---CAMPING OUT (NOJUKU SURU)---
For those that want to camp out each night instead of looking for lodging, there is almost no information available out there in English. While i haven't camped out myself, this information comes from having talked to a few henro that have and from fellow henro that have emailed information. Thanks!
What will this cost me?
This will obviously be much cheaper than staying in minshuku, ryokan, and hotels each night, but how much cheaper? Well, according to those that have done it....
Anthony Kimple walked the trail in 2005, and either camped out or stayed in a Tsūyadō or Zenkonyado every night. Regarding his total cost, he says:
[Anthony's email address can be found on the Known Henro page.]
Sam Miller and Noah Zimmerman walked the trail in 2006, camped out every night. Regarding their costs, Sam wrote:
[Sam's and Noah's email addresses can be found on the Known Henro page.]
Where to sleep
Michi no Eki and other rest areas
There is an official web site for the Mich no Eki at www.skr.mlit.go.jp/road/rstation/all/alleki.html. It is in Japanese, but the main map will give you a general idea where the rest stops are located. If you click on a rest stop name, it brings up more specific information and a more detailed map that you can then compare with your mapbook to get an exact location.
There are other permanent rest areas along the trail besides the michi no eki, and these are marked on the maps with little green triangles. David Bolster points out, however, that, unlike the michi no eki, you won't always find benches at these rest areas.
Over the last half-dozen years the locals have been building a lot of rest huts around the island specifically for walking henro. A lot of walkers seem to now spend nights in these when they pass by at the right time of evening. The walls never come up to the roof so in rain you could get wet, but you will have a roof over your head and a bench to spread your sleeping bag on. Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide shows the location of all rest huts so it's fairly easy to find them.
Here's a typical rest hut, this one between Temples 60 and 61.
(Click on the image to enlarge it)
Train Stations and Bus Stops
As you can see on the map in the Public Transportation section of the Planning/How to Go page, trains do not run around the entire island, so don't count on finding open stations in the south. There will almost always be benches along the walls, sometimes a toilet, and usually electricity. In fact, one of the problems is that the lights stay on all night — which means lots of mosquitos. Some of the stations will be actual buildings where you can sleep indoors. It's here that you'll find the bathrooms and vending machines. Others, however, are nothing but shelters on the side of the tracks. While they offer benches to sleep on, and protection from the rain, there won't be anything else around.
Anthony Kimple (Known Henro) says that Ehime Prefecture has very nice bus stops for sleeping, and he was encouraged by the locals to spend the nights in them. He also says, "My one experience sleeping in a train station was awful, the lights stay on until the last passenger train had passed through at 12:05am, and a couple of freight trains in the middle of the night also woke me up."
I read about this option in Craig McLachlan's book, Tales of a Summer Henro, but no one else i have talked to has ever mentioned it. Since most schools have a fence around them, they are safe places to sleep, but, in my opinion, so is most everywhere else on Shikoku. You most likely won't find vending machines or benches here, but you'll find plenty of room to lay out a sleeping bag and tent.
Shrines and Temples
Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are places of worship and therefore considered sacred. It is not appropriate to camp there. Shintoism is a religion based on purity and cleanliness. Camping in the compound and possibly using the corners of the area as a toilet are not acceptable.
Don't camp at temples and shrines.
Public Parks and other areas
As i have said many times, the people of Shikoku are very supportive of walking henro so you can probably ask in any town and someone will point you to a place where you can set up your tent for the night. That may be the local park (which i don't think there are many of), a flat area on the edge of town, or someone's back yard. With a small one-man tent, you can stop almost anywhere for the night. It will only be in the most urban areas, like the cities of Tokushima, Kōchi, Matsuyama, and Takamatsu, that you will have trouble finding somewhere to set up your tent.
Anywhere else you can set up a tent
I get asked about tents so often that i wish i had an answer that would please those of you who want to use them nightly. Unfortunately i don't. The standard question is something like "I'm on a tight budget so will be camping out instead of staying in minshukus or ryokan. Will i be able to set up a tent every night?" I think most of you who write are hoping that i am going to write back saying, "Sure, no problem. Shikoku is the most remote of the four main islands and you can basically set your tent up anywhere you want." Or, at least something like, "While it is limited, you will find a campground somewhere everyday." But, unfortunately, every time i answer, i have to say, in short, "Using a tent every night is doable, but it is not going to be easy."
