Introduction: Bumcamping in Japan

Picture of Bumcamping in Japan

My cousin Donna and I went "bum camping" in Japan with two folding bikes.
Bum camping means plunking your bum down pretty much anywhere and calling it a night.
Japan has less crime than we're used to and a tolerant attitude toward homeless people.
Their little blue tents are tucked here and there in parks and under bridges.
We figured "How hard can it be?".

At Nikko, we found a nice spot in the woods. In the next town we camped on an out-of the-way terrace in a park. That went so well, the next night we camped in a prime waterfront spot in Ueno park, Tokyo.

Donna's folding bike cost $60 at a "Cainz Home" hardware superstore in Japan. It's nice. Buy your bike there unless you're very tall or picky. Her sleeping bag cost $10 in a Japanese discount sporting goods store (sports authority I think). It's plenty warm. Remember when things were expensive in Japan? They're a lot closer to China than we are, and it seems like they get better stuff from there for less than we do.

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Step 1: Cops Have Low Prestige in Japan

Picture of Cops Have Low Prestige in Japan

After we were fast asleep a crew of patrolmen woke us up with flashlights. Their gutteral exclamations indicated we were in a place not aproved for sleeping bums. Our Survival-Evasion-Escape instincts kicked in. We spoke to them in English.
This paralyzed them for two reasons:
1: They were too embarassed to attempt their English in front of co-workers.
2: Not knowing where each stood in Sempai order for English, it was impossible for any of them to take the lead. (Sempai is seniority in a mentorship structure. Two people can shift in and out of Sempai role as they engage in various activities depending on who has attained highest rank in the specific activity.)

They made various gestures seen in Manga comics and went away. We slept well for the rest of the night. Park Attacker Man seen in that poster also left us alone. (I'm illiterate now, is that really what it says?)

When I'm by myself I'm paranoid and stealth off somewhere to sleep invisibly. If I'm really paranoid I'll disappear even more, pitch a tent and sleep in the scrub a few yards off to one side of it. I'm told I snore like a dying monster, which isn't great for a stealth program, but oh well.
On this trip I had Donna to protect me, so we boldly camped like the great bums of old.

Step 2: Train Pass and Bike Cover

Picture of Train Pass and Bike Cover

I had a JR rail pass which is only for tourists. It must be bought outside of the country. It's still expensive, but a lot cheaper than individual train tickets. When bringing your bike onto a train, you have to put a cover over your bike. I used this big brown bag. Later I bought a much lighter bike cover in a dollar store. In the station I partly folded the bike as seen here for ease in wheeling it around.

Step 3: Ultralight Tarp Shelter

Picture of Ultralight Tarp Shelter

I sewed the 8X10 tarp from silicone-impregnated nylon. I sewed loops at the corners instead of using grommets. The whole thing weighs 1.5lbs including tarred nylon codline guy strings.
The ground cover is a 5x7 poncho I sewed from the same material. It weighs 1 lb.
Pretty good for shelter for two people. And raincoats.
That silnylon is great stuff. Water beads up on it in a really satisfying way. used to sell roll-ends and seconds for cheap.

We used the bikes to prop up the front of the tarp and form a psychological barrier.
We shoved our umbrellas out the sides to close the sides. There are lots of ways to pitch a tarp.

It's fall so bugs aren't a problem, but it can rain and get pretty chilly, especially at altitude.
At a buggier time of year it you'd want a mosquito net.

Step 4: Sleep on Cardboard

Picture of Sleep on Cardboard

Cardboard is really great stuff to sleep on. It's kind of like a tatami mat.
We'd look for cardboard when it was time to camp.
There was a closed kiosk in the park with a nice selection of cardboard for the floor of our bum palace.
We had a beer and looked out over the lights of the city.
It drizzled a bit but our overhanging tarp kept it mostly off us and our stuff.

If you can't find cardboard and it's at all cold, spread out your pack and any extra clothing and sleep on that. Put a pair of socks around your neck to dry them out. Pile vegetation under your ground sheet for a mattress. A hat and a scarf are big helps for sleeping warm.
Any garment can be used as a scarf or hat. If you're dry and out of the wind, you won't freeze to death unless you have a real talent for it.

If you sleep under a bridge or overhang, put something down to sleep on, it tends to be dusty and dungy under such things. Hang your food from a tree branch if pests try to get in it, just like wilderness camping. A metal cookie tin is also good.

If strange dogs approach you, pick up a stick or pretend to. Badly behaved dogs have already learned to avoid anyone with a stick. Dogs never bothered me in Japan.

Step 5: 7000 Museums

Picture of 7000 Museums

Donna and I went to 3 or 4 museums a day. I started calling her "two-speed" because whenever we were going somewhere, I could barely keep up. Once we got to a museum she would slow way down, staring at each exhibit as if to memorize it. She REALLY LIKES MUSEUMS.

