At some point in time, being a photographer in Japan means you’re going to go and shoot stock-like photos of Mt. Fuji – it can’t be avoided, no matter how hard one might try.

Fumotoppara is a large auto-camp site in the Fumoto area, 16km northwest of Mt. Fuji.  An unspoilt jaw-dropping view of Mt. Fuji more than makes up for the rather featureless muddy farmland that the site offers.

I’ve come out here at the start of the camping season to try out my new Montbell 2-man Chronos Dome/Mini HX tarp set-up.  All my other equipment is from Snowpeak and although their products are great, size and weight are a result of how the product turned out and for the majority of their products, clearly not something at the top of their to-do list during the design process.

I wanted something small, light and quick to assemble and I think the Chronos Dome is a great option if you’re using your own transport (unless it’s a bicycle).  For something more tuned to backpacking, you’ll need to spend much more money than the twenty-odd thousand yen I paid for this one.  Quick assembly thanks to it’s pole system which consists of 4 poles all connected to a central hub.  You simply hold the centre piece up in the air and the poles unfold and self-assemble, it’s pretty cool.  The pole system is kind of an exo-skeleton in that the inner tent hangs from it and is not supported by it.  Additionally as the end of the poles are designed to be inserted into the ground sheet, you could take this to the beach minus the inner tent and you’ll have an airy sun shield instead of a tent.

I’ve never been a fan of the type of tents that block off all the wind and enclose your living/cooking area.  I like to be outside when cooking but in certain seasons and certain locations the weather is too changeable and unless you have a large enough vestibule to cook in, you’re probably going to get wet so I always take a tarp.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Solo set-up: Montbell Chronos and Mini HX tarp.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

With absolutely no other distractions you can sit back and just marvel at this mountain.  The gentle inclination of the slopes stretching out for miles give it an almost ‘by design’ look.  They’re misleading, tricking you into thinking you could walk backwards up the mountain without breaking a sweat.  A modest elevation with a huge footprint, its  gargantuan mass takes some time to really sink in.  But the slope contours are perfect, like the lines on an Aston Martin DB9; you could argue the contours are the main focus of some of Hokusai’s paintings of the mountain, especially Gaifu Kaiser, meaning ‘Fine Wind, Clear Morning’.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Pretty good view to unzip your tent to.

The main office is near the entrance and there you can buy charcoal, wood, gas, batteries, washing liquid etc, but there is nowhere to buy food or drinks on site and the nearest supermarket is about a 5km drive.  Running down the centre of the site from the office towards Mt. Fuji is a road (for cars so they don’t constantly drive over the grass and make the whole place muddy) scattered with running water points and sinks so you are never more than about 200m away from water no matter where you set up in the site.  Just remember the more tempted you are to pitch closer to the mountain for that unobstructed view, the further you’ll be away from the toilets and in wet conditions it gets very muddy, very quickly, kind of like Glastonbury Festival in the rain.

Needless to say there’s good opportunity to shoot the mountain.  Sunrise, sunset, the golden and blue hours, the changeable weather conditions all contribute to the visual lottery as to what you’ll get to see.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

View of Mt. Fuji from pond area on site.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

It gets active with wildlife at night.  Deer and rabbits mostly from what I could tell the next day, but they run around the site in herds and it can get pretty loud, like stampede loud.  On this first visit to the site I was cooking dinner when I heard a stampede just as it darkness fell.  I had no idea what it was at the time but shining a torch out into the darkness I just saw a lot of eyes looking back at me!

I’ve set up about half way between the main office and the end of the site and there is nobody else around for at least 300m. It felt much wilder than being in one of the more controlled auto-camp sites that feel more like camping in someones very well kept garden.  Night time temperatures dropped to about -1℃ but the days were sunny and warm.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

I decided to shoot the sunrise in the morning.  I wanted something for one of the agencies I work for and something with a human element in it is going to work better than just the mountain itself I felt so I consulted The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a service available on any computer or iOS/Android phone to get precise sunrise times regardless of topography.

Not simply the time the sun is 1 degree above the horizon, (published sunrise times) but the exact time the sun would peak out from behind the north face of Mt. Fuji relative to my position.  TPE knows the topography of the land so it can take into account the surrounding terrain features and tell you when there will be first and last light exactly for your position regardless of where you happen to be on earth.  Must have for landscape and architectural photographers, TPE is my go-to for this kind celestial data.  To get a better idea of what it can do in terms of planning a shoot in relation to topography, there is a good introduction to it here.

Fumotoppara campsite is large enough that in the off-seasons you can pretty much be by yourself even if there are a number of other campers at the site.  In high-season though, it turns into a sea of cars and canopies that I certainly would avoid at all costs.  The site as I’ve mentioned is pretty featureless with a tree-line to the south being the only protection from the wind.  If you fancy the idea of an unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji there are lots of places, of which Fumotoppara is only one.  It’s on my off-season list though for the reasons already mentioned and I like it for two other reasons:  It’s relatively cheap and the check-in/out times are very generous.  The check-out of 2pm, has to be the latest check-out time I’ve ever come across in any kind of accommodation or campsite.  It makes packing up so much more relaxed and stress free.  You can cook lunch and still pack up in time, it’s like an extra day at the site.  I’ve never understood the usual check-out time of 10 or 11am and check-in time of 2pm for a lot of campsites here – the pitches don’t need vacuuming like a hotel room would and I’ve never once seen a campsite owner go around the site after people have checked-out to inspect the pitch for left behind rubbish or for any other reason so it leaves you wondering why campsites need a buffer time like hotels.  It probably is designed this way because many people packing up a family set-up or even 2 person set-up will gladly pay the extra day-camp fee so they can check out later and the campsite makes an extra profit on top of what you’ve already paid.  I know I’ve extended my check-out time more times than I care to recall and this reason alone makes Fumotoppara appealing to me, especially for one night trips.

Obviously camping is about being outside and free and all that good stuff, but there are a lot of campsites with a lot of structure to them which make you feel more  like being in a government building than the great outdoors.  Some sites’ pricing structures read like mobile phone payment plans.  Some sites have you separate your rubbish into extreme fine detail.  One site even told us that we had to take our dog’s feces home with us.  Yeah, no shit!  Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The site also has a daytime access system.  Often photography and film shoots going on too due to the serenity of the place.  The daytime access is 500 yen for the day up to 5pm or 300 yen for up to two hours.  In theory then you could pay an extra 300 yen and extend your check-out time to 16:00, although depending on how busy it is, you might have to have all your stuff pretty much packed up by 14:00.
Fumotoppara Campsite

  • Check-in: 08:30
  • Check-out 14:00
  • Clean toilets and washing area
  • Water points and sinks scattered conveniently around the site
  • Featureless terrain
  • Good ops for photographing Mt. Fuji
  • Paragliding is popular in the area – you can reserve with a nearby operator