Japan’s Winter Campers Find Warmth, Social Distance amid Pandemic

Courtesy of Yuta Igarashi
Yuta Igarashi, center, sits near a campfire with a relative in Miyagi Prefecture this winter.

More and more people are going winter camping in tents or bungalows, drawn by starry skies, warm campfires and the chance to enjoy leisure activities in uncrowded areas amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“The best part of winter camping is the fire,” said Yuta Igarashi, 36, company owner from Nagoya. He started camping in the winter in Gifu and Nagano prefectures about five years ago, staying about 10 nights a season. Sometimes he camps alone, sometimes with his family.

“It’s nice to build a fire and relax while watching the flames flicker,” Igarashi said. He added that the campsites are quiet and uncrowded with clean air and beautiful stars.

According to the Japan Auto Camping Federation, a Tokyo-based organization promoting car camping, there were 7.2 million car campers in 2012. Since then the number has grown year-on-year for seven consecutive years, reaching 8.6 million in 2019.

One reason is the increase in demand for camping in autumn and winter, which attracts a wide range of campers including young people and families.

Lodging business operator Loof Inc. in Fuefuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, renovated an inn in the city and in September opened Loof Tiny House Camp, a camping facility that can be used even in winter. The facility has cabins with woodburning stoves on wooden decks, and a campfire can be made in the yard.

“We want people to know that the countryside is especially beautiful in winter,” a Loof spokesperson said.

The Nagano Tourism Organization and other bodies are working to promote winter camping. Through their websites, they provide information on winter camping experiences and how to enjoy fires, hoping to make it a new form of winter tourism.

Camping equipment has also been enhanced. Osaka-based Logos Corp., a major outdoor goods manufacturer, has collaborated with the Sengoku Aladdin brand, which deals in gas cartridge stoves with design features, to launch a portable gas heater and a hibachi-shaped portable gas stove.

Previously they released 10 to 20 new products for autumn and winter, but this season they released 60 to 70 new items.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, campgrounds are attracting a lot of attention this year as places to avoid crowds.

“As camping styles diversify to include camping alone and luxurious glamping, more and more people are using video-sharing sites to convey the appeal of winter camping,” said Hiroaki Sakai, secretary-general of the Japan Auto Camping Federation. “I think winter camping will expand even more in the future.”

■ Be prepared for the cold

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Camping items are exhibited at Logos Shop & Cafe at Mitsui Outlet Park Yokohama Bayside in Yokohama.

With winter camping, it’s important to take measures against the cold.

“When using a tent, you should reserve a camping area that has an electric power source so that you can use an electric blanket,” said Ryosuke Sakuma, an instructor for the camping federation who operates the camping information blog “Hyper Camp Creators.” In addition to a winter sleeping bag, it’s also important to prepare such items as disposable pocket warmers, a yutampo hot water bottle and warm clothes.

Also, special care is needed with the use of fire. “Many people bring kerosene heaters or woodburning stoves for camping, but they have to be used outside of the tent,” Sakuma said. “If you use them inside, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning and fire.”

In areas where there is snowfall, the cold is severe. “If it’s your first time to camp in winter, it’s better to start in a place where there’s no chance of snowfall,” the instructor added.