After being excluded from the promotional campaign for more than two months, Tokyo residents were finally able to enjoy the much-publicized Go To Travel discounts from Oct. 1. The capital’s overall enthusiasm for travel, however, has been a little subdued.
“I can’t get excited about conventional traveling anymore,” says 34-year-old Takashi Masumoto, who works at Haneda Airport. “Ever since the pandemic hit, all I want to do is go out into the woods and get away from everything.”
Masumoto is an avid camper who loves heading outdoors to get away from the stress of urban life.
“The Go To Travel campaign makes it cheaper to go camping, but I don’t really care about that,” Matsumoto says. “I would go camping whether I received any financial benefits or not.”
Japan’s camping industry has risen steadily over the past seven years, and almost 9 million people have pitched tents throughout the archipelago over the past 12 months. Sales of camping equipment hit ¥7.53 billion over this period, with much of it purchased online. People in their 30s and 40s appear to be driving the sales.
Kuruma News goes so far as to claim that camping ticks many of the boxes recommended by health professionals in our new COVID-19 world. Public transport isn’t generally an option, campers seldom use restaurants or hotels, and social distancing is virtually a given.
Throw in the tranquility of all that nature has to offer under a starry night sky and you’re pretty close to what some might call paradise.
Anyone who remains unconvinced would be advised to tune in to a TV Tokyo program titled “Yurukyan,” which follows the camping escapades of a high school girl. Indeed, camping fans consider “Yurukyan” to be the ultimate guide to roughing it outside.
Camping has been a hot topic on social media this summer, with experienced users debating the best ways to start a fire, sharing cooking tips, and listing the items that can make or break a trip
At the other end of the spectrum are “soft-core” campers who make frequent day trips to roadside hot-spring resorts, but are less experienced about life in the wild. What both these groups do have in common, however, is a desire to ditch conventional modes of travel and a willingness to customize their vacations.
It all sounds wonderful, of course, until it doesn’t. With so many sharing the same idea, traffic on major roads can get hellish, as was the case over last month’s four-day Silver Week holiday. Traffic was particularly brutal on the Chuo Expressway that connects Tokyo with mountainous regions of Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures.
On Sept. 21, a 47-kilometer traffic jam developed on the Chuo Expressway at around 11 p.m. and lasted until the wee hours of the following morning. Despite news reports that advised travelers against taking the expressway, it was clogged again the next day. After months of staying put in Tokyo, it appears that many people were desperate to escape.
With such a mass exodus, was it all worth it? Social media was rife with shots of overcrowded parking areas, camping grounds where tents were pitched less than a meter apart, long lines leading to public restrooms and other jaw-droppers.
A camping blog called Yutaandnao posted a report on how Nagano Prefecture’s Kamikochi — a popular nature destination — turned into tent city during Silver Week, with colorful vinyl domes dotting the landscape like an outbreak of acne.
Some travelers just gave up and opted to stay in hotels. Nikkei.com reports that hotels and restaurants in Shikoku saw plenty of activity over Silver Week. Trains and hotels were operating at nearly 100 percent capacity and doing even better business than pre-pandemic days.
Overall, it seems that many of us are ready for more freedom of movement when traveling, but not necessarily in ways that match the Go To Travel plans of the government.
The question now is: Could things be about to go south?
On Twitter, a user named @Bon says the Go To Travel campaign might not be the economic miracle cure the government is hoping.
“The Go To Travel campaign is a system that values the economy over peoples’ lives,” Bon wrote. “That sort of economy is bound to collapse.”