campsite at Nozuka Campground, just south of Nozuka Town. Super isolated with very few amenities aside from a toilet block and dish cleaning facilities, make sure you pack a BBQ and an icebox to simply relax, uninterrupted for as long as you please. The view of the sun setting over the Sea of Japan on a clear evening here is as good as it gets.
Note – on a sunny weekend in summer, this site can get quite busy, so I suggest getting down there as early as possible on Friday to nab yourself prime position.
Shumarinai Kohan Lakeside Camping
The stunning Lake Shumarinai is one of Japan’s largest man-made lakes, which locals claim, in typically quirky Japanese fashion, is 30 times the size of Tokyo Disneyland. And it’s just as beautiful as it is big with multiple camping sites perched upon the shoreline. Fishing is a popular pastime, with local anglers regularly reeling in sizable Sakhalin Taimen, a rare breed of salmon found only in Japan’s north, the Kuril Islands and a few places in East Russia.
Hire a rod and reel and see if you can land one of these yourself! Amenities at the campsite are good, with hot showers available, communal cleaning facilities and also a restaurant on-site (opening hours tend to vary though so best pack some food just in case!). They also have an English website too, making it easy for non-native speakers to enquire and book.
I know, I know, camping is not for everyone! Thankfully, the advent of ‘glamping’ has made it possible for those who don’t fancy muddy wet feet, struggling to start a campfire, too-darn-cold nights and too-darn-hot days the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of camping without the stresses.
Hopi Hills, in Akaigawa Village, Hokkaido is THE place for glamping in nature. Luxury tents in an open paddock with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountain-scape. There is a restaurant on site, a petting zoo with many farm animals, activities such as horse riding tours and best-of-all-for-some, WiFi in the tent! Best to contact them in advance before visiting though as COVID may impact operating dates and hours.
Hot Tip – download the terrific ‘Michi’ app to your phone for maps and information on all of Japan’s best campsites, roadside stations, onsens and ryokans.