During tough times, and Japan has seen its fair share recently, people have a tendency to tighten their belts or stay indoors. Yet we all need to live, to exercise to have fun. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to enjoy the outdoors without parting with a lot of cash. Nature is free; you just need to get there.
Climbing / Hiking
The Japanese-language magazine Peaks recently featured a number of outdoor enthusiasts (including, full disclosure, your author) sharing their favorite getaway from Tokyo for less than ¥20,000, including transportation, stay, food and one omiyage of about ¥2,000. It can be done, to surprisingly distant areas.
Super cheap: Borrow a tent, get a night bus, climb and stay at a hut—but not in the hut. Camping fee is usually ¥500.
A little luxury: Take the train at a decent hour (if you’re tall, buses can be cramped); or stay in the hut and lighten your load. Either way, add about ¥10,000.
Cheap fun with a chance of free dinner.
Super cheap: Beg, borrow, or rent some gear, take the train to a likely spot and throw that lure or jig (live bait’s too expensive) in the water. If you like to hike, hit the rivers with a fly rod. If you are not sure where to go, ask a local fishing shop and be sure to check into licenses, usually about ¥2,000.
A little luxury: Get a bunch of friends and charter a fishing boat. It’s not too expensive per-person, and you catch more fish. Gear manufacturer, Daiwa, introductory sessions, including gear rental. Need a little help? Visit our Japan Angler at www.theangler-gpc.com.
Cycling / Mountain Biking
It’s not only the cheapest way to get around the city, but also a pretty good way to get out of town.
Super cheap: Get a serviceable, but not too fancy, bike from the classified sections of one the English magazines—there’s always something cheap. Many small bike shops also sell old bikes for less than a night out on the town. Head out along one of the rivers—the Tamagawa or Arakawa out of Tokyo are good choices—it’s not single track, but there are some fun paths you can follow until the mountains come into view. The sight of the mountains may motivate you too.
A little luxury: Upgrade to a mountain bike if you have one. If not, borrow or rent. There are lots of dirt roads and trails outside of the big cities; find a friendly pension in a ski resort town (they’re hungry for business in summer), and establish a base for your no-cost expeditions. Think ¥5,000/night or even less. If you want to go bigger, hire a guide or check out one of the downhill or cross-country courses at the resorts.
I sometimes shake my head at my minimalist friends in the mountains—especially as they shiver through the fog and rain. However, the skimpy clothes and mini-packs make trail running an economical activity. Good shoes are the biggest investment.
Super cheap: A train out of the city will get you in the mountains in no time. Think of the Takatsuki area in Osaka, Okutama in Tokyo or even Kamakura. Do a little digging, and you may even find some trails without hardly leaving town.
A little luxury: Or at least more social…splurge on an entry fee for one of the many trail running races (check out the Outdoor Japan Online calendar) and meet some like-minded people who may turn into new running buddies.
Stand-up Paddling (SUP)
If you’ve wanted to try this traditional Hawaiian-style of riding the waves, now is the time. Living in Japan, you’re never far from the ocean, but buying, storing and transporting a board can be too much for the frugal outdoor person this summer, so you want to go…
…Super cheap and head to a place such as Ted Surf (www.paddlesurf.jp) or Oasis (www.oasis2009.jp) in Chiba where you can rent a board and paddle for the day or get a group beginner lesson for around ¥5,000.
A little luxury: Take a private lesson or stay at a cheap pension in one of the beach towns and make a weekend of it.
Cheap fun isn’t limited to the individual; families and friends can also get into the great outdoors. Check out a list of campgrounds at www.outdoorjapan.com/camping
Super cheap: Head out on the train or rent a big car or van and check out some of the cheap campgrounds in Japan. Spend some quality family time or relive those beer-fueled road trips of your youth. If you don’t have a tent, don’t worry; many campgrounds have rental gear or if you want…
…A little luxury, some have cabins for rent with more civilized amenities, even activities you can enjoy. Either way, it’s a cheap way to have a lot of fun.
WWOOF / Volunteering
If you feel like you need to get your hands in the earth and live organically or want to get out there and make a difference, there are some great choices.
Super cheap: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organization can put your able hands and farmers together. You don’t get paid, but you get lodging, food and most likely a few beverages with your hosts. The membership is just ¥5,500. You then choose where you want to go and what is available. Check out their Web site for details at www.wwoofjapan.com.
Super cheap: Now more than ever there are opportunities to volunteer and help your fellow citizens in Japan. See the story in this issue about summer volunteering opportunities with Peace Boat. It will be the most rewarding getaway you will ever have.