Camping on Yakushima Island

Japan is normally not associated with the concept of camping. Many immediately think to Tokyo or Kyoto with their extravagant neon signage and Times Square-esque hectic inner city life. However, Japan is one of the most beautiful nations for the outdoor lover to explore, featuring a variety of different natural sights and places to visit that are absolutely stunning and in some cases even life-changing.

On that note, Japan is also not normally associated with cheap travel – quite on the contrary, Japan is normally associated with expensive airfares and accommodation prices. When traveling on a budget however, one can really save some money – especially if one has a love for nature and decides to make use of the various camping sites around the country.

One of the most beautiful places to camp on is Yakushima Island. The island itself is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is home to some of the most amazing forests, beaches and other scenery the Land of the Rising Sun has to offer its visitors. One of the things that makes the island special is that it is home to some amazingly old cedar trees. Among them is the oldest tree in the country, around 7000 years old – the Jomon-sugi, which is a sight to see for itself.


Camping wise, there are various different campsites available around the island. The island itself is accessible through a four hour ferry ride. On the island itself, given its somewhat small size, there is one large main road which circles most of the island, making it an easy tool to use in order to not get lost. The Inakahama Beach campsite is one of the best ones to spend a few nights at. Located right at one of the beautiful beaches the island has to offer, and occasionally treats its visitors to one of the stunning sights in Japan – Loggerhead Sea Turtles can be observed from here, normally laying their eggs in their chosen nests. It is to note that these turtles are a protected species and considered part of the island’s status as a World Heritage Site, thus tourists should stick to viewing them from afar – common sense really, since these are turtles in the process of laying eggs and would not take kindly to being disturbed.

Image by marinebio.org

 

Conquering the Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower is one of the most stand-out landmarks to visit in Tokyo, visually setting itself apart with its contrasting white and international orange color scheme, virtually vying for the city’s visitors’ attention. It is a fairly standard tourist attraction, but nonetheless a great outdoor activity to partake in when visiting the Land of the Rising Sun – after all, you can’t go to Tokyo without having at least paid a visit to the tower, that’d be like going to New York without seeing the Empire State Building or to Paris and ignoring the Eiffel Tower.

Tokyo Tower

Many will have actually seen the tower without having ever been to Tokyo as the landmark does often get in the cross-fire of fighting forces brought to life by the magic of cinema. Most notable would be the tower’s frequent involvement in the Godzilla franchise, a favorite recipient of destruction.

The tower did originally serve a purpose outside of being an observation platform for tourists as a piece of telecommunications infrastructure, used by mainly television and radio stations. Nowadays, given the power of the internet and other digital means of receiving radio signals, the tower’s main function is more in the tourism category, with millions visiting the tower annually.

There is only one taller structure in Tokyo outside the Tokyo Tower, which measures in at 333 meters, with a variety of regular buildings hovering below that at the 200m mark. One of the main reasons people flock the the tower is FootTown, located directly beneath the tower. FootTown is a four-storey complex which plays home to a variety of museums, restaurants and retail outlets, which are a great way of killing some time after spending some time outside on the tower’s 250m high observation deck.

In 2011, a fairly strong earthquake rocked Tokyo which resulted in the Tokyo Tower’s antennae being bent and rendered useless. Since then the tower has not been used in telecommunications anymore, with the function now falling to the Tokyo Skytree, which also took over the title of tallest building in the Land of the Rising Sun. Every tourist should take the time out of their trip to pay a visit to the tower and see Tokyo’s skyline, a truly impressive sight.

Image by destination360.com

 

Kokedera

Japan has some of the most diverse flora and fauna in all of Asia, home to some amazingly beautiful sights and scenery. Traditionally, nature and the outdoors have always been part of Japanese culture, revolving around respecting nature and all it provides to us humans. Thus it comes as little surprise that Japan has an almost overwhelming amount of parks – national parks, special parks, parks built around temples, parks that preserve nature, parks used to relax and so on.

One of the most tranquil parks to visit and experience outside is the Kokedera Park, which also makes up one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites Japan is home to. Kokedera stands for “Moss Temple” and is quite possibly one of the most unique experiences one can make being surrounded by some of Japan’s finest natural sights.

As the name implies, one of the attractions of the temple is that its surrounding fauna is mainly covered in lusciously green moss, invoking a very peaceful and almost heavy atmosphere – appropriate given the temple’s Buddhist foundation.

Koke-dera (Saiho-ji or “Moss”) Temple, Kyoto : copyright Damien Douxchamps

What should be noted is that, unlike many other temples in Japan, one cannot simply visit the temple like any other. As part of Japan’s World Heritage Sites, one must sort of schedule a visit to the temple in order to gain entry – not impossible by far, but not as simple as just showing up and taking pictures.

