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Manners of inconsiderate auto campers called into question

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A wag once quipped, "Camping: where you spend a small fortune to live like a homeless person." Japan's first boom in auto camping began in earnest after the widespread adoption of the 5-day work week, from the early 1990s. Now the country is in the process of a second boom, which may possibly spur a third boom. Over the past five years, according to the "2019 White Paper on Auto Camping," the ranks of people engaged in this form of leisure increased by an additional 1 million, raising the overall total of auto campers in 2018 to 8.5 million.

"Auto camping is not some kind of transient fad, but a diversified type of leisure," Hiroaki Sakai of the Japan Auto Camping Association tells Spa (Sept 3). "It initially involved mostly families but has expanded to include camping by solo individuals and pairs or small groups of young women.

"More people are also combining camping with other activities such as fishing or mountain climbing," Sakai added.

Demand at outdoor specialty shops for camping gear and accessories, much of it imported, has been increasing commensurately.

Unfortunately, Spa notes, some of these happy campers come up short when it comes to proper behavior.

"After the designated time when it's supposed to be lights-out on the grounds, some people still play music and carouse," a veteran camper named Shida tells the magazine. "All they care about is having a good time with their friends. Sometimes they arrive in a group and park their vehicles in a circle that blocks access by other campers."

While some camps are competently managed by private owners, numerous others are on public lands. Use is free or they charge only very low rates, and can be reserved by telephone or via email.

One would hope that users would abide by the old Japanese saying that goes, "a departing bird should not leave behind a dirty nest," but alas, such is not the case.

"At a camping ground on the shore of a lake, one camper drove his car into the shallow water and began washing it," relates Ryosuke Sakuma, a camping coordinator who raises the various problems he hears about on social networks. "I also see people washing off their barbecue grills using chemical cleansers -- which are banned."

Another hard and fast rule at camping grounds is for users to take home their rubbish, but many fail to do so. Aside from being an eyesore, discarded waste also attracts birds and animals, which fling the mess in all directions. (Several photos accompanying the story attest to this.) Small children have also been injured tripping over half-buried tent pegs, which were not pulled out and taken home by users.

In a sidebar, Spa lists its "Top 10" transgressions by inconsiderate campers. In descending order, they are: drunken brawls; carousing until late at night; washing cars in a lake; utilizing banned chemical cleansers; leaving trash that gets scattered by predatory animals; discarding entire mattresses; leaving behind camping gear that results in injury to small children; starting forest fires due to building campfires on windy days; burning self-assembled furniture; and burning freshly cut green wood.

While admittedly low-key, the aforementioned Sakuma does his part with blog posts to encourage campers to behave themselves, while reminding them that what goes around, comes around.

Obviously, Spa writes, the fact that increasing numbers of people are enjoying camping suggests that the worst problems are not yet out of control. But a few bad apples can ruin the experience of many others.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

13 Comments
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I once came back to my campsite in Miyagi Prefecture and a drunk stranger was sleeping in my tent. He didn’t even apologize when I told him to take a hike.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Interesting article. First off, I don’t go camping “to live like a homeless person”! I’ve been camping around Japan for over 20 years. In the last 10, at least once a month. I personally have never seen any of the problems listed. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but doubt it’s a major problem. But then again, we only camp on weekdays as we both work weekends. As for the lights out deal. At one place, which I no longer go to, the staff came to our sight at 8pm and told my wife and I that we had to put out the fire, turn off the lights and go to bed! Last time I was told to go to bed was in the mid 70s. No, we weren’t making any noise. Just quietly chatting. It’s camping!! The camp fire and chat into the night is the best part of camping! If I want to go to bed at 8pm, I’ll stay home! Anyway, camping is the greatest way to get away from it all. I recommend it to anyone.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

That is hilarious you were asked to put out yr campfire at 8pm......insane!! Yeah don't ever go back, if they don't know the joys of a campfire they should NOT be working at a campground!!

I need to start camping again, luckily my house has a big yard & a fire pit so I can campfire to my hearts content & I DO whenever I have the time & inclination!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"Camping: where you spend a small fortune to live like a homeless person."

The "homeless" bit is disrespectful to the homeless, but the standard approach in Japan pushed by magazines will indeed cost "a small fortune" if you buy the kind of setup that is typically recommended. It's really consumerist and detracts from the whole get back to nature idea. In campsites, the temptation is not to look at the greenery or scenery but at what gear the other people there have.

As for bad behaviour, at a free campsite on the coast, we've ended up next to a group of yankii types who played loud music till 11pm and smoked dope constantly. That was openly in front of their own kids. While I am mentioning it, it didn't actually bother me and is the only thing I've seen in thirty or so nights in Japanese campsites. I occasionally get to overhear longwinded Japanese bores drone on to the kohai in their group after dark, but you know, live and let live. Other people have to hear my kids and some of their "discussions".

