If you are looking for a quick escape with the family, look north to Saitama’s Chichibu Youth Outdoor Activity Center (Chichibu-shi Seishonen Sogo Yagai Katsudo Sentaa, 秩父市青少年総合野外活動センター). While the name is a mouthful, the idea is simple: rustic but comfortable facilities in an expansive natural setting.
The Outdoor Activity Center is a place to get away from it all. There’s no TV or Internet; only one public phone and spotty cellular reception. Instead, you get more than 70,000 square meters of forest, criss-crossed by hiking and MTB trails. No bike? Rent one for only ¥100, and helmets are included. (For smaller children, check frame size availability in advance.)
The Center’s philosophy is to loan as much equipment as possible, reducing your baggage and maximizing your enjoyment. You can also borrow sports equipment for use on the brilliant green field, utensils for cooking and BBQ and more. A free disc golf course wanders through beautiful scenery, and parents love the 100-meter roller slide almost as much as the kids do.
Nature is the real star here, however. Kids love to search for the horned beetles, walking sticks and praying mantises that abound. Countless tadpoles morph into frogs in the streams that run through the site. All these are easily seen and, if you’re lucky, you might also encounter some of the larger wildlife—tanuki (raccoon dog), foxes, snakes and birds—that share the Center with the human visitors.
Mountain lilies dot the forest in summer and hydrangea bloom well after they have faded from hotter environs. In fall, the forest puts on a vivid show, including a wealth of mountain cherry, oak and maple trees. Colors are usually best from late October to mid-November, so make your plans now.
Accommodation: Pitch your own tent, try one of the steel-framed school tents (a popular option for groups) with wooden floors and log walls, or stay in the Central Lodge, with dormitory rooms and a cafeteria. My choice is one of the 17 log houses overlooking a fish-filled pond. They sleep six, contain a simple kitchen and shower and are a bargain at only ¥6,300 per night. Rent a BBQ set and enjoy grilling on your balcony. Cold beer and other supplies are available.
Dave Paddock is the director of English Adventure (www.english-adventure.org) operating camps and outdoor programs for kids, families and organizations. His work enables him to discover many wonderful destinations in Japan. Send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.