OSAKA -- As coronavirus cases spread across Japan, shuttering schools and upending vacation plans, some people are taking refuge in an unlikely place: the great outdoors.
Campgrounds around Osaka and Kobe report a sharp rise in reservations. The Snow Peak Minoh campground in the mountains north of here says bookings more than doubled in February compared with a year earlier, and are up by about half this month.
Sleeping in a tent wasn't the first choice of activities last week for 36-year-old Ryusuke Kato, who works in Osaka.
"The concert I was planning to see was canceled, so I thought I'd try solo camping," Kato said by a crackling fire. "I wanted to avoid crowds. Here, there's plenty of space between people so I thought I'd be safe."
The campground has taken its own precautions against infection. The shower house has been shuttered, and the check-in area is frequently disinfected. "We've had hardly any cancellations owing to the coronavirus," a manager said.
A couple from Kobe staying at the campground with their primary-school-age son made a reservation as soon as they found out the child's classes had been canceled -- part of a nationwide school closure urged by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"We thought it would be stressful for our son to be cooped up at home all day," the mother said.
For some, the outdoors doubles as an office. Taku Kitaura, who works in the IT industry, brought his laptop to the campground as part of Japan's growing ranks of teleworkers.
"As long is I have a network connection there's no problem," Kitaura, 38, said, adding that the change of pace was helping him "get more work done." He even took part in a teleconference from his tent.
While it was unclear whether campgrounds elsewhere in Japan were seeing similar increases in visitors, the outdoor bustle in the Osaka-Kobe area stands out in comparison with the sufferings of hotels.
The Kyukamura Minami-Awaji resort shows this contrast. Located on a peninsula southwest of Kobe, the site has both a hotel and a campground. Reservations for rooms are down 40% in March, but the camp is almost totally booked, particularly on weekends, a manager said.
The Japan Auto Camping Federation said it has not received reports of rises in cancellations from any of its roughly 300 member campgrounds nationwide. The organization advised members in February to urge guests to take precautions such as disinfecting with alcohol.
Meanwhile, hotels around Japan are slashing prices as they struggle to fill rooms. The greater Osaka area has been hit hard by a drop in Chinese and South Korean tourists.
Indoor entertainment venues have closed in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Live music venues have suffered after a number of infections were tied to concerts in Osaka.
"The outdoors offers easier protection against droplet infection because air circulation is better," said Kazunori Tomono, a professor of infections medicine at Osaka University Hospital.
Even so, it is important to take sensible precautions, such as using multiple tongs to eat from the barbecue, Tomono said.