Urban Camping Challenge: How to DIY the glamping experience in Tokyo

my urban camping/ balcony glamping setup

We’re now an unsaid and probably unforeseeable amount of months into COVID related restrictions, lockdown, travel bans, and general uncertainty. The novelty of zoom drinking parties has long been forgotten, in the memory bin along with dalgona coffee, DIY sourdough and the naive but admirable home-bound self-improvement projects

So what’s next? What can we do in a time of both listlessness and semi-inspired boredom? Something outdoorsy would be good; there’s nothing like a little nature to soothe the soul and recharge us. But when the idea of traveling is still fraught with uncertainty, what’s the solution? Urban camping!

When the team at Tokyo Survival Channel #TokyoChallenge-d me to try and set up an urban glamping experience in the city, I jumped at the idea. Not only would it get me outdoors, while allowing me the creature comforts of home, it was also the first assignment for them where I wouldn’t have to stay awake for 24 hours, a win-win. So, I dusted off my tent and went on the hunt for a rooftop. 

view from the balcony overlooking a busy train line

Location scouting

What you need most for an urban camping experience is what arguably Tokyo offers its residents the least ofspace. Given that many inner-city, single dweller apartments are generally about as big as the interior of your two-person tent, finding an outdoor space attached to an apartment bigger than said tent put the ‘challenge’ in #TokyoChallenge. 

The candidate space list wasn’t helped by the fact that I needed somewhere that also offered some privacy. A little summer respite shade was also a must as I was setting up camp in the middle of the most sweltering of Tokyo summers. The day was a casual ‘feels like’ 44°C and didn’t want to sizzle up on the concrete rooftops like the human equivalent of an egg being cracked on a steamy hot sidewalk. 

setting up my urban glamping tent

I was kindly offered space on a balcony that had it all. Sitting adjacent from Yoyogi Park, the semi (cicada) orchestra emanating from the park was in full swing, and the balcony itself was flaked with green, offering the closest I could get to real country-living style camping I think I’d be able to find in the inner city. The only major drawback was the positioning right above a very busy train line, which had the potential to disturb my sleep, but as I later came to figure out, that wasn’t going to be an issue at all. 

The setup

After around four hours on my bike in the ‘feels like’ 44°C heat, collecting all the last-minute necessities for this challenge, I was exhausted, hot, a little grumpy, and prone to easy fits of frustration, the suitable state for the authentic post-travel camping set up experience. Given the weather’s sheer brutality, I had to wait until around 6:30 pm in the evening to safely set up home camp, which by then also meant I was racing the clock to get the tent erected in time to nab a few sunset tent photos for this article. Sorry to say, but I failed in my twilight race, so you’ll just have to look at the ones shot in the dark.

setting up urban glamping tent in 40 degree heat

Who knew setting up a tent on a balcony would be so difficult?! My tent has been with me through muddy music festivals, and we’ve gotten along just fine. Even last year, during a typhoon-inflicted techno music festival, when I was in a ‘slightly inebriated state’ with the rain pouring down after a near 24 straight hours of partying, we had no issues. No holes, no injuries, and everything managed to fit just fine. But setting up a tent on a balcony in Tokyo? Forget it. There were near tears from me, a tear in the tent, and plenty of sweat. After trying outside, to unsuccessfully get it up, I decided to erect the tent indoors and then take it back outside.

setting up urban glamping tent in 40 degree heat is harder than it looks

setting up urban glamping tent in 40 degree heat... much much harder than it looks

… And we’re done

One it was up, we were in action! All I needed now were the rest of my camping essentialsbeer, fairy lights for ambiance, a couple of fake palms for that faux-tropical feel, watermelon, two chairs (one for my melon), and two faux-patches of grass that I could rub my feet on.

hello balcony glamping paradise hello balcony glamping paradise

Camping activities: s’mores… in summer?!

To be honest, I do have the relevant equipment and do enjoy camping to a degree, but 90% of my tent experiences have been music festival related. So I don’t really know exactly what regular people do when they’re camping if they’re not using their tent for passing out, muddied up to their ankles ten drinks deep at 3 am. Still, from some recess of my brain, I seem to have conflated s’mores with camping, so without too much analysis, I decided that was going to be an integral part of my summer camping experience.

s'mores are a great urban camping snack
I know I already know my mentions of the weather sound like a cop-out for doing things half-heartedly, but the evening’s wind was intense. Far too intense for my tealight makeshift campfire to withstand, and far too powerful for a fire of any real substance or risk burning down the tent, balcony, and entire apartment. So, this evening s’mores were going to be a strictly indoors affair, cooked over tea lights on the kitchen table. 

