Kamikochi is an idyllic valley high up in the Northern Japanese Alps. The sight of the crystal clear waters of the Azusa River streaming under the photogenic (and much photographed) wooden Kappa Bridge surrounded by lush green forests with the 3000-meter class peaks towering in the background is one of the most beautiful scenes in all of Japan. In order to not spoil the wilderness, only a handful of lodges and shops (centered around Kappa Bridge) have been allowed and private cars are prohibited. For nature lovers, Kamikochi is a must-see.
Nature Walk along the Azusa River Basin
From Taisho Pond to the Tokusawa hollow, the Kamikochi basin stretches for approx. 6 km with Kappa Bridge and the bus terminal roughly in the middle. A stroll around the center could be done in 1-2 hours while a full hike from Kappa Bridge to Myojin Pond, crossing the Azusa River and walking downriver to Taisho Pond would take 3-4 hours. However, spending the night is highly recommended so as to be able to take a quiet evening or early morning stroll without the hordes of day-trippers.
Kamikochi’s highlights, from Taisho Pond on, are as follows:
- Taisho Pond, formed when the Azusa River was dammed following an eruption of the nearby volcano, Mt. Yakedake. Trees flooded in the process stand as monoliths in the lake.
- Hotaka & Tashiro Bridges, trailhead for the Mt. Nishi-Hotakadake peak and Mt. Yakedake, the volcano.
- Teikoku (Imperial) Hotel, an opulent lodge.
- Weston Monument, on the far side of the river, dedicated to Walter Weston (1861-1940), a missionary from England who introduced Japan to mountaineering as a sport.
- Bus Terminal, Visitor Information, Visitor Center, Campground.
- Kappa Bridge, the afore-mentioned bridge that is a symbol of Kamikochi.
- Myojin Pond, a secluded pond (300 yen entrance fee); location of Hotaka Shrine and the legendary Kamonji-goya Hut that serves river fish grilled over the irori hearth for lunch.
- Tokusawa, campground and lodge; trailhead for Yarigatake (Mt. Yari).
Seriously Rewarding Mountain Climbing
Kamikochi serves as the starting point for some of the morest popular Northern Alps climbs. Here are just a few:
- Mt. Yakedake (2455 m), active volcano, 4 hours up starting by the Hotaka Bridge.
- Mt. Nishi-Hotakadake (2909 m), from the Hotaka Bridge to the Nishi-Hotaka mountain hut near (4 hours) followed by an additional 3 hours to the summit. Alternatively, from the hut you can cross over to the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway for descending to the Gifu Prefecture side.
- Mt. Yari (3180 m), known as the “Matterhorn of Japan” for its sharp crag of a peak, 7-8 hours up from Tokusawa.
There is a series of mountain huts along the Alps making overnight hikes and multi-day hikes possible, for those with the time, energy and the will.
Want More of the Northern Alps?
If you like Kamikochi, try these other two locations: Norikura Kogen (highlands), an alpine village at the base of Mt. Norikuradake (3026 m), an outdoor adventure mecca, both in summer (trekking, mountain biking) and winter (skiing, snow shoeing); and Shirahone Onsen, a hot spring resort nestled in a secluded valley, famous for its milky-white mineral water. Both can be reached by busses from Shin-Shimashima. (2 and 4-day passes are available.)
If by car, from Sawando, go east 2 km for Route 84 to Norikura, or west 1 km for Route 300 to Shirahone.
By Public Transportation
From Matsumoto take the Matsumoto Dentetsu train to the end of the line, Shin-Shimashima (30 min., 680 yen) then transfer to a bus to Kamikochi (1 hr. 15 min., 2000 yen). Alternatively, during peak season Alpico offers busses straight from Matsumoto Station (2600 yen o.w., 4600 yen r.t.)
From Matsumoto IC on the Nagano Expy, take Route 158 west 33 km (45 min.) to Sawando, the closest you can go.Park there and hop on a bus (30 min., 1025 yen) or taxi (4200 yen for up to 5 people). (Note: Private cars are not allowed into Kamikochi.) The Visitor Information Center is located at the Bus Terminal.
There are a limited number of hotels, lodges and campgrounds in Kamikochi. A wider variety of accommodations are available in central Matsumoto City.
Kamikochi is only open from late April until mid-November.
- Kamikochi is not an easy place to go (see Access, below). However, that doesn’t mean there are no crowds. During the peak summer holiday (late July to late August) and fall leaves season (October), Kamikochi is busy, especially during mid-day. (Hence our suggestion to spend the night. Be sure to reserve lodging in advance.)
- Kamikochi is closed during the winter. The only way in from mid-November until late April is by snowshoe.
- Kamikochi can be pricey, but with relatively few conveniences available. (No banks or ATMs – pack in enough cash.)
- Do not underestimate the mountains, even if just sticking to the Azusa River basin, but especially if climbing the Alps.
- Freezing temperatures are not uncommon even in mid-summer, and sudden rain storms can occur any time.