When I was a kid in Akita in the last century there were lots of people doing crafts and trades in a shop in front of their house and living in the back. I spent a lot of time biking around watching people at work.
The country is a lot different now. Those people are all retired and their kids are riding bullet trains to office jobs. Japan is a country that doesn't like to lose any traditions. To help remember how things used to be, the country now has 7000 museums.

One of the most amazing museum buildings I saw was the Osaka Maritime Museum. It's in an artificial island dome, and much of the building is underwater. You walk to the museum through an underwater tunnel looking up at fish through the skylights. Inside the museum is a reconstructed Edo era merchant ship. Their old shipbuilding techniques are unique in the world. Steaming and bending huge timbers and fastening them with gigantic staples. A typically Japanese example of taking on a hugely ambitious impractical project. Then forcing it to work with amazing teamwork and skill. Kind of like the building it's housed in.

At the other end of town is the huge Osaka Ethnological Museum. Probably my favorite museum in the world. Here's an African textiles exhibit there. Multiply by 100 countries studied, and that's the museum.

The Japanese government is just as far in debt as ours, mostly from building amazing projects like these, the other 7000 museums, and the nice parks I slept in.
My own government debt is mostly for, well... Look it up. A lot of bad things.

Step 6: Light Bag, Light Heart

Picture of Light Bag, Light Heart

That little green bag contains all the stuff I needed to climb a mountain and camp comfortably near the summit in freezing rain and snow.

In The Bag:
The tarp,
pair of wool socks,
some plastic bags to put over them in my shoes,
sleeping bag stuffed smal,
an equally stuffable quilted polyester jacket,
stocking cap.
food for a couple of days and a bottle of water.

I'm wearing:
zipleg polyester pants,
a fleece vest,
a plaid puttondown 60/40 lightweight longsleeve shirt,
cotton boxers with the fly sewed shut,
a sun hat and
a pair of crocs.

After the mountain I gave the other shoes away. "you're sure these aren't the good ones?" my friend asked.

When bicycling, hang your bag on your bike, not your back. You'll get much less tired and enjoy the trip a lot more.


Sir TheadoreK (author)2014-07-25

Senpai. Not "Sempai".

dugwyler (author)Sir TheadoreK2015-10-07

There's not a big distinction in Japanese between n and m for the ん sound. It's basically both. And in fact, 先輩 is usually pronounced with an m sound, because it's easier to say. Sure, ん is usually marked with n in roumaji, but nobody actually uses that stuff anyway, or really cares if it's accurate.

Good article ... glad to get more first-hand experiences of this style of camping.

For my part, I can say I've seen a lot of people do this, and it seems fine. Cops are not jerks in Japan, so even if they do catch you it should be OK. If not, a good ol' gaijin smash of only English should get you off the hook. Famously, they hate talking to foreigners in English, and will avoid it at all costs.

Camping on or near beaches is particularly popular and nobody gives you a second glance. You can also have a barbecue anywhere you can set one down, including down by a river in open view, even if the area isn't designated.

sidmarx (author)2015-09-05

Are there enough trees around (typically) to sleep in a hammock?

dr_peru (author)2015-01-12

I too did some bumcamping trips through the balkans with two of my friends. We slept at the adriatic waterfront all the time and it was great! I think it´s the best way to travel: It´s dirtcheap and you get too know a lot of nice people.

lloyd1931 (author)2013-09-25

Major kudos to U2. What a trip!

ilpug (author)2011-06-04

definetely doing this, but in america.

Kubuntu (author)ilpug2011-08-28

Not nearly as safe. Perhaps you ought to reconsider?

ilpug (author)Kubuntu2011-08-28

Man, i can assure you, if i do this, it will not be the most dangerous thing i have done by a long shot. I have many hobbies that are dangerous, questionably legal, and not morally wrong. Something like this might actually be a welcome respite to crawling through drainage tunnels or buildering.

triumphman (author)2011-07-19

Wow, you got to go before the meltdown! Lucky you! It would be very dangerous to do what you did today! I envy you!

loosestool (author)2011-07-18

showers? bathroom?

thecheatscalc (author)2011-06-05

So I'll be in Japan for 6 weeks this summer... hmm... this may be worth a try just to do something crazy!

Mrballeng (author)2011-06-05

I feel like I got a little vacation to Japan by reading this. Thanks I really enjoyed it.

Kenny-c (author)2011-01-29

Thanks your nice bumcamping report in Japan. I enjoyed very much.

The signboard at Ueno Park is looking for the victim not a park attacker. It's too bad, his picture look terrible.

jakalas (author)2010-04-16


This is great, I'm from Africa and our currency isn't great so it would prob be the only way for me to see Japan. I just have one question, where did you wash / use the bathroom?


phoenixx100 (author)2009-11-23

Definitely an enjoyable read...

yanggers (author)2009-10-10

That is just a amazing piece of enginnering right there," said FaqMan while pointing to the entirety of Japan on the map.

