It is late summer at the time of writing. Kids have returned to school (i.e. Japanese public schools) most likely, bearing their wilting morning glories or buckets of rice that they have grown all summer for nature observation “shizen kyoiku kansatsu” or other completed nature projects.
Japan is still a terrific place for nature observation, despite the concrete jungles having rapidly overtaken most of Japan’s marshes, satoyama landscapes and forests. Thanks to the country’s abundant rainfall, weeds spring up quickly everywhere constituting wayside ecosystems for butterfly stops and other insect habitats. Kids can often be found catching cicadas, beetles, grasshoppers, butterflies and go crayfishing in city parks.
And if you can, venture once in a while, further into the mountains or to the coasts for more head-on confrontations with nature. Remember 80% of Japanese land is mountain and 66% of it is covered in forest, and no matter where you are, you can never be more than 100 km away from the sea with 2,500 km of coast to be explored.
Below is a list of Japanese kids’ favorite nature activities.
Satoyama Little Challengers blog(Japanese))
Field Guides for Japan
"Nihonno Ikimono no Zukan" or “Animals and Plants of Japan” (alternative title). Child-friendly and a great favorite in the home. Organized according to various habitats: Town /Mountains / Woodland or Forest / Ponds and Rivers. It covers animals, birds, fish and plants. Detailed descriptions are in hiragana but animal, bird and flower species have names in both English and Japanese languages.
"Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia" by Mark Brazil (2008) / "A Birdwatcher's Guide to Japan" by Mark Brazil...is OOP (out of print) but you can buy a copy from Brazil's website. Organized like a tour guide, you can pick your bird sanctuary location in various parts of Japan Brazil gives you a full description of what you'll see, and how to get there. Not a systematic field guide for bird identification really, and no pictures. But the info is useful for birding field trips around Japan. Available from Kinokuniya bookstore
type “Wild Watch” and that should take you to this URL, thereupon you can find Mark Brazil's articles dating back to 2002. In the same search, you can also look for Linda Inoki’s and Rowan Hooper’s archived articles. Linda Inoki writes about flowers and wildflowers in season in Japan while Rowan Hooper writes about animals of Japan in his Animal Tracker column.
Gardening with our kids is a great learning experience, you might like to pick up or share tips with a new yahoo group "Gardening in Japan". To join, see this URL. Looking forward to sharing ideas! Best regards, Jennifer in Fukushima
On gardening history in Edo period you might like to see this webpage designed for kids Somei: Landscape Gardening in Edo
Organisations & Resources for Nature Activities in Japan:
school camps & camping info.
Evergreen is a great outfit that offers many programs and tours for those yearning for nature activities. Trekking, canyoning, biking and summer camps are all offered here and in great locations like Hakuba in the Japan Alps. Visit their website for more info.
*Hinoharu school (in Yamanashi)
*Niiharu school (in Gunma)
*Nikko -kirifuri School (in Tochigi)
Gankoyama is an eco-village located in Boso, Chiba prefecture, which both a fun as well as educational place for families or school groups. Designed to help people understand the importance of forests and conservation. All sorts of great hands on and outdoor nature activities: building your own tree house or furniture, bows and arrows, cooking campfire style with food gathered in the forest – in a self-sufficient sustainable tree house village! No electricity at all powers the campsite, only sustainable resources! Nevertheless, you get to stay in clean pleasant treehouse cabins (not your own which will be torn down and materials reused). Visit the website for information and their picture gallery. The site has links to articles in Metropolis and Outdoor Japan which you can read in English as well.
DISCOVER JAPAN(website) will help you get out of the city and explore the beautiful countryside of Japan. For over 25 years, David Green and Yoshiko Kimura have been organizing outdoor activities for children and adults. They want people to discover the culture of the country outside of Tokyo, and they facilitate this through outdoor adventures. Some of the activities of Discover Japan include weekend bicycle tours, community ski/board trips, a children’s ski camp, and the Nanbo Discovery Camp and Summer School (residential summer programs). Nanbo Kokusai Mura is their lodge and seminar house, 200m from the beach in southern Chiba. It is the home for company retreats, children’s scouting trips, sports group’s team building trips, school outdoor education activities, family or club “getaways” and much more.
The Community Ski/Board Trips to Shiga Kogen in Nagano started in 1985. In the 24th season of ski adventures there will be one ski camp for children (December 18-21) and two community ski trips for families and older children (February 13-16, February 20-23). As always, the entire lodge (New Yokote Ski Lodge, on the slopes of Mt. Yokote) has been reserved for the trips. For more information, see their website or contact David Green (090-7716-0102). Nanbo Kokusai Mura, 2899-1 Seto, Chikura-cho, Minami-Boso, Chiba.
