Autocamping and its Historical Background

Kazuhiro Akase
Secretary General
F.I.C.C. Asia-Pacific Commission

Ladies and gentlemen,

In this presentation, I would like to go back to the origins of camping and caravanning, and review the history of its development in Europe, the United States of America and Japan. Based on this, I would like to make my prediction for the future development of leisure in China. I would also like to present some rare pictures which I hope will make my presentation interesting to everyone.

Let me start my presentation by explaining the key concepts. "Camping" means carrying tents and other camping equipment in a vehicle to a particular destination, where the camper intends to spend time enjoying the outdoor life. "Caravanning" is touring using a "caravan", which is either a camping trailer towed by a vehicle, or a "motorcaravan", which is a self-propelled caravan. In Japan, we include all these forms of camping in the concept of "autocamping". I will therefore use the term "autocamping" in this presentation.

With the industrial revolution in the Great Britain in the 2nd half of the 18th century, production capacity expanded dramatically and society changed from a mainly rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial society.

In the 2nd half of the 19th century, working hours were gradually reduced and workers' income increased. The lifestyle of city dwellers became more comfortable. They looked to nature for their leisure time and began escaping from the cities. It was during this period that outdoor leisure activities such as mountain climbing, canoeing and cycling became popular. In the end of the 19th century British people started camping as a way of providing themselves with accommodation to support outdoor leisure activities.

When the bicycle first made its appearance, cycling was widely taken up among the middle class elite and young men and women as one of the latest leisure activities, alongside golf and tennis. Before long, "cycling campers" began to appear. These were people who would load a tent onto their bicycle and go camping. This idea of using a bicycle as an individual means of transport and loading camping equipment onto it to go touring was what eventually led to modern style autocamping, where a car is used instead of a bicycle.

As for caravanning, the original form was the horse and carriage. In the 2nd half of the 19th century, caravans started to be used for the purposes of leisure activities such as picnics and hunting. The oldest existing caravan is named "Wanderer" and it was made for the doctor and writer Gordon Stables in 1884. Gordon Stables took Wanderer on a tour all over the United Kingdom. In 1907, a group of caravan-lovers got together and founded the Caravan Club. The period from the end of the 19th century until 1910 was the heyday for "horse caravanning", where the caravan was drawn by horses. And the horse caravanning is what eventually led to modern style autocamping, where a car is used instead of horses.

In 2007 there was a garden party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the foundation of the Caravan Club. As one of the events at the party, Wanderer appeared in the garden drawn by four horses.

In the 1st half of the 19th century the United States of America began its own industrial revolution, and industrialization and urbanization progressed at rapid pace. After mass-production of the Ford Model T began in 1908, even regular households became able to run a car of their own.

In the 1920s there was a sudden increase in the number of people loading tents into passenger cars and going camping. During this period there were approximately 10 million cars on America's roads, and it is estimated that of those, 5 million were used for autocamping. Furthermore, it is estimated that the number of campers in America at that time was approximately 15 million. This really was the world's first autocamping boom.

If you were to name the three key players responsible for the autocamping boom in America, it would be Henry Ford, the inventor of the Ford Model T, Harvey Firestone, who supplied the genuine tires for Ford's cars, and Ford's former boss, the great inventor Thomas Edison. These three men were extremely close. From 1915 to 1924 they regularly went camp touring together. With these three men, who embodied the American dream, going off camping together, it wasn't long before the mass media were talking about it. In 1921, Warren Harding, the 29th President of the United States, joined their group. A photograph of the men eating together under a tarpaulin featured in the print media across the country.

Now I would like to take a look at the history of development of autocamping in Japan. It should be noted that the socio-economic background is comparable with the Great Britain in the late 19th century as well as the United States in the 1920s. It is also interesting to compare it with the present situation in China.

Autocamping first appeared in Japan in the 1960s, when the economy was growing rapidly and disposable incomes were rising. In addition, the growing use of personal cars and construction of expressways made it easier to travel by car. These changes in society were the background to the birth of autocamping. Increasing numbers of people were going camping in their personal cars, importing camping vehicle from overseas, or converting their cars for camping use. Against this backdrop, the Japan Autocamping Federation (JAC) was established as an incorporated associationin 1969.

During this period, the 1st leisure tent was developed in 1961 and the 1st autocamping site was built in 1966.

Rapid economic growth ended in the 1970s due to the dollar crisis, oil crisis, and appreciation of the yen. However, these "economically disadvantageous situations were actually good for autocamping. Working hours were shortened because of the elimination of overwork time and leisure time increased. People started to value leisure more than work and think of their family more than their company.

