The day our kids’ summer vacation started, we took off for our annual family summer trip. Destination: Kamikochi, the gateway to the northern Japanese Alps.
Even with the weather not cooperating and the sky being overcast, we were still treated to awe-inspiring views of the majestic mountains. From our first stop, Taisho-ike Pond, we could see always-steaming Mt. Yake-dake. And from the from the iconic Kappa-bashi Bridge in central Kamikochi, we could gaze up at massive Mt. Okuhotake-dake and the surrounding peaks. And the temperature was so nice and cool. Where we live, Togura Kamiyamada, the elevation is 370 meters, and the mountain behind us (Kamuriki-yama, the mountain from the famous Obasute-yama legend) is 1,252 meters. The Kamikochi valley is situated way up at 1,500 meters, making for cool days even in the middle of summer.
And the mountains that raise up above the valley are simply awesome. Yake-dake (2,455 meters and still puffing volcanic ash) and the 3,000+ meter peaks on the north side, and 2,646-meter Mt. Kasumizawa-dake & 2,449 meter Mt. Roppyaku-zan on the south tower over the valley. For people with the time and courage, the mountains beg to be explored. For everyone else, there is still so much beauty and nature to be enjoyed around the basin below with the Azusa River flowing down the middle. I have been to Kamikochi several times, and one of my favorite parts is the Azusa River, with its turquoise blue water. This time, I was excited to finally be able to share my love of the river with our kids, and they, too, enjoyed it.
In fact, looking around we saw many other families bringing their kids to Kamikochi. There were families from northern Japan, western Japan, even the southern islands. In fact, there were a number of travellers from Hong Kong, Korea and Europe, too. I think the need to experience and have your kids experience the wonder of nature is universal!
For visitors that are just staying down in the valley, I highly suggest taking a walk along the Azusa River. The Kamikochi Information Center by Kappa-bashi offers nature walks, one in the morning to Taisho-ike, and one in the early afternoon to Myojin-ike Pond. The walks cost 500 yen to cover insurance. For more info, the Center’s tel# is 0263-95-2433.
This time, we ran into cloudy weather so we couldn’t enjoy Kamikochi’s beautiful sunset and sunrise, and the stars at night must be spectacular. The valley can get pretty crowded during the afternoon with daytrippers, but after the tour busses leave in the evening, Kamikochi is at its quietest and most peaceful. That means you simply have to take the time to spend the night at Kamikochi. We had the pleasure of staying at Nishiitoya. Okuhara-san, the owner, kindly gave us all kinds of information about the Alps. For our room, we choose one of the Japanese style tatami mat rooms, but they also have western style with beds, as well as an annex with hostel-type rooms. And the meal was short on seafood, and long on Nagano’s regional cuisine. We enjoyed soaking in the bath, but it would probably even have been better if the clouds weren’t obscuring the 3000-meter peaks normally visible from the picture windows.
From all across Japan and the world, travellers are coming to Kamikochi to enjoy the spectacular nature. A trip here makes a perfect summer vacation.
www.kamikochi.or.jp is the official website for Kamikochi.