Camping in Japan can be hit and miss. Although there might be opportunities for hardcore back country camping deep inside some national forests, most public lands don’t have decent, low-impact, camping areas. Instead, there are a multitude of privately run campgrounds each offering different amenities, check-in/out times, and rules (and being Japan, there are plenty of those). So finding a place to pitch a tent and enjoy a bit of wilderness with minimal intrusion can be a challenge.
I’ve written previously about the large, resort-like facilities of Arten. Although their bathrooms are spotless and the on-site onsen is convenient, the crowds can be a bit overwhelming. I am still mentally scarred from my uncomfortable onsen experience there, when someone’s naked toddler grabbed my leg – not cool.
We’ve since tried a good many different campgrounds (キャンプ場), but the best ones have been the more no-frills style facilities. No onsen on-site. No scooter/sports equipment rental. We thought we had settled on the DROM campground in Akaigawa, about an hour from Sapporo. That was until, DROM, sold their land to some ridiculous Singaporean eco-glamping resort developer.
Last year, shortly after handing over the reigns to this foreign outfit, we visited the now newly re-branded Akaigawa Tomo Playpark. We were assured by the staff that the campground would remain as it was, a simple place to pitch your tent, BBQ, and fish in the small adjacent stream. Surprisingly they held their word – for a few months.
Then corporate greed and needless meddling took over. Suddenly there was an ATV and snow mobile course and an archery range installed over the winter. We could live with that, since they didn’t seem to get any use when we visited that next summer. Just who Tomo Playpark thought they were catering to is beyond me.
Things really changed for the worse when they decided to remove the parking area near the entrance and replace it with a fully paved BMX race track. Because that’s just what everyone was requesting, right? First thing me and the fam are looking to do once we get into the mountains, away from the city’s hustle and bustle, is some professional level BMX competition!
This sickened me. I was somewhat gratified when camping there on probably the busiest holiday weekends of the summer, there wasn’t a single person using the newly christened “pump track” course. Alas, the damage was already done, and Tomo Playpark has the cash to literally import BMX riders to rural Hokkaido to drum up fake interest in their eyesore. Check out their Instagram feed (@akaigawa_tomo_playpark) to see them churn out posts of random foreign dudes being rad while ignoring the fact that nobody wanted this!
But the wholesale destruction of a previously idyllic campground didn’t end there. They teamed up with Snow Peak and let them install 5 prefab electrified box huts, complete with BBQ deck, destroying the best tent sites closer to stream. Then they went one step further and decided that those premium box huts needed a better view. So they literally chopped down most of the high bamboo and thickets along the banks of of the Shiroigawa River. Can’t see the water with that nature all blocking up the view, right?
Now I’m no environmental scientist, but I do know when you clear cut near a body a water, bad things are bound to occur. Which they did. The campground had to close off all the area near the river because of flooding that would have been contained if they hadn’t slashed down all the vegetation. What you have now are a bunch of overpriced box containers that feature a mosquito haven lagoon on their porch step every time it rains.
Needless to say we are hesitant to return to that cluster※※※k. I’m sure some Japanese families will find these amenities charming, but not those that prefer camping in its more natural state. So now the quest continues for a new, low impact, minimalist campground, free from corporate “eco-tourism” in Hokkaido. If you have any suggestions leave them in the comments.