Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Camping in Japan

久し振り~ It's been a loooong time since I updated this blog. Oops! So Kazu and I have been married for just over 5 months, though it feels like much longer. I've finally gotten used to the idea of being married, though I still occasionally have moments of total mindfuck where I'm like "Husband? I don't have one of those. Oh wait, yeah, I do..." We have little fights over stupid stuff but for the most part have been blissfully happy. In just a few months we'll be going to America for almost 3 weeks over Christmas and New Years as a combination honeymoon and yearly visit to my family. I'm really looking forward to introducing him to my friends and family, and to showing him so many things and places that were a huge part of my life before coming here and shaped the person I am today, but that he's never even heard of. 

Today I'm going to play catch-up and post about the main thing we did this summer: camping! We went 4 times, only 3 of those were successful, though. I'll talk about the major differences I've noticed between camping in the US and camping in Japan, and then tell you a bit about the places we went this year. 

Growing up, my family were big campers. We weren't 'nature survivalist' types that go out into the wilderness with only a knife, but we weren't the 'we own every space-age camping gadget known to man' types either. When I was young we were poor as dirt and went camping in a little tent with an air mattress 2 or 3 weekends each year during the summer. When I got older, my parents were both working and we were doing a bit better financially, so my parents invested in a used camper, and we upgraded to 3 or 4 weekend trips every summer. When I was in university, my parents got divorced and for a year or two we didn't go camping at all. Then we got into the habit of taking one big week-long trip each year, until I moved to Japan. Now, my mom (who got custody of the camper) rents a 'seasonal' campsite and goes camping almost every weekend. 

Campgrounds in the US (at least in New England, where I grew up) almost always have a pool, and if they don't, there is at least a lake, pond or river for swimming in. Most campgrounds have a few 'field sites' (mostly undivided campsites in the middle of a field with no shade or trees) but the majority of the campsites are bare dirt lots surrounded by trees and there are bushes and whatnot dividing the sites. Overall, it gives a feeling of being 'in the forest' and there is a certain degree of privacy. Most campgrounds have fire pits, electric outlets and water faucets installed in every single site, and there are communal toilets and showers in multiple locations around the campground. The smallest campground I've ever stayed in in the US had about 45 sites.

In Japan, 'field sites' are the only kind of sites there are. The ground is planted with grass, and in most cases there is absolutely no division between sites; there are just stakes in the ground holding up a sign with the site number written on it, and you set up your tent in the area between your stake and the one for the next site. Campers are all but non-existant and none of the campgrounds I've been to had sites that could accommodate them, though I saw some online that did. Japanese campgrounds generally do not have electricity available in each campsite, or if they do it's only available in around 20% of the sites and there's an extra fee to use it. Also, there aren't fire pits in Japanese campgrounds, you have to bring a charcoal barbecue grill with you, and setting a wood fire on the ground is prohibited. Some campgrounds have one 'communal area' where you can have a bonfire, if you pay an extra fee. The amount of 'nature' you can enjoy depends on the campground, but it's generally much less than what you'd expect in America. I think that the communal bathroom facilities in Japanese campgrounds are superior to those in America, however: the toilets are cleaner, there are huge rows of giant sinks and countertop space for washing dishes, and all the campgrounds I've been to were withing 5-15 minutes drive of an onsen. Size wise, Japanese campgrounds tend to be much smaller than american ones, with only about 15-40 sites. 

Now a bit about the campgrounds we visited this year...