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Although I've never stayed overnight, there are some nice picnic grounds and camp sites along the Kuji River in Northern Ibaraki. Never saw any of the problems described. That said, I think that one of the factors supporting the latest "boom" in auto camping is that after the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake many Japanese purchased modified campers or minivans that could be used for temporary shelters if they had to evacuate due to flooding, tsunami or whatever. Some of them are quite ingeniously constructed, and as long as you're no taller than 175cm or so, they will comfortably accommodate a small family. (In some cases the vehicle is used to support a tent.) So it would seem that the individuals who acquired these vehicles for emergency purposes are putting them to secondary use.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I've found it's mostly families w/young kids looking for a cheap holiday or who want to introduce their kids to nature, and guys in their 20's on bikes who camp. I've slept outdoors from Shimane to Hokkaido, and only a couple times have I encountered "boisterous" campers - the result of bikers having too many beers. My pet peeve is the way people trash the beaches without a second thought.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Ahh - Camping. Love it, but have taken a break the past recently after 12 years (kids growing up).

A few times camped in the "free" zones and that's where most of the problems mentioned above (and others) I've experienced.

Just some of those experiences -

Late night baseball games with the balls occasionally hitting tents.

Fireworks set off anywhere and the remmnants just left.

Packing up, driving off and leaving the garbage. One occasion tons of watermelon peel left after 2 families gorged themselves before departure.

Kids running amok around tents - dangerous with pegs, ropes etc.

Signs saying no camp fires, but still doing with smoke blowing over and into others tents. Morons.

So most of our experiences were to be had in paid auto-camp sites. A lot of great times.

But some -ive experiences.

One time we went before school holidays - I didn't worry about removing my kids from school early in their tender years - and had one of our excellent sites to ouselves. Beautiful coastal location with maybe 50+ powered sites, cabins etc. We chose the best position under a tree close to all conveniences. 2 days to ouselves. Bliss. On the 3rd day another family came and out of the vacant hectares and hectares, they set up right next to us. Like their tent was a few metres away. So for the next 2 days before the weekend hordes came we had buddy campers on top of us altho there were excellent other sites. Weird.

At the same site a practice by locals was for 1 person to rent a site - usually Saturday nite, pitch a tent and then invite all their mates (boys & girls) over for a late night party. Only the official camper could bring his car in, but it was laden with all the goodies - tons of food & alcohol. When I queried management about this next day, they said they understood but couldn't do anything. Pigs! I guess the renter was the local mayors son or something.

And I can say, as since1981 mentioned above, I have experienced the lights out please by management. Maybe around 9:00pm, because it's a camp ground rule and later prodded to recieve the reply that the lanterns may be disturbing others trying to sleep. It's called camping. People have lights.

One thing that has changed in my camping when compared to ages ago in Australia - I don't do it rough these days. All the mod cons. Not for a fad reason to spend heaps or do as the locals do - but for a home away from home comfort zone done in the outdoors incl coast, rivers, mountain sites. No one pot stew cooking (apologies to the boy scouts ) gourmet pizzas, cheesecakes, baked salmon etc etc washed down with nice beers & wine. But this style of camping needs time and preparation, but once the hours spent setting up well are over, then it's laid back and cruise time.

I recommend it to others. Well worth the effort.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Campers who turn up at 3am then spend an hour banging in pegs and shouting to each other really make my boot twitch. But it’s to be expected as Japan is an extremely noisy country

Apart from that, I find campers here to be quite well-mannered.

Invalid CSRF

2 ( +2 / -0 )

How is this different from camping... I literally thought people lived in their cars or camped in their cars but alas, they use tents. And why homeless?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@browny1: On the 3rd day another family came and out of the vacant hectares and hectares, they set up right next to us. Like their tent was a few metres away. So for the next 2 days before the weekend hordes came we had buddy campers on top of us altho there were excellent other sites. Weird.

That is so funny. I had a similar experience arriving super early at a surf beach with maybe 100 parking spots. I was the first car and to my amazement a guy pulled up near me then did the proverbial back-in and parked so close to my car that I couldn't fully open my doors.

I enjoy camping near Mt. Fuji up to the moment when I have to get into the sleeping bag and sleep on the ground. I am somewhat claustrophobic and have never slept well while camping. Then the sun rises at 4:30 am and someone must get up and start making a racket. I do it for the kids, but prefer not to live like a refugee.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My girly and I set up a tent on a big long beautiful stretch of beach to camp and surf a few years ago.

Then these teenagers set up their tent - yeah, you guessed it - about a meter from ours. (This really was a big beach.)

I thought they were idiots and I got really peed off when later that night they kept drinking and yelling late into the night.

I finally had to go out and tell them to shut up.

Other than that incident and all the leave your garbage behind Yamatos, I haven't had too many problems camping in Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

How is this different from camping... I literally thought people lived in their cars or camped in their cars but alas, they use tents. 

I guess Japanese call it auto camping to differentiate from hiking-climbing with a lightweight setup. There is no way you could carry an auto camping setup without a car.

With the amount of time off Japanese get from work and all the extra curricular stuff kids do, my main concern is people buying stuff they hardly get to use. I bet many people with full setups go less than three nights a year.

We managed to book at popular sites in Yamagata and Akita the day before during the 10 day Golden Week this year, so I am somewhat skeptical of this talk of a "boom". Maybe Golden Week is too cold for people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I used to always find spots that weren't actual campsites but you could still camp at and not have problems. Campsites in Japan generally suck.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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