On a hillside a few miles outside of Kyoto there is a small campground situated next to a river. Utsukyo Park is a delightful spot for fishing, swimming, and nature walks through the forest. When my family visited this place last summer, we felt we experienced Japan at its best.
Bookings must be made in Japanese, and a campsite costs around ¥5000 per night. The staff will give you a parking pass upon arrival, and you are able to have your car there overnight. Other visitors may come to spend the day without spending the night, and the owners like to make a distinction between the guests who come only for the day and those who spend the night as well. Showers are available for a small fee, and while the nearest Lawson convenience store we could find is around a 30-minute drive away, there is a little shop on the camping ground which is open until 10 pm and has a number of items for sale that can be helpful, including ice, some snack foods, and toiletries amongst other things. On the picture above you can see their shared sinks and cook pits which are available to campers with many spots to grill, and deep sinks with sponges and soap provided to clean your cookware after use.
The map shows the site’s amenities: the main office is the larger building on the orange ground in the center; to the left of the office there is a camp site section, and to the right of the car park there are cabins and river access.
On our visit, we befriended a number of families who camped around us. One family was so friendly as to tell us that this campsite is their favourite location near Kyoto and that they have visited it every year for the past 5 years. They told me they had never seen a non-Japanese family at the campsite before. Our sons played together every night and we shared some American food with them while they shared some hand-held fireworks with our children. It was a wonderful experience to really get involved with the less touristy aspects of Japan and meet some locals outside of the tourist traps. Watching the boys play together has shown me that language is only one part of our communication. These two boys had no language in common, but they had a blast digging for worms and generally getting dirty as boys like to do.
While camping in Japan can seem daunting at first, it is an experience that is worthwhile to any family hoping to experience and get to know the local people a bit better. The natural landscape of Utsukyo Park is so beautiful and relaxing, it is hard to believe that the bustling community of Kyoto is not so far away. This experience was one of my favourites in the 2.5 years I have lived in Japan.
Click here for more information about this campsite.