Whatsername (author)2009-09-07

Thanks for sharing your tips and adventures! Really enjoyed. My daughter says we need to do that and is wondering if we can camp near Studio Ghibli.

TimAnderson (author)Whatsername2009-09-07

Absolutely! I don't know where that is, but since it's in Japan, there's guaranteed to be a park, bridge, or mountain nearby!

Wade Tarzia (author)2008-07-06

Interesting as usual! I do miss the style of your old trip logs. I think the Instructables format is limiting your narrative creativity -- i.e., the medium is not matching the potential message. Don't take this the wrong way -- just an observation from a fan of your former reporting style!

Leon Close (author)Wade Tarzia2009-02-14

I agree. Also, I've read about it enough times without explanation: What's the reason for sewing the boxer shorts fly shut?

TimAnderson (author)Leon Close2009-02-14

I get plaid ones and sometimes wear them as shorts with nothing on top. I sew the fly shut so I don't have to worry about my man-thing flopping out accidentally.

i wear the same kind of underwear LOL and i have sewn every one of them shut too! i don't know what's wrong with them, but the cut always seems 'wrong'... the front doesn't stay closed...!!!! yup so my underwear all have little hand-stitched spots on the front. ... so my wife came in to the bedroom one morning, and there i sat, naked at my desk, still wet from my shower, furiously sewing up the front of my last pair of clean underwear... HAHAHA ah, good times.

Leon Close (author)TimAnderson2009-02-14

Ahh, it all becomes clear.

Wade Tarzia (author)Leon Close2009-02-15

I am also sure that some state or nation has on its law books a definition of underwear which includes ease-of-access to the plumbing; therefore, by sewing the fly shut, you now have legal outer-wear and you cannot be arrested for indecent exposure. The plaid helps a lot, of course.

FaqMan (author)2009-01-18

That is just a amzing piece of enginnering right there.

KoolAidDisaster (author)2009-01-12

is that a papbst in the back ground ???? oohh i want the can

shadow12952 (author)2008-12-21

i had a dream of going to japan for only 2 days but when i went to leave my house i woke up:( now im obsessed with going to japan any idea on how mush $ it would be to there from indiana?

kitsuken (author)shadow129522009-01-04

Just google for flights there, they're probably not too hard to find. Might not be able to fly direct from indiana though, you might need to go through somewhere else first and then on to Japan

Sandisk1duo (author)2008-07-03

5 star hotels in Japan are like $60 a night

pmartinez (author)Sandisk1duo2008-07-04

A simple 4 star hotel in Narita, will cost you approximately $280 per night. I lived in Japan (stationed in Iwakuni Marine base), and there are some "hotels" which they look like boxes packed side by side and up 3 high that can cost you just about that per night. They are comfortable, clean, have AC, and a small screen TV, however; if you are claustrophobic.. you'll be for the ride of your life.

Scucci (author)pmartinez2008-07-04

I was also stationed in Iwakuni a few years ago. Things down there seem to be more expensive than if you go to another region... it's not just Yamaguchi, Hiroshima (of course) was very expensive, but when we stayed out in Osaka for a few nights, it was surprisingly cheap, something like 40 bucks a night at a pretty nice hotel. For the record, California Chicken is awesomeness when you're out in town tired of noodles

pmartinez (author)Scucci2008-07-05

...or yaki soba

Scucci (author)pmartinez2008-07-05

To be honest, I never went to any of the soba shops... not even the one down by the the gym/medical center area.. I worked the Navy equivalent of power plants, so I didn't really have any time... every day for lunch was a quick run to Crossroads and usually a taco or sub. ... But... I did hear good things. :) Our barracks were on the north end of base, so when it came to lunch/dinner on days off... since the galley food tore my stomach up, I'd usually make a quick run to Lotteria for the shrimp burger... or Fuji Grand for one of the shops on the top floor. :)

pmartinez (author)Scucci2008-07-07

Your comment brings lots of memories. When I stayed there we only had the "tomidachi club" a Wendy's and couple other things. Nice PX.. I lived there one year and left for the Gulf war, after that I was in Korea, and YES !! the Philippines. Did an Asia hop, then left the Corps.. Semper Fi