Another aspect of the temple that may attract the culturally curious is the fact that it allows its visitors to participate in its religious activities, a feature rarely found in other temples that still operate. These activities include the chanting and calligraphic copying of the Buddhist rites, which are then contributed to the temple as a form of payment. This is normally led by a senior monk and is subsequently followed by a slow stroll through the mossy surroundings using the park’s paths – an experience said to have made very lasting impacts on those that have had the opportunity to visit the temple. The best times to visit the temple are in spring and fall when the green moss provides picturesque contrast to the trees.

Image by damien.douxchamps.net

 

Biking Culture in Japan

Japan is one of the most developed countries in Asia, arguably the most developed one in that part of the world. With that naturally comes infrastructure – noticeable too, as Japan has some of the cleanest cars to drive on this planet and some of the most developed public transport solutions available.

Given the nation’s strong economic power and relative stability, one could safely assume that most Japanese drive a car or at least abuse the train system a lot – which is true, mind you, however, many Japanese prefer to use their bicycles. In fact, Japan has one of the strongest and most widely spread biking cultures in the world, and they have good reasons for it too.

First is that it’s so common – in some countries, riding a bike will garner strange looks, whereas in Japan it is very common, similar to many European countries. Unlike those countries however, Japan isn’t all that strict on laws and regulations regarding the use of a bike – many ride without a helmet or lights, sometimes even regardless of the flow of traffic.

This leads us to the next reason – sheer convenience. In Japan, most things you’ll need to access daily will be fairly close, especially when living in a suburban or flat out urban area. While inconvenient to walk for half an hour, on the bike the stores or school might only be five to ten minutes away.

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Next is beauty. Japan is a beautiful country and biking is one of the ways to truly appreciate the scenic views and fresh air many parts of the country have to boast for themselves. Plus, it’s nice to simply stop every now and then, allowing the riders to be flexible in their transportation which riding a car or bus might hinder.

The final reason of note are the existing roads. You can bike pretty much everywhere in Japan as the nation’s roads are generally very well maintained and even have dedicated lanes for bikes, making it all the easier to enjoy the simple, yet healthy and effective, mode of transportation.

 

Image by podiumcafe.com

 

Ōkunoshima

As a westerner, reading about Japan, watching videos about Japan and heck, even actually visiting Japan, can induce a form of cultre shock. There are meany reasons for this, however more modernly these cultural surprises would likely relate to the Japanese having made reality of concepts that seem utterly absurd to others. Okunoshima is one of those things that may seem too unreal to be true.

Modern Japanese culture has a strong part of it dedicated to animals, and subsequently, cute and cuddly things, often represented in art and entertainment such as anime and manga. Many of us would have had a pet as a child, often in the form of a dog, cat, hamster, rabbit or some other cute mammal. Many of us would have thought how amazing it would be to have a whole island filled with these cute creatures – and that’s exactly what Okunoshima is.

Okunoshima is often referred to as “Rabbit Island” nowadays. Rightfully so, as the island is mainly inhabited by a very large number of freely roaming rabbits. These rabbits are, by definition, feral, but in reality rather tame and will often approach humans, especially if they sense food. There are businesses on the island that make their revenue by simply selling rabbit food for the visitors to use and, sometimes, quite literally get swamped by rabbits with.

Two tourists sit and feed hundreds of rabbits at Okunoshima Island

Of course, hundreds of rabbits don’t just simply spawn out of nowhere, and the reason the bunnies inhabit the island in the first place isn’t quite as cute or innocent as one might hope. The island served as a testing site for chemical weaponry and such in the early 1900s with rabbits being used a test subjects. Once the testing was banned and stopped, the rabbits remained and quickly multiplied, like, well, rabbits.

Aside from being a tourist attraction due to the rabbits present, the island has its own hotel, golf course, camp-site, clear water swimming spots and is home to the Poison Gas Museum in remembrance of the island’s horrid past and the damages inflicted by the weapons secretly developed on the island in the time prior to the 1925 Geneva Convention which banned the use of chemical warfare.

 

Image by theguardian.com

Jigokudani Monkey Park

By now, given the power of the internet and social media, Japan is frequently hailed as the land of the strange, exuberant, exotic – and in many cases, even the land of the cute and funny, which definitely helps categorize this phenomenon. Animals play a large part of Japanese culture, as seen in the instances of Japan’s fascination with cute things.

