Written by Merilwen Horseback
Stargazing Near Tokyo! Camping On Mount Dodaira, Saitama
Mount Dodaira in Saitama is a great destination for outdoor activities. In just one place, you can enjoy three fun summer activities: camping (and BBQ) on the mountain, viewing the city nightscape from above, and stargazing!
The best season for star-watching in the northern hemisphere is summer when the center of our galaxy emerges above the horizon. If you watch from a place that is dark enough, the Milky Way ("Ama-no-gawa" in Japanese) is clearly visible to the naked eye. It is just like sparkling ribbon lying across the dome of stars.
Located in the western half of Saitama prefecture, Mount Dodaira can be reached in just a two-hour drive from Tokyo. It is an ideal destination for a one day trip or to spend the weekend. It is also the perfect place for a summer escape to the mountain, where you can enjoy the cool air and relax under the starry sky!
Lodging or Camping?
You don’t need to worry about accommodation on top of this mountain. Once you arrive, you will see it offers many options, and you can choose depending on the number of people in your group and your budget.
The most comfortable option is the private “apartment” for five, which is located right inside the observatory. To occupy this room for one night can cost up to 170 dollars during peak season.
The more affordable options include renting a Ger (Mongolian yurt) for six to ten people, a bungalow or a Japanese-style lodge house for four.
Japanese-style lodge house with the twilight reflecting in its windows
Moreover, the site also offers a perfect option for backpackers who bring their own tents. With only 30 dollars/slot per day, plus a facility use fee of 5 dollars/person, you can set up your tent and freely use the facilities, namely the bathroom, toilet, gas range, cookware and dinnerware.
There's nothing liking dining together in an open tent during the summer! But beware of mosquitoes!
If you plan to stay only during the day (from 10 AM to 17 PM), you only need to pay the facility fee (5 dollars/adult, 3 dollars/child).
Unfortunately, pets are not allowed on the camping site, so please leave them home in someone’s care. After you've finished dining, please wash the dishes and throw away your trash.
The View from the Mountain Top
Dodaira Observatory against the twilight sky
From the camping site, the summit of Mount Dodaira can be reached after a short walk. Here on the summit you will find the Dodaira Observatory.
Spectacular view of sunset above a sea of clouds from Dodaira Observatory
This observatory was built in 1962 and has been renewed recently. However, now it mostly serves as a lodging facility. Its 91-cm Reflector Telescope is used for star-gazing only twice a month, usually on the second and fourth Friday night of each month. If you would like to use the telescope, you need to book in advance.
City nightscape of stunning beauty, as seen from Mount Dodaira
The clear air on Mount Dodaira made it the ideal location for a star observation site. From the top of the mountain, you can extend your gaze all the way to the far horizon, and with Mount Dodaira’s altitude of 876 m, that means all the way to Tokyo which is 100 km away!
Stargazing on Mount Dodaira
You just need to turn away from the light of the cities below and let your eyes adapt to the darkness. Little by little, you will see billions of billions of celestial bodies appear before your eyes.
If you have a telescope, practice your skill at using the star map and finding the position of a star
At night, most of the lights around the camping ground will be turned off. The mountain enshrouded in the dark will be the perfect location for your star-searching adventure. You can observe the sky right on the camping ground, or go to the Observatory where it's completely dark.
Good news! You won't be needing a star map to define the position of the famous Summer Triangle. Just search for the three most brilliant stars in the sky that form a triangle across the Milky Way. These are Deneb in the Cygnus constellations (also known as "The Swan"; a part of it forms The Northern Cross), Vega in the Lyra constellation ("The Harp"), and Altair in the Aquila constellation ("The Eagle"). Imagine three lines connecting these three first-magnitude stars, and there you have it: the Summer Triangle!
Let's take the opportunity this summer to admire the magnificence of our beloved Milky Way. Being just 100 km away from the metropolis, Mount Dodaira is a great destination for nature lovers who can enjoy a whole weekend there.
On top of Mount Dodaira, beautiful and cozy lodgings, a sky full of brilliant stars at night, and a magnificent view of the metropolitan nightscape await you!