1. Shibamasa World Campground (芝政ワールドキャンプ場) 
Our campsite!
Trying to cook on the disposable barbecue grills we bought.
Me teaching Kazu how to roast marshmallows.
Located in Sakai city, Fukui prefecture, Shibamasa World is actually a water park that had a theme park and campground added recently. The water park is amazing, with multiple pools, about 7 different giant water slides, and my favorite feature was the ocean pool, a giant artificial beach with an ironic view of the actual ocean just behind. It should also be mentioned that Japanese pools do use chemicals for sanitation but they are much milder than chlorine, and don't smell, hurt your eyes, or destroy your hair like swimming in an American pool will. The theme park is pirate themed, quite small, and obviously aimed at children with a pirate themed roller coaster, 'viking ship' ride, and teacup ride. To stay at the campground, it's mandatory that you purchase a 'passport' for each camper, which allows unlimited entry to both the water park and theme park. There's no discount on the cost of this passport (I believe it's about 34$ per person for adults) however while it's only valid for 1 day for normal visitors, people staying at the campground only have to buy it once and it's valid for the duration of your stay. The cost for the actual campsite was also quite expensive, about 80$ for only one night. To be fair, I think we went on a national holiday, which is always more expensive. The campground was clean and larger than any others I've been to in Japan, but it was a bit disappointing for me. Although we had a nice view of the ocean, it seemed more like a golf course than a campground. There are a limited number of sites with electricity, but we weren't able to get one. Memorable occurrences during this trip include us forgetting to pack the barbecue grill and having to buy a tiny disposable one to cook our dinner on, trying to go to the onsen at 7am the next morning only to discover it wouldn't open until 11am and then being unable to re-enter the campground because the main gates didn't open until 9am, and finally me getting the worst sunburn of my life that ended up with my shoulders and arms covered in blisters and me being unable to wear a shirt (or leave the house, because I was shirtless) for an entire week because the fabric touching my skin hurt too much. 

2. Juunibou Onsen Yurara Auto-camp Campground (十二坊温泉ゆららオートキャンプ場)
Our campsite.
Kazu uses an electric fan to get the fire going.
Enjoying beer and barbecue!
Located in Konan cit in Shiga prefecture, this campground is the closest to my house, only about 30 minutes away. It's very small with less than 20 sites, and 3 or 4 small cabins for rent. All sites have electricity available for an extra fee, and the cabins have air conditioners installed. There's also a small indoor pool and an onsen on site which campers can pay to use if they wish. If I remember correctly it was about 40$ to rent the site and 10$ per person for a ticket to use both the pool and the onsen. The term 'auto-camp' simply means that you can park your car in the site, and that you are sleeping in a tent (vs a trailer). The sites are slightly more divided and private than at Shibamasa world, and they have movable concrete blocks at each site to set up your barbecue grill on so you don't have to worry about scorching the grass. The pool was small but nice, with a big hot tub, and it was all indoors, so I didn't have to worry about getting sunburned again. The only thing I didn't like is that the lifeguard wouldn't let my husband into the pool compound until he removed his top (he was wearing a swimshirt made of swimsuit material; they are very common in Japan for preventing sunburn, but I think he was wearing it just because it looks cool). I think this must be so that people with tatoos can't secretly use the pool by covering their tatoos with a swimtop? I don't know the reason why they are prohibited, but I gave the guy a hard time and told him that if my husband can't wear a top in the pool then I shouldn't be able to either, and told him I was going to take off my swimsuit top. Haha, I thought the guy's head was going to explode! But of course I didn't follow through with this threat. The onsen here is a bit strange: there is the 'men's bath' and the 'women's bath' like at all onsens, but at this place they change which is which every day by switching the signs that say 'men' and 'women.' We used the onsen twice (the night of the day we arrived and again the next morning before leaving) and I was shocked at the difference between the two baths! The right side, which I used first, is really nice with 6 different indoor pools  including an artificial waterfall and a pool with tons of bubble, as well as an impressive outdoor pool and 3 individual bath barrels (literally a tiny pool the size and shape of a barrel). But the left side, which I used the next day, has only 3 pools (no waterfall or bubble pool) and one medium-sized outdoor pool. I wouldn't have been dissatisfied with the 2nd bath, if I hadn't gone in the other one first! The other negative point was that the check-in process for the campground was very long and confusing. We'd lined up and waited 10 minutes for the staff to check the person in front of us in, and just when it appeared to be our turn, a woman appeared out of nowhere and said we needed to wait our turn. We were pissed but waited 10 more minutes for the staff to check us with all the speed of a glacier and then when it looked like we'd finally get served, the staff called another customer, who was off somewhere else doing something else the whole time we stood right there at the counter waiting. We finally almost threw a fit at the staff before they finally explained "Oh yeah, you have to tell us you're here, and then we'll write your name on this list of people waiting to check in, and we'll call you in order." Despite this, we'll definitely go here again.