During this period, the JAC held the first camping show in Japan in 1970. In the same year, JAC joined F.I.C.C., and in 1971 the first Japan Autocamping Rally was held.

As the economy started to stabilize in the 1980s, working hours became even shorter, and there was a shift from money-consumed leisure activities to time-consumed leisure activities. People started to value a spiritually enriched life over a life of materialistic gain, and began pursuing leisure activities as a means of self-realization. With these changes, autocamping became even more popular.

During this period, an F.I.C.C. Rally was held in 1983 for the first time in Asia. The auto camper population also doubled from 4 million in 1984 to 8 million in 1989.

With the collapse of the bubble economy, the 1990s was a period of low economic growth. There was a shift from people-oriented to individual-oriented leisure activities. People's awareness of health and environmental issues also grew. The combination of these factors brought about a huge autocamping boom in Japan, with the auto camper population reaching 1.5 million. Local governments and even the national government started to build campsites. Now high-standard public campsites appeared around the country. Even local supermarkets sold convenient camping gears at reasonable prices, and sales of camping equipment reached 7.6 billion yen. The number of registered camping vehicles reached 0.3 million. A lot of outdoor-related magazines were published, and information started to become available through the internet, making autocamping accessible to everybody.

During this period the 55th FICC rally was held as the second FICC international rally in Japan with the presence of the Japanese Prince and Princess.

Since the late 1990s, with the onset of economic stagnation and the end of the autocamping boom, the auto camper population decreased significantly. However, since the 2000s, the camper population has stabilized at around 8 million. For this reason, we can say that autocamping in Japan has moved from a growth phase to a mature phase.

In Japan, autocamping is now considered as part of daily life and as a life style, rather than a momentary form of leisure. Autocamping is recognized as a national pastime in Japan.

So far I have given you an overview of the history of the development of autocamping, from England in the 19th century through the United States of the 1920's, and up to Japan of the present day. From this historical consideration we can conclude that there are several key factors for the birth and development of autocamping. They are:

The industrialization increases the level of income people can spend on leisure.

The urbanization heightens the desire of city people to go outdoors and be in natural surroundings with their family.

The motorization enables more people to own cars. It also leads to the construction and maintenance of highways which make it easier to travel by car.

(4)Middle class
The mainstream of people who enjoy autocamping is the middle class. Therefore a middle class must be formed in order for autocamping to develop.

All the preconditions required for the development of camping and caravanning already exist in China. Industrialization and motorization is already well underway. Sales of automobiles in China exceeded 10 million units in 2009 making it the country with the highest number of automobile sales in the world.

China has overtaken Japan as the second biggest economy in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). As a result of this high economic growth we are beginning to see the emergence of a middle class in Chinese society. This is the core demographic group who will enjoy camping and play an important role in its development.

In this regard, you could say that China is now in the same situation as Japan was during the 1960's, when the economy was growing rapidly and autocamping was first becoming popular. Symbolically, the CSLCDA (China Sports Leisure Culture Development Association) was founded in 2010 and admitted to the FICC exactly 40 years after the JAC joined the FICC.

However, I predict that the development of autocamping in China will be significantly faster than in Japan. One reason for this is there is already a camping industry in China, which has been quietly developing behind the scenes. China produces a great deal of camping equipment according to specifications from Japanese manufacturers, who then import it into Japan. Chinese manufactures therefore have sufficient know-how to produce top-quality camping equipment.

As for camping vehicles,just for example, CRVC (Centech RV Camping) is producing 3000 units a year, making it the largest RV manufacturer in Asia.

In addition, China's population is about 10 times the size of Japan's, so I am quite sure that, compared to Japan, a much greater number of people will start to enjoy autocamping in China soon.

China's land area is also about 25 times bigger than Japan's. Unlike Japan, which is surrounded by the sea, China is a continent. If you take the Silk Road, you can travel overland as far as the Middle East and Europe, making it possible to tour the entire Eurasian Continent.

Based on these background factors, I believe that this Forum of China National Tourism Industry Festival will be an epoch-making event in the history of Chinese leisure, in that it will create an opportunity for people to begin camping as a form of leisure activity. I believe autocamping will grow very rapidly in popularity here in China, and I am sure that China will very soon be the world-leader in the field of camping and caravanning.

Thank you for your attention.

September 2011 (Symposium at Mei Jing Exhibition Center Tianjin, China)

Mark of Asia Pacific Commission

Japanese Site