The Asian Concept of a Campsite

Kazuhiro Akase
Council Member of F.I.C.C.

When we speak of "camping", we don't mean the educational camping or training camping exclusively for children and youth. The main target of our camping is family irrespective of age, so we call it "family camping" in Japan. Since family campers normally use automobiles for transportation as well as for accommodation, we also call it "autocamping". Generally speaking, family camping or autocamping is leisure for citizens of advanced countries which are highly industrialized and motorized.

This type of leisure activity has a very long tradition in Europe that began at the end of the 19th century. Compared with that, the history of autocamping in Asia is rather short. Autocamping was introduced into Japan about 30 years ago, when there were neither caravans nor motorcaravans. There were even no campsites suitable for it. However, thanks to the development of socioeconomic infrastructure such as motorization, increased income and shorter working hours, more and more people joined this new leisure activity. After a certain period of stagnation, the number of campgrounds rapidly increased in the 1990s. At the beginning, most of them were constructed and managed by private companies or individuals. Then came local governments. At the final stage of this development, the central and local governments invested a great amount of money in building high-standard autocampsites around the country.

Now in Japan, 10 million people enjoy autocamping at more than 1,200 autocampsites. According to the relevant statistics on campers, campsites and recreational vehicles, Japan is one of the biggest camping countries in the world. However, such rapid and drastic development has inevitably caused some problems as well.

At the beginning, we were eager to have modern campsites just like those in Europe and America, and now, 30 years after the start of this movement, we are proud of having a sufficient number of modern campsites spread over the country. Some of them are even too modern, for example, with a whole campsite paved with concrete and geometrically divided into individual pitches, luxurious facilities just like a five-star hotel, etc. And this leads to large-scale destruction of the natural environment. Many trees are cut down to construct buildings and roads, and the original features of the land are completely changed. Naturally, a lot of people criticize autocamping as being harmful to the environment.

Based on this negative experience, I would like to say it is time to find out our own concept of the campsite instead of simply copying the European or American type. In other words, we should create an Asian concept of the camping which takes into account our living circumstances. In my opinion, this concept should take account of two main aspects: one is the natural environment and the other is natural disaster.

As for the natural environment, we should pursue a harmony between camping and nature. A campsite should be developed with the minimum destruction of nature. The campsite management should also be based on the same principles, for example, saving energy, conserving natural resources or separating the waste for recycling.

Campsites constructed and managed in this way will protect the surrounding nature from destruction and pollution. Without campsites, people would tread on the nature and scatter garbage all over. In this sense, the campsite could be regarded as a frontline base for the protection of the natural environment.

The campsite could be also an ideal place for the environmental education for the users. Following the rules and manners on the campsites, they can learn how to carry out camping activities in tune with the natural environment. Specifically, the users must separate garbage for the further processing, refrain from using synthetic detergents to keep the water neutral, and take good care of plants and animals living in the surrounding areas.

As for the second aspect of the concept, the nature has two contradictory characters. On one hand, the nature is gentle and fragile. On the other hand, it is fierce and dreadful. During the last decade of the 20th century, we had two big earthquakes in Asia: one in Japan in 1995 and the other in Taiwan in 1999, both with a large number of deaths. From this experience, we know how powerless and helpless the city dwellers will become when the lifeline such as electricity, water and gas supply is cut off. At the same time, however, we witnessed that tents served as shelters for the sufferers and camping was a very effective way of surviving catastrophic situations.

There is an urgent need to secure the evacuation and survival of city dwellers in the Asian region where major natural disasters occur so often. It is therefore strongly recommended to construct campsites, in or near cities, that function in the event of a natural disaster. In this context we should also take into consideration industrial disasters like major accidents in chemical plants or nuclear power stations.

The campsites should store sufficient quantities of tents and camping utensils as well as drinking water, food and medicine. It goes without saying that buildings for administration, toilets and storages should be designed to be fireproof and earthquake-resistant. Camping trailers should also be made available for accommodating the handicapped, the aged or the expectant and nursing mothers. For the convenience of those disabled people, the campsites should be designed to be barrier free. An example of barrier-free design is providing flat surfaces and ramps for wheelchair users.

In peacetime, those campsites will offer city dwellers a place where they can be refreshed from the daily busy life and get energy for tomorrow. And in emergency situations, they will provide a safe shelter for the sufferers from the disaster.

This is just an outline of the Asian concept of the campsite design and construction. We should develop this basic concept into a more precise and practical one so that the campsites can be characterized as a social facility for the citizens of the modern time.

January 2002 (Asia-Pacific News No.7)

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