3. Kuzuryuu Kokumin Kyuuyouchi (九頭竜国民休養地キャンプ場)
Setting out with high hopes, and a full trunk.
A picture from their website, since we weren't there long enough to take any.
Located in Ono city in Fukui prefecture, this was the farthest campground we went to, about 4 hours one way from our house. It was also the one we 'failed' to stay at. It was raining in the morning when we left, but it was raining in the morning the day we went on all of our camping trips; on previous trips it cleared up by noon, so we hoped it would this time too. Unfortunately it didn't. As we approached the campground, on top of it being steadily raining, I started to get really horrible menstrual cramps. When we arrived, there was no one there! We couldn't even find an employee to check us in. When we finally called the phone number on their website we found out that check-in for the campground is actually done at the hotel (there's also a hotel onsite), but the employee strongly urged us to cancel our reservation because a typhoon was on its way! In the end we agreed, even though we'd driven all that way, and turned around and went home. It's a good thing we did, because my cramps got even worse on the way back (the worst I've ever had) and I was throwing up from the pain. As soon as we got home we left everything in the car and ran inside, literally moments before it started thundering and lightning! Although we didn't get to stay here, the campground looked very nice, with gorgeous scenery and lots of nature, as well as a river running through the campground to play in. The area is very secluded, however, and there isn't even a convenience store for miles and miles, so make sure you  have everything you need if you go here!

4. Takayama Campground (高山キャンプ場)
Our campsite.
Front view.
Kazu's "creative" fire-starting technique: using a blow torch and electric fan.
Enjoying a cold one (that my dad brought from America) while waiting for the fire to get going enough to grill on.
The river running through the campground.
Kazu (right) playing in the river.
I think this was my favorite of the campgrounds we've been to. It's located in Nagahama city, in Shiga prefecture, about 1.5 hours from my house. My husband's family is from Nagahama city, though they live on the complete opposite side of the city, about 30 minutes away from this campground. We left all our luggage (except the cooler) in the car after our failure at Kuzuryuu and went camping here the very next weekend. Takayama Campground is pretty small, with 14 or 15 regular sites, all with electricity available on-site, as well as several large cabins available to rent and an open camping area, which is a big open field with no site divisions where people can pitch their tents wherever they want and camp for a much cheaper price, but without any assurance of any privacy whatsoever. We lucked into what I think is the best site in the entire campground, with a forested mountain behind us and close to the bathroom, shower and dish-washing facilities without being too close. The cost was about $40 for the night. It's in a very rural location (the road leading into the campground is only wide enough for one car at a time, if someone's coming in the opposite direction you can't pass eachother) but it's not too far from amenities like convenience store, pharmacy and grocery store. We also stopped at two different onsens nearby. The first, only 5 minutes from the campground, supposedly has both a pool and an onsen, though we only used the onsen, and it was nice but not amazing. The second, about 10 minutes away, was even better, with a very beautiful outdoor bath and two interesting indoor baths, though unfortunately I was feeling sick and running a fever that day so couldn't enjoy it for very long. One of the best features of Takayama Campground is the river running through the campground. It's between ankle and knee-deep in most places and although you can't swim or fish here, you can play in the water, skip stones (as Kazu did) and search for crawfish and other waterbugs (as some kids were doing while we were there). I definitely want to go here again!

As for our camping gear, we had to invest a bit of money to scrape together the bare minimum. In the US my family has everything a person could possibly need for camping, so when I would go camping with my (then) boyfriend or my friends, I'd just borrow what I needed, but Kazu's family doesn't really camp, so we had to buy almost everything. His parents did give us a portable picnic table and two camp chairs that they had, and we also got a small "cooler" (not a hard-sided one, but the insulated lunchbox type) and a small barbecue grill as wedding presents. Out of pocket we had to buy a tent, air-mattress and canopy, as well as little stuff like charcoal tongs, an outdoor-safe extension cord, a gadget to blow up the air-mattress, and sheets for it. It cost about 150$ for everything, and we got the smallest and cheapest that we could find of everything we bought. Even so, we had no difficulties with the gear we purchased and can easily enjoy camping with just this for the next few years until Kazu-Tori baby(ies) join the family. 

1 comment:

  1. Wah..it's really look fun !(*^^*) i think i want be can like you live in japan became translator and marriage with japanese man .i inspirated because it thankyou ! Sory for my english is bad ^-^

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