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Japan is a country blessed with a wide variety of magnificent nature, from majestic mountains to white sand beaches and everything in between, and there is no better way to experience all its natural beauty than to pitch a tent in the middle of that wilderness for the utmost immersive experience. Camping has seen a great boost in popularity in recent years, and with over 3000 campsites across the country to choose from, and many different styles of camping and campgrounds, there is no shortage in options for everyone to find something they will enjoy. This new blog series aims to explore some of the many campsites across the country and highlight those that may be more accessible for visitors, and what better way to start off than camping under the ultimate iconic mountain itself, Mt. Fuji!
It's late morning, and we are almost at our destination. We stop at a road station on the way to stock up on some local foods and take our first good look at the imposing mountain we will soon be camping under. It can be easy to forget just how huge it really is, and how it dominates the sky and everything around it. The day is sunny with scattered clouds, and the temperature warm enough for just a tshirt if you are in the sun. But early spring days are unpredictable, and its best to always remember that when camping in the spring!
After shopping is finished, it's time to head to the campsite itself. Asagiri Jamboree Auto Camping Ground is one of many campgrounds in the Asagiri Plateau area on the southwest base of Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. We chose it mainly for its Mt. Fuji views as well as the extensive array of rental equipment available just in case we've forgotten to bring something. This particular place features an open field style of campground, which means instead of specifically assigned spots, you can choose anywhere to set up within the grounds. After checking in and making a loop around the campground, we finally agreed on a spot we liked, and began the process of setting up our temporary living area for the next few days. Near us are a bathroom and dish washing station, and naturally the most important thing: a great view of Mt. Fuji! There are reserved spots available at this campground as well, simple assigned spots with an AC for hooking up to power, and fancier ones with a covered deck and guaranteed views of Mt. Fuji, weather permitting of course! This trip, we don't expect a large amount of people to be camping, making finding a good free spot pretty easy. During more popular times, however, one of the assigned spots might be the safer bet.
As the afternoon wears on, clouds are rolling in with increasing frequency but the sun is still shining and the temperatures aren't too cold yet. We start making dinner and setting up the campfire, and already many people around us are packing up to go home. The tents and people around us were ever changing, reflected in the shifting weather around the mountain itself. Dinner was grilled local meats from the Asagiri area, and a style of noodle from Yamanashi called hoto. Although the campground is in Shizuoka, Yamanashi is a close-by neighbor, and that was reflected in the regional foods we could buy at the road station.
As night comes, temperatures dropped, but because of the clouds, it didn't really go past freezing. The fire was enough to keep us warm as we stayed up talking until it was time to turn in for the night. The campground turned quiet, and we slept well that night.
Generally camping days start early with the sun, but despite peeking through the clouds here and there, most of the morning was of the cloudy kind. Soon even darker clouds rolled in from behind the treeline, and we took that as a hint to move everything we could into the tent or the car to keep the coming rain off. It was a good thing too, because just as we finished, the first drops of rain begin to patter on the tent. Then came a strange sharper kind of sound. I take a quick peak outside, and suprised, go right back in. It's hailing! Small hail, the size of peas, but still hail! The temperature is above freezing so it melts quickly, and the hail turns back into rain as quickly as it turned to ice in the first place. We settle inside as best we can, and contemplate what to do for lunch.
It's decided that we will venture out for lunch supplies. We drive winding, residential roads around the mountain until we come to a small grocery store. It's well stocked with easy foods to cook in the cramped tent, and even better, has amazing looking fresh seafood! Out on the plains it's easy to forget that we aren't that far from the ocean. We grab some delicious options, and after a quick chat with the owner of the shop, head back into the car and to the campsite to make lunch. It's still raining, but it looks like the worst has passed us by.
The rain has finally stopped, the clouds are clearing, and the sun is shining on us again. With relief we head out of the tent to clean the campsite up a bit and get some pent up energy out walking around. To our surprise, there are several new tents on the ground in front of us. They must have set up in the rain. I'm grateful that the day we came was nicer, and we were cozy and warm in our tent during the worst of the day's bad weather. Due to the now clear skies, temperatures are dropping fast as the sun sets, so we cook our ready-made curry and rice packs inside the tent tonight. Once dinner is eaten, we find there's time enough to head out to a local onsen for a quick bath, before heading back to the campsite and on to an early bedtime.
It's midnight. The temperature has dropped below freezing under the clear sky. We have a portable kerosene heater, but neglected to refill the tanks as we were out earlier, and therefore have it at its lowest heating setting despite the cold to conserve what we have left. So of course on the coldest night, with a splutter and a hiss, it takes this opportunity to run out of kerosene entirely. Can we make it until morning without it? Even huddled under down blankets wearing warm winter gear, the answer to that soon turns out to be no. We need that kerosene, and with a quick search on my phone for 24 hour gas stations, I find one 20 minutes away in Fujinomiya. So off I go at 1AM to refill our kerosene tanks. Luckily at that time of night, there are few cars on the road, and I am able to make good time there and back as quickly as speed limits allow me. Meanwhile my husband keeps the kids entertained in the cold, as they have woken up with the dropping temperatures and the hushed conversation. I return to refill the tanks and we resettle the kids back to bed as the newly refilled tank begins the process of heating the tent back up. Meanwhile, we get some amazing photos of a very clear Mt. Fuji under the night sky! Worth it? Hmmm. Ask me again in the morning.
The morning after a very cold night started a little later than usual, but not late enough! Our midnight kerosene escapades are no deterrent to our children's early wakeups even as us adults are dragging! We perk up a little with coffee and breakfast, and a brisk walk around in the sunshine helps wake everybody up fully. We contemplate our game plan for packing up the car, set the kids up with some toys to keep them occupied, and begin the process of putting everything away. Ironically, now that we're leaving, it's best to burn all that kerosene I'd gotten in the early morning off, so we're running the heater at full blast so the smell in the car is minimized when we pack it up.
It's late morning, and almost time to check out, and the wind has picked up significantly. This mountain has thrown everything at us: rain, hail, and now a strong wind that at times makes folding tent parts nearly impossible. Several times I lost grip and had to run after a stray piece of something or another as it flew off! As we begin to break down the tent, a sense of desperation fills us. What will come next? Snow?! Let's not stick around to find out. It's time to leave, so we stuff the car haphazardly trying to just fit everything in, and make it just in time for checkout. WHEW!
Camping under Mt. Fuji in early spring, with its capricious weather, was certainly something I will always remember! I think we experienced almost every type of weather that's typical this time of year in just a few short days, and due to the nature of camping under only a thin tent, really felt the changes in temperature and weather much more extremely than we would have by staying in a hotel or cabin. But that's one of the pleasures of camping, even when that weather is not so fun, like freezing cold at 2 in the morning. It gives me both a greater appreciation for nature, and also, our nice, sheltered, warm house! Until next time, Mt. Fuji!
By Jess McCullough, japan-guide.com