Located in the Chubu region, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is exactly what it sounds like – a park whose main attraction consists of monkeys. The monkeys in question are Japanese Macaques, which are more commonly referred to as the Snow Monkeys – and visiting in this park is by far one of the most novel experiences one can treat oneself to when visiting the Land of the Rising Sun. However, what makes the park so interesting isn’t that it is mainly populated by a bunch of monkeys, but that the monkeys are, in fact, enjoying the natural hot springs in the area and quite literally lounge inside the water like one would expect elderly men to do instead. The nearby forests are the monkeys’ natural habitat and in the cold, harsh, winter the intelligent creatures prefer to relax inside the comfortably hot water while we watch in astonishment.

The monkeys normally use the one large pool meant for them – and are thus very used to the presence of humans, leading to very amusing interactions. Aside from that, given how social these creatures are, it can be quite fascinating to observe them up close, which is a favorite among younger visitors to the park. It is to be noted however, that feeding or touching the monkeys is strictly prohibited as disturbing them can lead to violent reactions.

Despite the park being open all year round, it is highly recommended to go in the cold winter, which is the namesake of the Snow Monkeys. The scenery is at its most beautiful and the monkeys really enjoy the warm water, enhancing the experience all that much more to be the most authentic it can be.

Image by gojapango.com

Ina Camping Village

The interesting thing about camping is that it really reveals a person’s ability to adapt – and should you happen to be out on a camping trip with a few friends for an extended amount of time, you will truly get to know them. One’s ability to adapt really comes in handy when one visits a variety of camping sites, as each will have access to different facilities, with some providing only a piece of land, nothing more.

Japan has a large variety of campsites, each with its own features and appeals. They can be found far and wide, some at beaches, some near forests, and many even near the major cities. It is generally advisable that prospective campers always prepare for the worst case scenario as sometimes information about campsites can be outdated, or some facilities such as toilets or water outlets, can be under maintenance.

One of the most popular camping spots to recommend to the adventurous visitor is the Ina Camping Village. Located in the Tokyo Prefecture, that is near the city of Tokyo, the campsite is perfect for those looking for an affordable nature-themed getaway after spending some time in the chaotic and busy city that Tokyo is.

Unlike some others, the campsite has access to quite a few amenities. Location wise, the site is conveniently close to Chichibu Tama Kai National Park, which features a variety of beautiful sceneries to experience. The cottages of the campsite are close to a river, which opens up many different possibilities to kill time with. Some fun favorites include fishing, floating along in a boat and even snorkeling, all of which are generally a big hit among kids, making the destination ideal to visit alongside a few friendly families to take a combined holiday away from the city. The cottages on the site wherein one can stay aren’t luxurious by any means, but they get the job done – after all, one doesn’t go camping to stay inside all day, but to have fun outside. There are however, cottages equipped with air conditioning, toiletries and so on, making it more akin to a hostel or rider-side motel, perfect to enjoy some of Japan’s finest outdoors in.

Image by tripadvisor.com.ph

Tashirojima

Cats. Either you love them or you hate them, but they’re not an animal you can really ignore, persistent and common as they are. The Japanese have an interesting relationship with cats, especially in modern culture – Hello Kitty, just for starters.

In another article we have had a quick look at Okunoshima, or rather Rabbit Island, an island overrun with tame rabbits that will flock to you the second they smell something edible. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Just when you thought an island filled with bunnies would be the line, you realize there’s more – a lot more in fact. Tashirojima, is as you’ve probably guessed, similar to Okunoshima, but instead of rabbits being the rulers of the island, this one is filled with wild cats.

On this island, the cats heavily outnumber the people – not all that hard when the community inhabiting the island numbers only around 100 or so, however they like the fact that they are more likely to run into a feline than their own neighbors. The fact that there are so many cats on the island is no coincidence – however unlike the bunnies from the sister island, they weren’t placed there as subjects for chemical weaponry testing. The locals of Tashirojima have always believed cats to be signs of good luck and have thus treated cats better than some humans treat other humans – caring for them, feeding them and bringing more cats to the island, resulting in what is now likely one of the densest population of cats per square mile on a single piece of land, a true heaven for the feline lover and a real tourist magnet.

Given the royalty status the cats enjoy here, it is not surprising that they aren’t kept as pets, as that would be inappropriate. Interestingly enough, the population has dwindled down from what used to be 1000 to what is now 100 – and despite this, the cats are more fiercely protected than ever, with dogs even being banned from the island as whole. Then again, any dog that would find themselves on an island dominated by felines isn’t likely to enjoy the experience for very long regardless.

Image by atlasobscura.com