Camping is in tents. But definitely not as intense as a summer in the city. If you're on mainland Japan in July and August you can expect to see temperatures reach extremely humid highs of near 40 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit)! This fact alone can make a vacation very tough work for even the most seasoned of travelers. Cooler, quieter and full of surprises, a camping trip in the mountains is something worth considering.
To make the most of any trip you'll likely need a car. While the transport infrastructure in Japan's metropolises is world-leading, the rural areas aren't best served by fast, frequent and reliable trains. The requirements for car rental? Be 18 years old and hold a Japanese driver's license or an International Driving Permit (which should be sought in your home country prior to travel). There are lots of reputable and reasonably priced rental car companies to choose from.
Gifu Prefecture in Central Japan is a great place to head for. Specifically Hirugano, just north of Gujo City. It takes under 2 hours from the central city of Nagoya, and just under 3 hours from Osaka. It's also ideally placed within reach of Fukui and its beautiful coastline along the Sea of Japan; the UNESCO world heritage site Shirakawa-go; and the larger mountains of Nagano Prefecture.
Hirugano is a scenic plateau used for snow-sports in winter, and a haven for outdoors enthusiasts during the summer. The NAO campsite is a well-maintained and spacious destination. It's pet-friendly, each pitch is fenced off with enough room for dogs to stretch their legs each morning. It's also child-friendly—the campsite features a wonderful dinosaur adventure ride, as well as a play area, a pool and a horse-riding center. The best part, especially for those who like to travel light, is that you can rent everything you might need at the campsite. Two people sharing a tent for two nights can expect to pay around JPY7,000 for a high quality dome tent, ground mat and sleeping bag. If you don't fancy a tent the campsite has a selection of unique cottages and bungalows for groups of all sizes.
One of the top local sightseeing spots is Amida Falls (阿弥陀ヶ滝), a famous landmark in the Gifu region and one of Japan's hundred best waterfalls. Iconic woodblock artist Hokusai once painted the waterfall, focusing on its reminiscence of the eye or halo of Amida, the Buddha of infinite light. There is a statue of Amida watching over things at the foot of the waterfall. Get up close and you can feel the sheer power of the waterfall as the spray swirls around you. A very refreshing feeling. While it might be too treacherous to swim in the pool directly under the waterfall, the trail leading up to it features plenty of opportunities for an ice cold dip.
Being in the mountains there is of course an abundance of hiking routes. Washigatake and Dainichigatake are more well-known due to their ski resorts, and they both have some interesting trails which snake up the mountain side. There is so much more to explore however.
The highlight of any camping trip is of course the food. The local stores are full of local milk, meat and vegetables and operate very convenient hours. You'll always be able to find what you need. A great advantage but maybe not quite the all-out into the wild experience you might be looking for. Check out the writer's picture of some juicy-looking steaks on the grill though.