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As COVID pandemic winds down, not-so-happy campers shed gear to the benefit of bargain hunters

Image: iStock/kokouu

As COVID-19 ravaged the globe in 2020, demand for leisure travel nosedived. Trains were out. Planes were definitely out. That left your car. But where could you go that wouldn't put you and your family in harm's way?

Urged to avoid the so-called "Three Cs," -- closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings -- but hungry for safe diversions, many Japanese turned to camping in the great outdoors. The logic was flawless: Heading for the hills will reduce interactions with fellow humans to a bare minimum.

As lethal variants of the novel coronavirus pandemic spread in 2020 and 2021, camping became an increasingly popular option in Japan, with many public and private camping grounds reporting overcrowding during weekends and holiday periods, to the point that securing reservations became near impossible.

Move to the end of 2023. J-Cast News (Jan 26) reported that at an outlet of Book Off, a used book specialty chain that has diversified to recycling of other merchandise, bags that appear to contain tents, sleeping bags, and other camping paraphernalia were spotted filling five large shelves.

A shopper posted a photo of the merchandise on X, noting that the like-new camping gear was being offered at exceptionally low prices. His post reportedly attracted over 10 million views,

The post also attracted quite a few comments, such as: "I guess a lot of people gave up on camping without even using the gear at all." And "There's no point in going so far out of your way just to relax." And “It looks to me like the camping boom is over."

A few commenters saw the bargain prices as a good opportunity to take up camping. Another remarked, "This means the bubble is over, rather than the end of the boom" And another post read: "We still can't get reservations at popular campgrounds."

Has camping declined in popularity? According to the "White Paper on Auto Camping," released by the Japan Auto Camping Association in July 2023, the number of campers in 2022 decreased to 6.5 million people, a drop of 13% from the previous year.

Another survey conducted in August 2023 by camping equipment media outlet CAMPxGEAR found that 22% of people who had taken up camping due to the pandemic said they had ceased the activity once the pandemic had subsided. Which may be explanation enough as to why camping-related items are flowing into the second-hand market.

A spokesperson for Bookoff Group Holdings told the J-Cast News reporter that between June 2022 and May 2023, store sales of camping supplies were up by about 30%.

"I think it's because people are now able to go out freely and enjoy various activities without having to avoid the 3Cs," he explained, adding "No doubt some people have given up camping, but there may also be cases where they sell their gear to make space for new, upgraded equipment."

The stores are offering a variety of high-quality reused items, with tents, lanterns, chairs, tables, etc, said to be particularly popular. Moreover, as disaster prevention awareness increases, some customers are believed to be purchasing them, along with food items, to have on hand for emergencies. 

The person in charge of Okutama General Development, a third-sector company funded by Okutama Town and others that operates Hikawa Campground in Okutama, Tokyo, told the reporter that since last winter, the number of people using tents has been gradually decreasing. At its peak two or three years ago, about 13,000 people per year were camping there in tents.

"This has declined to about 1,000 to 2,000 per year," he said. "I suppose it's because the pandemic has subsided and more people are opting for other activities."

As the short-lived camping boom subsides, however, dedicated enthusiasts are finding things in their favor.

"During the summer and on weekends, there are usually a fair number of campers; but it's easier to get reservations on weekdays," one was quoted as saying. "People who tried camping for the short term may have shifted to other activities. Still, there remains a group of core enthusiasts who have always enjoyed the outdoors, and who will continue to do so."

© Japan Today

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I do some camping here and there. Wonderful way to relax, do a hike, read a book, knock back a couple of refreshing beverages, and whinge about work. What could be better?

One thing I notice with most Japanese campers I see is that camping doesn't really seem like relaxing. A large percentage gets to the campsite in the afternoon, then they get busy setting up their state-of-the-art gear, then get busy cooking and whatnot, then cleaning, then off to bed, then busy with breakfast and then busy packing up and they're outta there by around 10am. Even when they're "relaxing" they're busy. It's a bit like watching a Benny Hill skit in real time.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

You are generally not allowed to camp in parks or other government-controlled areas outside of campgrounds, so you'll have to look for private land to camp on. 

That is true. I was once kicked out of a prefectural natural park so moved to an adjacent roadside, which turned out to be fine (it was way inaka so not a car passed during my stay).

Another time, the only flat site I could find was on the grounds of a relatively high-class hotel. 'Round 11:00, the hotel caretaker came by, and I thought, "I am so busted," but all he said was "Take care of fire."

Generally, if you do not light campfires, keep quiet, and clean up after yourself, you're not only allowed but often welcomed.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Japan is a camper's paradise. You can pitch your tent pretty much anywhere as long as you leave your site as pristine (or more) as you found it.

I only splurged on my family tent, but I have an individual tent that I bought at a home improvement store, and all of my other gear comes from the same place. Invest in your tent, and get everything else at Hirose.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I like to take a packet of chocolate Hobnobs with me whenever I go camping.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

"I guess a lot of people gave up on camping without even using the gear at all."