Nanbo Discovery camp operates full room and board camps located on the Boso Peninsula (Chiba Prefecture) They have both summer school sessions and camp sessions in English. Visit their website.
One reviewer says: Discover Japan is out in the Bozo Peninsula (Chiba prefecture). There is more emphasis on marine biology, a bit of “studying” and group meal cooking and so on. It is also an outdoor experience. My daughter went on an overnight school trip to this camp a few weeks ago and she loved it. For more details, visit their website: http://www.discoverjapan.co.jp/
Another reviewer says: The kids seem to really like David Green! This camp is about kids loving nature.The camp features bilingual counselors, outdoor activities, located in Minami Boso Peninsula Chiba. Aimed at kids into grades 3 through 7, directed by David Green, hiking, snorkeling, collecting specimens, collecting specimens from tide pools, playing on the beach,etc. Campers stay either at the Hakkuso lodge in Tateyama, and/in tents at the beach with cookouts over a campfire.
Location: 422-1 Sunomiya, Tateyama, Chiba
Contact: David Green
1-3-3-202 Okamoto, Setagaya-ku
David Green has been a science teacher at Nishimachi for nearly three decades, and his wife Yoshiko Kimura, is a 4th-grade teacher at St. Mary’s.
IZU OSHIMA is a great place for kids in a really pristine location! Camp director Dave Moodie (who is also Aquatics Director at St. Mary’s International School and Head Coach of the International Buccaneers Swimming Team) provides a great opportunity for international kids to enjoy outdoor activities & swimming in a beautiful island setting enhanced by local Japanese culture. Izu Oshima emphasizes the outdoor experince and the sporty side of things. One arrives by boat from Tokyo. The water is clear (like in Okinawa) and you can swim with turtles just a few meters off from land. There is also a hike up a small peak. There was one girl on the trip that just finished last week, who didn’t know how to swim yet, but she also really enjoyed her experience. Visit this webpage for camp details.
KEEP is an unusual Christian and environmental initiative. It operates Seisen Ryo as the centerpiece of KEEP. Opened in 1938 as a lodge and campground for youth empowerment in Kiyosato, Seisen Ryo serves as a conference and retreat center for individuals and groups. Seisen Ryo is centrally located within a short walk of any of the six hiking trails around the area. Just across the road from Seisen Ryo, the Yatsugatake Nature Center offers interactive exhibits about the flora and fauna of the Yatsugatake Highlands, the local culture and history of the Kiyosato area, and information about the hiking trails in the area. Mountains surround the area, with the Yatsugatake Kogen Prefectural Park to the north, Mt. Fuji and the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to the south, the Southern Alps National Park to the west and the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park to the west. Campers and visitors alike can spend time in Seisen Ryo’s coffee shop and restaurant. Seasonal overnight packages are offered with workshop themes such as country furniture building, nature photography, owl watching, or skiing packages with nearby Sun Meadows Ski Resort. Seisen Ryo also hosts public music concerts and other special events throughout the year. See a photo of Keep’s lodgings here.
3545 Kiyosato, Takane-cho
Tokyo-based adventure school Outward Bound Japan, offers diverse adventure programs catering to nature lovers of varying experience and preferences. A branch of an international adventure institution, the school offers programs that include a 21-day camping tour in which participants traverse the Japanese archipelago from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan entirely by foot and mountain bike; a 10-day trip featuring rock-climbing, mountain-climbing and stream-climbing (hiking up mountains along stream beds) in Nagano Prefecture's Northern Alps; a five-day trekking trip on Mount Fuji; and various three-day rock-climbing and mountain-bike rallies in Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Shizuoka and Nagano prefectures.
All tours are led by experienced outdoor instructors who have completed the company's special training program.
"Our main purpose is not to teach participants adventure skills but to help them grow as people through nature activities," says Mamoru Hirose, deputy general of the school. "We encourage participants to push themselves beyond their perceived limits and achieve more than they believe they can."
The school caters particularly to high-school and college students, but tours are open to anybody age 16 and over.
A special five-day program aimed at 35- to 60-year-olds is held in June and October. Participants stay at the company's lodge in mountainous Nagano Prefecture and go trekking, rafting and stream-climbing.
Outward Bound Japan also hosts a one-week program for children in March, August and December and occasionally holds weekend "Japanese Language Camps," designed to teach participants the Japanese language and Japanese culture via outdoor activities. -- source: Japan Times. Outward Bound is featured in the article "How to escape the urban grind" - read it at this link.
If you are looking for nature programs and camps in Japanese, see our listings at Japanese nature programs