A guide to urban camping in Japan

Ueno Park, photo by japanese_craft_construction on Flickr

Japan is one of the most expensive destinations in the world, so visiting it on a budget is an option only for those who are extremely clever at budgeting, or prepared to miss out on  much that the country has to offer. But since eating on a budget in most Japanese cities is quite easily achievable thanks to cheap noodle joints and convenience store lunches, only the problems of transport and accommodation remain, and here are some suggestions on how to cut the costs of the latter: urban camping! While in most countries camping is restricted to some designated spots, usually well out of the city, in Japan you can actually camp in cities. Between hitchhiking, urban camping and cheap meals, it’s not impossible to visit Japan on a budget. To start you off, here is a guide to urban camping.

About urban camping

Urban camping is just what is sounds like – putting up your tent in a patch of the city where it is acceptable. Mind you, urban camping can be frowned upon in Japan, considering how there is a large number of homeless people sleeping in parks, but as a foreigner you will always be cut some slack. It’s good to stick to urban camping only if you are spending only a night or two at most in one place and you really want to save some money. Always try to be discreet and avoid causing any discomfort for those who might happen to wander by. On the other hand, sleeping in train stations or on benches is a student tradition in Japan, called ‘nojuku’ .

Luggage

photo by Scott Vachalek

Unlike in regular backpacking expeditions when you have the possibility of leaving your belongings at hostel, if you set out to camp through Japan you will most likely have to take all your belongings with you at all times. Packing light is essential if you want to be able to move around freely without being slowed down by a huge pack.

Where to camp

Naturally, the most suitable place to camp is a park, but there are degrees of suitability in this case too. Large and popular parks where many people walk even at night are obviously not the most comfortable place to camp, even if no one will disturb you. Parks near train stations and crowded shopping areas are usually quite busy too. Ask for a map at the tourist information office and look for parks that are neither in the suburbs nor very close to the city center.

Urban camping in Tokyo

Urban camping in Tokyo can seem like an impossible feat at first, but with a bit of luck and a lot of patience it is manageable. Big parks that would make great camping spots in other cities are not the best choice in Tokyo, because they are either crowded even at night, or not very safe. Smaller, quiet parks in residential areas just outside town are your best bet for finding a good camping spot.

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