Chichibu Youth Outdoor Activity Center (秩父市青少年総合野外活動センター ‘Chichibu-shi Seishonen Sogo Yagai Katsudo Sentaa’) is nestled into a mountainside, as much a part of the natural setting of Saitama as the screeching cicadas and rustling trees.
Having worked there for two summers in a row, basking in the scorching heat of the white sun on the playing fields and relaxing in the shade of the emerald canopies that extend over the camp sites, I know it inside and out and can vouch that it is the perfect getaway for friends or families looking to escape the city and experience the forest for a few days.
What makes it all the more special is the philosophy behind the Activity Centre. In contrast to the webs of wifi and endless communication penetrating all aspects of life in urban Japan, here there is no TV or internet (other than in the main dining hall), and mobile phones don’t connect either. What at first may seem a struggle quickly becomes a relief – I found I was not constantly worried about people trying to contact me, simply for the reason that I knew that they couldn’t. (Although of course, all members of staff are equipped with radio and other communication devices so there is not need to worry for health and safety.) Th facility also prides itself on loaning you everything – from sheets to cooking materials. There are no rubbish bins in the 70,000 square meter forest, meaning you must take home what you bring with you. The entire park is completely clean.
Multiple outdoor activity areas in this facility are linked by small tripping paths as well as secret, overgrown shortcuts. Large immovable green tents suitable for up to 20 people complete with wooden floors and Japanese-style bedding dot the mountainside, surrounded by stone tables and barbecue pits for those who want an alternative to the home cooking buffet available in the Central Lodge dining hall at the top of the main hill. A disc golf course, a 100m roller slide, bikes you can rent for 100 yen, forest clearings made into sports fields, gravel pits for giant campfires, streams bursting with tadpoles and crabs… You might even be lucky enough to glimpse a deer or a raccoon!
There are of course, other sleeping alternatives – open campsites for those who want to pitch a traditional tent as well as log houses by a quaint little pond for those looking for a relatively luxurious stay. For the bravest, there is also the option to sleep on a mat under the stars, protected only by a mosquito net! Simply hike up one of the countless trails leading from the site into the surrounding valleys and mountains and pick a quiet spot.
Baths and showers are available in the log houses at any time of day, but if you are properly camping, you will be assigned a timeslot in one of the communal shower houses made up of individual shower stalls.
Perfect for those who love hiking, biking and everything in between or who want to relax in a picturesque, classic Japanese forest, Chichibu Youth Outdoor Activity Center, with its organic facilities and friendly staff will rekindle your love for the outdoors.
Large group tent – 8,000 yen a night (sleeps up to 20, probably more comfortable with around 14)
Log house – 6,300 yen a night (sleeps six)
Own tent, campsite – around 800 yen a night, varies according to size
Chichibu Youth Outdoor Activity Center
4386 Yamada, Chichibu-city, 368-0004 Saitama-Prefecture
3,000 - 10,000 yen