this is how you make s'mores... right?
I can’t blame the weather for the shoddiness of my s’mores quality and authenticity, though. I think I’ll just have to blame that on being Australians’mores aren’t in our culture. The only thing we toast by the fire is the bottom of our thongs (what we call flip flops, not the underwear), and maybe our eyebrows when we lean in a little too close.

roasting s'mores over tea light like a champ

Rather than feeling guilty about not being able to truly replicate the camping experience, I thought it’s better to shift the situation through the angle of ‘positive thinking’ and chalk up to the benefit of apartment glamping. Cooking inside isn’t a cop-out, it’s part of the glamping experience. And nothing puts the glam into glamping more than enjoying the luxuries of living indoors. Or something like that. Are you convinced? I hope so.

this is totally how s'mores are made... urban camping/ glamping style

A small confession…

I was thinking about lying about this following fact, making up some tale about how well/ poorly I slept outside, the refreshing ambiance of sleeping under the stars, the nocturnal activities of the city’s wildlife, and how I met a friendly tanuki. But after mulling it over, I decided honesty is always the best policy. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t stay outside!

I tried sleeping in the tent, but 40 degree heat made it impossible
Inside the tent, I rolled out a yoga mat, plonked down a pillow, and decided to curl up sans-blanket because the weather made it redundant. I tried and tried, but the heat on this particular day was so unbearable. So at some point in the evening I had to call it quits, and found myself stretched out, very awkwardly on the two-man sofa in the cool, air conditioned room just a sliding glass door away from the tent. I’m sorrymy heart was in the right place, but my will and my body were weak. Plus, access to an aircon is the epitome of glamping, right? 

Morning, let the real glamping begin (finally)

Awake at about 5:15 am, I was motivated to get the most out of this glamping experience, given that the evening’s activities were a bit of a bust. Also, I knew another absolute scorcher of a day was in store, so if I wanted to enjoy some leisurely glamping-adjacent activities, I’d have to get a move on and do them before the temperature hit boiling point. 

Feeling in need of a pick-up, I popped on a refreshing blue face mask and brewed a coffee using the inside espresso machine (it’s glamping, ok!?) and watched the world wake up. 

early morning face mask and espresso for real glamping/ urban camping meditation app and face mask to get in the right head space for urban camping/ glamping

Next, it was time to power up the Headspace app and try a little morning meditation followed by some yoga. I swear that although the photos may look awkward, morning yoga and meditation are actually quite beneficial habits I picked up doing COVID lockdown while in a state of social media-induced guilt. I could definitely work on my downward dog.

this morning needed a downward dog

Morning routine clocked, it was time to enjoy the rest of the morning in true glamping fashion, sitting on a dog bed in a tropical shirt, eating my watermelon and reading. I’m probably not going to get customers interested in my new makeshift glamping facilities, dog bed and all, but a little bit of doing nothing on an early weekday morning felt like a treat. 

enjoying my watermelon on a dog bed on a balcony while urban camping/ glamping

The wrap-up

It reminded me of the importance of mixing things up…doing something a little different and silly just for its sake, and the joy that comes from frivolous projects.

When I was first approached for this challenge, I had grand illusions of setting up a stunning campsite on the open roof of another friend’s apartment, simultaneously enjoying the simple pleasures of the great outdoors and the impressive view of Tokyo, with the convenience of apartment living. 

What I did learn though, is that things don’t always go to planthe weather, logistics, and timing meant that I had to go for plan B and make do with what I could. While this doesn’t read like a useful guide on inner-city glamping, and I don’t have any handy recipes for you (my s’mores were terrible, but I ate them anyway) this exercise does have a takeaway. It reminded me of the importance of mixing things up…doing something a little different and silly just for its sake, and the joy that comes from frivolous projects.

We might not be as locked down as we were. However, we’re still restricted in many ways. Thanks to COVID, many of us are spending more time on our computers, growing ever more exhausted during zoom meetings, more time on SNS scrolling as a way to pass the time, and if you’re like me, a little more time staring at the walls of your apartment. But having a project is cathartic, and it’s not one that has to be productive in the material sense to be emotionally productive and creatively refreshing.

I had a lot of fun doing this challenge even though it was, in many ways, a failure, which, I guess, on a macro level makes it a success? If you’re even flirting with the idea of urban camping, I’d say DO IT! But just wait until the summer dies down a little.

WRITER: Lucy Dayman

Lucy Dayman

Instagram : @lucy.dayman
Twitter: @L_Dayman
Website : Y+L PROJECTS

Lucy is an Australian writer who's been living in Japan for a few years now. She's the co-founder of Tokyo based creative communications agency Y+L Projects, but she can safely say her biggest achievement of 2019 was spending 24 hours in an izakaya without getting kicked out.

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