Camp-out on Okinawa!

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Photos by Tetsuo Nakahara, Stripes Okinawa
Photos by Tetsuo Nakahara, Stripes Okinawa

Camp-out on Okinawa!

by: Tetsuo Nakahara | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: June 14, 2016

Ah! The aroma of fresh coffee in the early morning forest air. The first slow sip before my friends wake up. I take a deep breath while surveying our campsite surroundings – the trees, river and rolling hills. Nothing beats camping!

That is my favorite part of camping. It is so great to get away from hectic work and city life and commune with nature. If you have not camped in Japan, I highly recommend kicking back in the natural beauty of the Land of the Rising Sun.

There are more than 3,000 campgrounds, or “campjo” from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Camping is very popular here with families, couples and friends, especially from spring to autumn.

There are two types of campgrounds in Japan: Privately owned campgrounds run by companies and public campgrounds. Private campgrounds usually offer more amenities such as nice kitchen facilities, showers, stores, electricity and rental equipment. Some even have natural hot springs, fishing ponds, tennis court or dog run courses.

Public campgrounds have more reasonable prices, and usually offer simple kitchen-like facilities, restrooms and showers (or not). Flush toilets and hot water are often considered luxuries at public camp facilities. So private campgrounds are more popular with families. There is also a third and rarely used alternative.

“In Japan, there are some areas other than campgrounds where you are allowed to camp,” says Hiroaki Sakai, a spokesman for Japan Auto Camping Federation. “However, there have been some accidents as a result of natural disasters and no staff being on hand to warn people. So we recommend using campgrounds to ensure safety.”

The most popular kind of camping is called “auto camp.” This is when you can park your vehicle on site and pitch a tent right next to it. You need to specifically book an auto-camp site when you make reservations at a campground. RVs are rare in Japan compared to the States - and so are campgrounds with RV hookups. Always check in advance if you need one.

The standard campsite size is about 33 foot x 33 foot, according to Japan Auto Camping Federation. It is usually large enough for a four- to 6-person tent, tables and chairs. Campgrounds in Japan typically charge per tent. So if you want to put up two tents, you need to book two camp sites.

The cost ranges between 2,000 to 5,000 yen ($20-$50) per night, depending on the season and whether it’s a private or public facility. Usually, the highest price season is late July through August. I highly recommend making reservations several weeks to a few months in advance for this season.

During the peak season, some popular campgrounds are packed, sometimes with very little space between tents. Most campgrounds close for the winter.

There are also various types of lodging available at some campgrounds such as small cabins, yurts, teepees, etc. These are quite popular because you don’t need to much gear to enjoy outdoor life. But again, prices vary depending on the season, so check the campground’s website.

Campfires are prohibited at most campgrounds because the site can be damaged. If you want to enjoy a fire at night, you need to take a portable fire pit, or some places may have them for rent.

If you are camping by the river, you have to be extra careful. Most incidents occur as a result of flooding after a heavy rain during the summer. On Aug. 1, in fact, a mother and her two young children were killed after their car was swept into a river by torrential rain at a camping site in Yamakita, Kanagawa.

It’s also important to be careful about dangerous critters such as some snakes and centipedes. The Japanese centipede, or “mukade,” can grow to be up to 7.8 inches long. Their bite is extremely painful and causes swelling. They are attracted to spaces like shoes that may be left outside a tent, especially after the rain. So I highly recommend checking your shoes before putting them on when camping.

“For your safety when camping, always listen to what the campground staff advise when you check in,” says Sakai. “Check the weather forecast and the landscape where you are camping to be sure there is no danger.”

Also remember to respect nature and take all your trash with you.

Personally, my favorite time of the year to go camping is from October and November when it starts to cool off. It’s the perfect time for a campfire. It is also less crowded, quiet and there are usually not too many mosquitos either.

In the fall, you can enjoy the changing colors on the mountain foliage as well. There’s nothing like listening to the sound of nature and the crackling of a campfire while kicking back in the camp chair under the stars with a cup of single malt whisky.

I love camping.

nakahara.tetsuo@stripes.com

Okinawa Sports Park Auto Campjo
Located in the island’s mid-east, this campsite is about a 30-minute drive from Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster. It’s local favorite. The huge park includes not only comfy green campsites but sports facilities such as an athletic field, pool, gym and tennis courts. It also offers waterslide as well as rental bicycles and boats. Kitchen, toilets, showers and a store are also on site. Rental gear is not available and fireworks are not allowed. Campsites cost 2,710 yen per night. Open from Jan. 5 to Dec. 27.

Address: 5-3-1 Hiyagon, Okinawashi, Okinawa
Tel: 098-932-5114
URL: okinawa-kenso.com (Japanese)

Hiji Campjo
Located in northern Okinawa near the island’s largest waterfall (85 feet tall), Hijiootaki in Kunigamison, this campground is about two hours drive from Kadena Air Base. Hiji Falls is about 45-minute hike from the campsite. In addition to the falls, Hiji Campjo offers a tranquil forest setting. The campground has picnic tables, elevated wooden platforms for tents and a store kitchen as well as shower and toilet facilities. The cost is 2,000 yen per tent plus an entrance fee 500 yen per adult and 300 yen for children. Open all year around.

Address: 781-1 Hiji Kunigamison, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa
Tel: 098-932-5114
URL: www.yuiyui-k.jp/index.php?section=4#fee

Torii Beach 
The perfect beachside campsites are at beautiful Torii Beach in Yomitan. There are two Moral, Welfare and Recreation-run campsites at Torii beach. The north campsite is used for big groups of up to 100 such as the Boy Scouts and costs only about $30 per group. The south campsite is for families. It is sometimes hard to book because there is only one family campsite, which costs $10 per night. Cabins are also available from $60 a night. Various ocean activity includes kayak, stand up paddle board, boggy view board, beach volleyball and a waterslide (summer only) are available at the beach. You can rent sleeping bags, grills, and other camping supplies on site. Showers and bathrooms are also available next to the campgrounds. Open all year around.

Tel: 644-4659
URL: www.toriimwr.com/toriibeach.html

Okuma Beach
Okuma Beach & Recreation Center is a 135-acre Moral, Welfare and Recreation facility on a small peninsula on the north side of the island. It takes about two hours away from Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster. The camping area is divided into two different site and offers panoramic ocean views. One is beach front family campground which costs $10 per family. And another is hillside adult campground for campers age 18 or older for $10 per site. The area has various activities for military members such as golf, tennis, go carts, jet skiing and glass bottom boat rides. Cabins are also available but book up quickly. Large campsite rental equipment are also on offer. Open all year around.

Tel: Front desk: 631-1990; Reservations: 631-1991/1992
URL: kadenafss.com/rec/okuma