The truth is, 90% of this pilgrimage is walked on the side of a highway/road/street/lane/sidewalk. And, like in most countries, it is private property along the side of those highways/roads/streets/lanes/sidewalks. Can you set your tent up in someone's parking lot, driveway, front yard/side yard/back yard? No. In their rice field? No. On the paths between their rice fields? It's private property. Are they going to want you there? There are long stretches of the road where the hills on the right side of the road start climbing right at the edge of the road and the left side of the road drops into the water. There's little room to set up your tent there either. The main highways (where you will do a LOT of the walking) are busy with traffic all day and late into the night. It would be too dangerous to set up right next to the road on the shoulder.
It all depends on your opinion towards setting up a tent on private property without permission. And your willingness to risk having the police come by asking you what you are doing and will you please leave. Many towns will have schools, so you could set up in the school compound if you get there late enough and left early enough the next morning. Same with the public parks. Same with the area behind a local shrine.
Bugs and mosqitos are terrible during the summer. They're not a big concern during the day, as you're walking, but once you stop for the night, it gets pretty bad. If you plan on sleeping without a tent, invest in mosquito netting (you can buy just a face mask if you think the rest of your body will be covered) and some bug spray.
There are laundromats in all of the bigger towns, so if you can spare the time, plan on using them whenever you pass through town. Many Tsūyadō and Zenkonyado also have washing machines that you can use if you stay there. Otherwise, options that i have read of include the swimming pool at a school if that is where you spend the night (if you don't mind the smell of chlorine), any of the many streams and rivers, running water at a temple or other building you pass, and the standby of asking someone in town if you can use a pail of water. The locations of many laundromats are marked in the Miyazaki guidebook if that is what you are using to get around.
Most people i talk to say that the best option is to carry your own laundry detergent and to wash your clothes by hand in the sink of any public restroom you can find. Be warned, though, that these sinks are filthy when you get there. No one has the responsibility for keeping them clean. You'll have to clean them before you do your laundry, but look at this as a public service to the community. ;-) When done, hang the clothes on the back of your pack and they will dry as you walk. (Be sure to have safety pins on your packing list so you can attach the clothes) Or, do your laundry when you stop for the night and hang them up on tree branches overnight.
Hygiene and Bathing
Unless you want to smell pretty ripe for the few months you are on the road (which is unhealthy and will ruin any chance of talking to the people you meet) you are going to have to find somewhere to wash up each night. Showers are out of the question, but there are places to bath available. You can wash in the streams and rivers as you pass them, and of course the ocean is available for a quick dip when you are right on the coast. Some of the public schools also have swimming pools that would serve the same purpose. You could also take a sponge bath when you find running water at one of the temples, a gas stations, parks, etc.
Many of the Tsūyadō and Zenkonyado have showers, so this is one reason to search these out from time to time (see my list of free lodging on another page). Many/most onsen will allow you to use their bath facilities for as little as ¥500; (if you want to spend the night, however, that will increase to ¥10,000). One word of warning, though. Once you get hooked on the atmosphere and baths of these onsen, it will be very, very hard to get yourself to leave and back out on the road! And, while they are much rarer, there are still sentō (public bath houses) found here and there on Shikoku. I highly recommend the onsen and sentō — not just because Japanese baths are an experience from heaven, but because of the social experience while there. People seem to be much more relaxed and willing to talk when they are naked. You'll meet a wide variety of people, and have some great conversations at these places.
One issue that you will most assuredly have to deal with is finding a toilet every day. Here i can only suggest convenience stores, train stations, coffee shops, and at the temples themselves. In the very largest towns, i would think there is a toilet in the lobby area of any large hotel. In the more rural areas, the train stations will have no toilet as they are nothing other than unmanned single platforms where the train can stop. The vast majority of convenience stores seem to have toilets available for all to use. Also you will find a toilet at almost every gas station. Of course, when in the most rural areas mother nature is always available.
Phil Rodriguez, who lives in Japan, sent me a great email in which he outlines his experiences of hiking, camping out, and living on the cheap in Japan. It provides some very good information and can be read here.
Benjamin Schwartz (Known Henro) walked the henro michi in the summer of 2005 and provided this very good summary of how to camp out on the henro trail. He took 49 days from start to finish, with 8 extra days/nights in some places. He started by visiting Kōya-san, then walked around the henro michi, and finished by visiting the Shingon temple Tōji, in Kyōto.
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