Scucci (author)pmartinez2008-07-07

I was actually in a Navy squadron attached to Mag-12... we were the first to do that. The MCX was great there... everything you needed and then some... GREAT uniform shop... little hard to get Navy stuff ordered in, but thems the breaks. I would've LOVED a Wendy's, not there anymore... the tomidachi club is only what I can assume became the "Honet's Nest"... big club beside near golf course... and if the golf course wasn't there when you were, it was just to the left of the movie theater if you were looking at the south gate. Didn't spend much time there... Navy and Marines get along fine when there's no drinking involved... so, after a little fight made it way back to the barracks we were at (1686) it led to 2 full barracks emptying out and becoming a huge brawl. PMO showed up, said "FREEZE!", most of the Marines snapped to attention, Sailors went running... and that's the last time I went there. lol. BUT... I don't have anything against Marines, they were our brothers out there and we hung out A LOT after that. I even worked some TAD with the supply guys for @ 4 months, which was a bit of a shock for me. Marine's LOVE their PT... a little too much for my tastes. lol Actually got invited to a friends wedding out there on Miyajima... a smidge outsite Hiroshima. So it's not like we were oil and water, just when drinking was involved... ... wow, long rant. Sorry about that. ANYWHO, yeah... Iwakuni was a AWESOME place, I went all over Japan while I was there and Iwakuni always had the "home" feel to it. That's actually why I've been saving my GI Bill to go to college at Temple University in Tokyo, so I can get a degree there and work on teaching English back down in Yamaguchi. We did pretty much the same tours you did I'm betting. Korea, Thailand, Oki, etc etc. I only spent a little over a year there, and I made some of my best memories of the service in Iwakuni... great place.

pmartinez (author)Scucci2008-07-09

Lol.. YEAHHHH BAR FIGHTS !!! miss them ... Funny thing my brother in law was in the Navy and stationed in the same base for a few months, so I went out "drinking" with my buddies, I guess he did the same and a fight broke up.. got caught in the middle of it, got hit on the back of my head, turned around punched the living sh...t out of the guy and >>> Oh my ... holly sh...t ... was my brother in law.. he didn't talked to me for about 2 days.. years later we still laugh about it. .. You know, us jar heads, are brain washed and fighting is a hobby.. too much testosterone ... I served 1 year in the USS Inchon and USS Nassau .. Hated those da....d ships... worked my butt off... you know what the say: " join the Navy see the world... join the Corps police call the world... Yeah, the golf course was there in 1990. Loved Japan... great place to be, very friendly people

People who have never experienced Japan are definitely missing out. Unfortunately Japan has changed alot since the days when I was there ( mid to late 80's ). I still have in-laws in Hiroshima so luckily I still get to go back from time to time. Some day I would like to travel the entire country to see what all I have missed. Until then I still have Iwakuni...yeah!

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to go back. is one of those things, first university, then work, then family ... well I hope I can go back one day. I would like to do that as well, travel the country, specially visit the birth place of Aikido O'Sensei' s old school. regards Pedro

michael.wooters (author)Scucci2008-10-15

The Tomadachi club was on the Mainside ( the side where the Main PX is located ). The Wing side ( near C gate ) had another club that I can't remember what they called, but, basically only enlisted Marines were permitted inside. The club next to the Main gate and the movie theater didn't exist back in the day! We spent more time out in the ville when I was there ( 4 corners to 3 corners )...those clubs rocked...especially Sorrento's.

mwwdesign (author)Scucci2008-07-07

Or maybe you know what they are called? (the tiny bunk room things, that is) Thanks if you do!

mwwdesign (author)pmartinez2008-07-07

Do you know what they are called? (the tiny bunk room things, that is) Thanks if you do!

pmartinez (author)mwwdesign2008-07-07

Capsule Hotels - Most offer some extras like a Sauna, Coffee Shop etc, some (most of them) have been known to refuse service to foreigners.(Mostly because they do not respect their strict rules and are too loud). My advice: don't plan on spending more than a night in one. Business Hotels are much nicer, and for the few extra dollars you get the privacy. P

mwwdesign (author)pmartinez2008-07-07

Excellent! Answered perfectly for me, thank you.

pmartinez (author)mwwdesign2008-07-09

glad could help

michael.wooters (author)2008-08-21

Ah Iwakuni...I still long for those days. MAG-15 1980 - 1984 and 1987. I still go back from time to wife is from Hiroshima!

misemono (author)michael.wooters2008-10-05

Marines....hmmmm.....better than those darn VFA guys, I suppose

michael.wooters (author)misemono2008-10-15

Oh yeah, lots better!

Jran Sakarra (author)2008-07-24

I think you may have started a new fad. Couch Surfing is hard when traveling out of the USA.

meat_chris (author)2008-07-10

If you need stuff while travelling in Japan, try to find an 'off house' or 'hard off' store. They are a popular chain of second hand stores throughout the country. There is a high turnover of belongings so second hand items can be very good quality and cheap. Plus there are always loads of small items that make great omiyage (souvenirs), for people back home.

Panzer_mike (author)meat_chris2008-07-20

Haha yeah! when I went to japan I found one of those... I loved the electronics section. Picked up a working gameboy made in japan for 200 yen...

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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