We were given a load of camping equipment for cooking once. It's not he sort thing we would buy otherwise. We still use it to this day in the cottage and keep it handy in cause of a disaster

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Bears are becoming more of a threat due to disruptions to their food supply due to climate change. I prefer to stay in a cabin these days.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I'm a Yahoo Auctions and Mercari person, not Bookoff, and my kids are mostly grown up and too busy with their own thing for family camping, but I'll have to have a look for some bargains.

I did get a used Coleman Roadtrip portable gas bbq on Mercari last year for a good price, so maybe the stuff in the story was a factor. We only have a small deck at our house and don't have space for a full sized gas grill. High end camping stuff can work very well as garden furniture. Some high end camping chairs are really comfortable.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

You can pitch your tent pretty much anywhere as long as you leave your site as pristine (or more) as you found it.

I'm not sure about that. I won't pretend to be an expert (like some people), but a quick internet search found this:

"Unauthorized camping outside of a campground in Japan is not illegal, but it is a gray area activity. In some areas it is prohibited by ordinance. If you don't follow the rules, you are not welcomed by the locals. Also, you may be questioned by the police or reported to them...

You are generally not allowed to camp in parks or other government-controlled areas outside of campgrounds, so you'll have to look for private land to camp on. Permission is required. It can be very time-consuming to find a place where you can camp and get permission to do so."

Can anyone confirm?

There are Clamp Camping sites these days for people who want all those extra creature comforts while sleeping under the stars.

Glamping is nice. But we just rent a cottage as we know a few landlords who like us to use their land and property. And it is more private. We like to listen to music you see. Can't beat a bit of Chaz and Dave round the BBQ.1.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

I was once greatly startled by a tanuki while enjoying a lovely ramble through the Great Outdoors. Thought it was a womble at first before remembering I was on the banks of the 狩野川, not Wimbledon Common.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Why not just go again?

But I know it was just a fad. People around the world love impulse fad shopping for things they want to use but don’t have any realistic prospects to… myself included haha

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I enjoyed camping particularly the bbq and fire pit with Mt. Fuji in the background.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I do some camping here and there

Do you take your kids?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I think for men camping solo is a good way to get some alone time and to refocus. I go camping and fishing for a few days twice a year and come back refreshed better than a vacation. Miyazaki is an outdoor paradise.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Just got back from a bit of skiing, when in between a day and night of skiing went stealth camping in the snow, with my young boy, by driving up a snowy and deserted road and nestled our car snuggly in a fairly hidden nook and cranny.

We had a great time insulating the van and setting up our futon and sleeping bags in there. Eating candies and chips while watching, a bit of Empite Strikes Back and the frozen ice moon of Hoth to set the mood on the DVD player while we prepared for bed and another day of skiing the next morning.

I love tents and camping whenever during the year, solo camping, with girlfiried or mates, with family and the kids. Nothing like resting under the stars exhausted after 20km hikes on 80km trails

I will take a Billion Star experience over a mediocre 5 Star let down, anyday.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Do you take your kids?

Just with friends at the moment. My boy's still a toddler, so another year or so before I get him wise in the ways of bushcraft.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Bears are becoming more of a threat due to disruptions to their food supply due to climate change. I prefer to stay in a cabin these days.

Indeed. The wild boar AKA イノシシ is also a constant problem, too. Last thing you want to do is run into a boar whilst pitching your tent.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Not sure that the pandemic is winding down. Over here in South Cal the new covid variant seems to have spread faster and wider than the original virus. A son in law just came down with it for the third time, and several people I know have come down with it for the first time, including friends, neighbors, relatives, and yours truly. My doctor said I can expect a few months of natural immunity after getting better, until the next variant.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many people go camping in locations like the Japanese Alps where there are no staying places other than mountain lodges that are overcrowded in season.

Or a forest river location. Isolated beach. There are many locations just for camping.

Enjoyed camping since my DOE when I was a teen.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

There are Clamp Camping sites these days for people who want all those extra creature comforts while sleeping under the stars.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

Good advert for Book Off.

Trains were out, planes were definitely out? Eh! Some of us went about our business as usual.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

None of you know enough to know you know nothing.

Camping is great, especially in the more rural prefectures.

I have wild camped in all prefectures without hassle.

If you don't know,please say nowt.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Covid19 in Japan doesn't "winds down". false atmosphere as if it winds down is just rampant from government or major media or social media into society.

Such deception loosen social measures to infection, caused hazard to hospitals or elderly facilities, my family was infected it during long hospitalization, and had been killed with terribly suffering due Covid19 related pneumonia.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Camping is a pain. We rent cottages....

I'm with you. Actually, I'll rent a room in a hotel near the beach, and eat out. Or in.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

Camping it up and cottaging seems quite popular with some here. Not pour moi, thank you.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

Camping is a pain. We rent cottages....

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

Live like a queen surely.

-9 ( +3 / -12 )

Don't forget to pack the 焼きそばパン.

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

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