TOKAMACHI, Niigata Prefecture–An abandoned school here will be reborn as a “glamping” (glamorous camping) site solely for use during winter in an area with some of the heaviest snow in Japan.

The idea is to broaden the appeal of the area and draw in prospective residents. Another hope is to encourage young people to love their hometown more.

Tokamachi city is extending a helping hand to the private-sector initiative.

Shuttered two years ago, Kaino Elementary School in Tokamachi’s Motoyashiki district is being redeveloped under the Setsugen Gakusha Project. A company set up by Tokamichi-based general contractor Maruyama Corp. is responsible for the project.

“We will be catering to local expectations to have the school, for which residents have deep affection, continue serving as a regional base while attracting people via a fresh approach,” said a Setsugen Gakusha Project representative.

The Setsugen Gakusha Project is renting the three-story building and its yard from Tokamachi city.

Former classrooms will be renovated into 10 accommodations furnished with tents. A shower facility, a store and a guest lounge are also expected to be created to help visitors enjoy camping with ease.

Guests can also set up tents on the snow-covered school yard.

A sauna is being considered to allow glampers to warm themselves up before jumping into the snow to cool down.


The central area of Tokamachi usually receives more than 2 meters of snow each winter season.

Some young individuals leave Tokamachi after tiring of removing so much snow, along with other difficulties in winter life there.

To shed negative perceptions of the snowy region, Tokamachi city organized its first contest for residential environment proposals for the town last year.

The aim was to create places that younger people would “feel like living at despite the heavy snowfall.”

Maruyama suggested the Setsugen Gakusha Project in the competition, and it won the top award in the life experience facility division.

A test was held in February this year where participants stayed in tents pitched in the snow-covered yard of the elementary school.

After the event received a good response, officials started working toward realizing the Setsugen Gakusha Project.

Kaino Elementary School had as many as 495 students in 1933 during its peak period. It was famed for its activities, such as eagerly practicing a musical instrument recorder to compete repeatedly in national championships.

But school enrollment fell to 27 students three years ago. It was closed in March 2021, ending its 147-year history.


The glamping facility is slated to open in mid-January, with reservations accepted from early November.

Summer-only campground operators and farmers with little to do in winter are expected to help the operations in efforts to mobilize local power in Tokamachi.

Tokamachi city has also started a crowdfunding campaign under the “furusato nozei” (hometown tax payment) program to assist in the commercialization of the Setsugen Gakusha Project.

The goal is to raise 5 million yen ($33,000) by Dec. 31.

Donors will be rewarded with gifts, including coupons for the glamping site.

For details on the drive, visit the hometown tax donation program website Furusato Choice, in Japanese, at (

published 2023-10-29 00:01:52