Camping in Japan has gained newfound appeal amid the coronavirus pandemic as an outdoor activity that a wide range of generations can enjoy while maintaining social distancing.
Many might think camping sites are mostly far from big cities, but Ibaraki Prefecture, just northeast of Tokyo, has more sites than any other prefecture in Japan.
When a survey by the Japan Sports Agency for the fiscal year through March 2019 was released, Ibaraki had 163 camping sites, followed by Hokkaido (147), Nagano Prefecture (143) and Hiroshima Prefecture (102).
Ibaraki, with sites reachable within a few hours from Tokyo by car, provides a rich outdoor environment, with sea, mountains, rivers and lakes.
Fresh seafood is another specialty of Ibaraki. At a camping site in Oarai, one of the most popular sites in the prefecture, visitors can feast on seafood from a nearby fish market.
Ibaraki has launched an official website specializing in camping, called Ibaraki Camp (https://ibaraki-camp.jp/). It allocated 22 million yen ($210,500) in a supplementary budget this past June to attract visitors to local camping sites.
Ibaraki plans to add more detailed information to the website, regarding toilets and power supply.
The website is also aimed at boosting overall tourism in the prefecture as it gives links to sites on local food products and tourist spots.
"For a start, we would like people to enjoy the attractiveness of Ibaraki when they come here to camp," said Ryohei Komatsuzaki, 25, who is in charge of the project and a big fan of camping himself. "We don't get a lot of snow here, so visitors are always welcome, even in the winter."
The coronavirus pandemic has brought along with it a surge in demand for tents.
According to Yokohama Customs, tent imports slumped after an outdoor boom peaked in the mid-1990s but have been rising again since 2016. Last year saw such imports reach 10,266 tons worth 11.84 billion yen, both record highs, possibly because of a surge in lone campers.
But as the public health crisis due to the virus has endured, imports from January through July this year have already outpaced the equivalent figure for last year.
Yokohama Customs has indicated that the import trend will continue due to the increasing number of well-equipped campsites and the diversification of uses such as for disaster prevention.