Japan is an amazing country to travel. It’s East meets West, tradition meets trends, and culture meets nature.
I spent a month in Japan and one of my favorite areas were the Japanese Alps. I traveled around the Alps for 6 days during which I visited Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go, Takayama, Kamikochi and Matsumoto.
Where to Go in the Japanese Alps
According to Chinese landscape theory a perfect garden should have 6 attributes: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. The Kenruko-en Garden in Kanazawa has them all and it’s beautiful indeed!
Also visit the old samurai neighborhoods Nagamachi and Katamachi take a stroll along the river bank.
Shirakawa-go is a cute village in the Japanese alps with very special building style. The wooden gassho-zukuri farmhouses have roofs made from thick layers of reed. Some of the houses in the village are more than 250 years old!
You can stroll around the village and hike up to the viewpoint for a great view over the village and the valley.
A little outside the center of Takayama you find the Hida Folk Village. In the village, there is a collection of old houses in building styles typical for the region. The houses were carefully taken apart at their original site and rebuilt in the Hida village, so people can see their unique designs.
Kamikochi is a 1500-meter-high valley of surrounded by mountains over 3000 meters and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life!
The thing to do in Kamikochi is hiking! There are several hikes (you can buy a map at the tourist center), I recommend hiking to Dakesawa hut (3-4 hours) and the top of Mount Yakedake (5 hours).
The Dakesawa hike is one of the few hikes that opens early in season (May), the trail goes up to the Dakesawa mountain hut (at 2216 meters).
The hike to Mount Yakedake is a very adventurous trail that involves climbing up ladders, steep steps and loose rocks on a very steep slope on the last part to the top (at 2455 meters).
If you are in Matsumoto, you must visit Matsumoto Castle. The wooden castle was built in 1504 and is nicknamed the ‘Crow Castle’, because of the black exterior.
The secret of Matsumoto Castle is the hidden floor between the 2nd and 4th level. From the outside, it looks like Matsumoto Castle has five stories because the hidden 3rd floor doesn’t have any windows. So, there are actually six floors in the castle! The intention behind the secret floor was to mislead enemies about the number of defenders in the castle.
In the castle, there is an interesting museum and if you climb to the top you have a wonderful view over the garden and the city.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time and we had to travel back to Tokyo from Matsumoto to catch our flight. But if you have time, I highly recommend to visit Nagano. Plus I would love to do the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route one day. I am already plotting another trip to Japan so perhaps I can fit it into our next itinerary…
Budget Information for the Highlights of the Japanese Alps
- Kenruko-en Garden in Kanazawa costs ¥310 per person.
- Nagamachi, Katamachi and walking along the river bank in Kanazawa is free!
- Shirakawa-go village is free!
- Takayama city center is free!
- Hida Folk Village in Takayama costs ¥700 per person.
- Hiking in Kamikochi is free! Do buy a hiking map though, this costs only ¥100. Available at the tourist information.
- Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto costs ¥610 per person.
- In the Japanese Alps the best way to travel around is by bus. Below you can find information about traveling in the Alps and the associated costs.
Transport Information for the Highlights of the Japanese Alps
|Kanazawa station||Shirakawago||Bus||¥1850 pp|
|Takayama||Hirayu onsen||Bus||¥2600 pp|
|Kamikochi||Shinshimashima train station||Bus||¥2450 per person|
|Shinshimashima train station||Matsumoto train station||Train|
If you want to visit more sites in the Japanese Alps (such as the Shinhotaka Ropeway, the Gero Onsen or the Norikura Higlands) it’s worth to look into getting a travel pass. The Wide Alps Free Passport (¥10,290 per person) gives you 4 days of unlimited bus travel around the region. More information can be found here on the Alpico Group website.
My name is Lotte, born and raised in the Netherlands and trying to explore as much of the world as possible! Up until now I lived in Barcelona, London and Amsterdam and visited 34 countries.
I am a banker turned blogger and write about my adventures on Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog. It’s my mission to inspire other people to travel and help them plan their trips! In 2017 my husband and I are making a round the world trip, we don’t know where we’ll end up yet and how long we’ll be traveling. Probably until the money runs out ;-).