Kamikochi in Nagano’s Rainy Season: The Zen of Mist and Colors of Jumpsuits

July 4th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities

If you have come to Nagano for hiking during the summer months’ rainy season you are in store for some of the lushest green vegetation and mistiest peaks of the year. So don’t let potentially in climate weather stop you from lacing up your hiking boots.

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In late July, fellow Go Nagano Blogger Tom Jones led me and friends around some of Kamikochi National Park’s day trip treasures. Both Saturday and Sunday were spent under light rain showers which meant no crowds, heightened colors, and forests of sound.

Below are some quick recommendations for those on limited time in a rainy Kamikochi park.

Things to do in the rain:

1) To Escape the rain:

Kamikochi Visitor Center’s Photo Exhibit

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kamikochivistorscenterKamikochi has an information center full of maps, facility descriptions, weather updates, and other information near the bus terminal, but the best place for history, culture, and Kamikochi multi-media is the visitor center just five minutes further down the trail. The vistor center’s photography showcase features local photographers like Yukio Tabuchi- the botanist and photographer who also has a museum dedicated to his work in Nagano’s Azumino city. The exhibition’s high quality prints vary by photographer and time period, some dating from the early 20th century, but each conveys common spirit of nature and love of the Japanese mountains.

2) To Enjoy the rain:

Hike to Myojin Pond’s Natural Rock Garden

The one hour walk/hike to Myojin pond is perfect in light rain because the well maintained trail is relatively quick, very flat, and culturally ornamented. The short hike winds across Myojin bridge to Hotaka Inner Shrine and Myojin pond: where a Hein decorated canoe is docked in anticipation of the annual October 8th Hotaka Shrine festival. The highlight, for me however, is the small islands of rocks and trees beyond the shrine.

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Anchored in Myojin lake, this natural collection of rocks is often compared to Japanese zen gardens for their seemingly deliberate spacing and arrangement. Each rock stands in clusters or independently but unquestionably individually. Like a cocktail party contained to a living room, each rock could be tacked with a name tag and character.

The distinctly Japanese landscape is particularly compelling in light rain and heavy mist, which hang on the winding tree branches and seeps over the moss covered rocks. Murals in tea houses, the zen rock gardens of Kyoto temples, and the distinctive composition of Japanese landscape brush work surely draw inspiration from naturally occurring elements of Japanese vegetations and landscape like Myojin’s solemnly spacious rocks.

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This is not a hike for those looking for high altitude views, but the trail parallels the Azusa river across the backdrop of Mt. Myojindake

3) To Relax and Recharge:

Soak in an Onsen

If you manage a walk or hike, instead of just drying off- spend some time soaking in one of Kamikochi’s on site hot spring onsens.

There is a simple, clean and most importantly: hot indoor bath and onsen (or ofuro) near the camp grounds for those pitching a tent for the night. The baths close at 7:00p.m. however and are not open in the morning until the afternoon.

4) Shinshu Natural Beer:

Porters and Ales

Most souvenir shops in Kamikochi stock a special three pack of Shinshu Natrual beer. If you have time for a nice drink: this beer is some of the best in the prefecture.   The three pack is 1200 yen and don’t forget: if you drink the beer in Kamikochi – you have to carry the beer cans out OR return it to the shop you purchased it from to dispose of.

Gear Note:

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If you happen to own a brightly colored two piece hiking suit – don’t miss this chance to bring it and blend in, but if you are sadly without colorful all weather gear -don’t fear- there are still plenty of options to enjoy Kamikochi if you hit rain unprepared. But just in case:

1)For afternoon or short day hikes:

Rain jackets are obviously advantageous but umbrellas are surprisingly helpful and not burdensome on many of the shorter trails which are comfortable enough to be walkways. (Umbrellas are available at visitor gift shops for 500 yen).

2) For Campers:

In addition to your own tent with rain fly – a ground tarp would be a luxury but a sleeping pad or matt is a must.

3) Shoes:

Boots are always nice for hiking, but grab a pair of water proof sandals for after hiking. (You can get croc knock offs for 600 yen in the camp site restaurant/mini store).

4) Left Luggage:

If you find yourself with extra luggage or cameras etc. you’d like to protect from the rain – drop by the Left Luggage window in the bus terminal center. Price is per day and by bag size: large bags like hiking packs are about 500 yen for example. If you are leaving that day: be careful the counter closes at 5:00pm.

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