Kamikochi/Norikura 2 Day Free Pass

September 29th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

 The Kamikochi/Norikura 2 Day Free Pass, launched by ALPICO earlier this year, is a great way of getting around the Japan Alps National Park. Not only does it save you the hassle of researching and buying a load of one-way tickets to get you up to the mountains and back again, but also you can make considerable savings IF you use the pass to the max. So that is what we did!

p9260312On the first day, we caught a direct bus up to Kamikochi from Matsumoto; there are a couple of these every day, and it cuts down on the journey time becuase you don’t have to change at Shinshimashima. Down on the plains, Matsumoto was a warm sunny memory as we arrived at the Kamikochi Bus Terminal and the temperature plunged! Although the sun was shining by the time we arrived at Myojin, the clouds had closed in again as we returned to Kappa Bridge. It was going to be a long night, with the mercury dropping to Zero for the first time in the year – just the night to camp out in summer tents and sleeping bags!! Luckily we got a good camp fire going and spent the night sharing wine, cheese and body heat 🙂



The next day we were glad to get up and moving, catching the 8AM bus to Norikura. A couple of hours – and 2 nifty bus changes later – we arrived at the 3000m on top of the Alps. Getting off at Tatamidaira, there were panoramic views of Matsumoto on the Nagano side and Takayama on the Gifu side. No sign of the autumn leaves yet but still stunning scenery in every direction. The only area we couldn’t see too clearly was the Yari-Hodaka range to the North, as it was hidden by a persistent cloud bank, but the smoke rising from Yakedake was clearly visible.



Leaving our bags at the bus terminal we climbed up to the peak, passing some serious looking mountaineers and a couple in high heels! The Kami-sama was watching over the shrine at the top, nibbling away on a rice offering as he did so.


On the way down we hit up a great Onsen in Norikura Kogen. There was still no sign of Yari, although we did find a likely replacement. Maybe Yari will have to wait until next year…p9260368

Kamikochi Monitor Tour

September 8th, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

On the weekend of September 4th-5th, a group of Nagano-based ALTs headed up to Kamikochi to check out the sights, access and facilities. Matsumoto City started the Kamikochi Inbound Project this April to meet the needs of growing numbers of international visitors to Kamikochi and the Japan Alps national park. This time round, 14 English speakers had signed up to a 1 night 2 day trip to the mountains which was sponsored by Alpico and the Kamikochi Tourist Association.


p9040060p9040067Day 1 – After an early start, everyone met at Matsumoto station to check out the access to the mountains. Amazingly, everybody made it ON TIME for the 8AM start, but the Tourist Information Office was still closed so the ALTs would have to work to find the answers to the Quiz questions which checked out a range of information such as cost of a round-ticket to Kamikochi and number of direct buses per day. Maybe the JETs were still a little sleepy (or hadn’t monitored the Starbucks coffee hard enough to full wake up yet:), but almost half of the Quiz questions were WRONG!!! Still, most people agreed that between the JR Green Window and Tourist Info. Office (when it’s open) there would be plenty of helping hands to point new arrivals in the direction of the Japan Alps. Also, the 2 Day Pass made it easy to get up – and down – without worrying about extra transport expenses.

p9040001 p9040002

After changing from the mountain railway to a bus at Shinshimashima, we continued on up the 158 highway which follows the the Azusa River up the valley to Kamikochi. The blue skies were reflected back in the water of the 3 huge dams we passed before a series of long tunnels finally lead us into the Kamikochi basin itself.  On arriving at Kamikochi, we checked out the Information Centre and Bus Terminal before setting off on a Guided Tour of the Kamikochi basin downstream to Taisho-ike Pond. The local Guide, a member of the Nature Guide Association, explained about Kamikochi’s nature and culture in English and en route, we walked through shady forests, past marshland and along wooden boardwalks. Our guide explained the Kesho Yanagi Willow trees and handed round a pair of binoculars so we could see the smoke rising from the top of Mt. Yakedake – the only active volcano in the Northern Alps.  On the return trip we also met a pair of local Macaque monkeys who were entertaining tourists doing flips from tree to tree!

That night we stayed at some of the  most luxurious hotels found anywhere in Japan, with the 14 volunteers spread out across 7 of the accommodation facilities. All stood up to the test of English Check-In, and more than held their own for comfort and hospitality. Even the weather was doing its best to promote Kamikochi, with amazing starlight skies and the Milky Way seeming to shine down directly on Kappa Bridge.


Day 2

The next day dawned fine again and after breakfast we crossed the Kappa Bridge again before testing the water of the Shimizu River…a chilly 6 degrees centigrade! Next up was the Visitor Centre which had some amazing photos of the mountain ridges and peaks of the backcountry beyond. Then we set off for Myojin, following the Azusa upstream for an hour through the forest before emerging at Myojin where the smell of freshly fried fish was rising from the Kamonjigoya, 130 years old and home to Kamonji, the first hunter known to have lived at Kamikochi. We also saw the sacred shrine and pond, and – for extra good luck – a large grass snake whose sun bathing was rudely interrupted by 14 pairs of foreign hooves.

All too soon, we had to had head back downstream to the Kappa Bridge, by now buzzing with tourists; we finished the final group discussion and had some lunch before people went their own seperate ways, tired out but refreshed by the Alpen experience and a great weekend in the mountains.


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Visiting Kamikochi and Norikura Hot Spring by the New 2-day Bus/train Pass

August 14th, 2010 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing


On August 7, I visited Kamikochi and Norikura Hot Spring using the new 2-day bus/train pass with my family.
We have had an incredibly hot summer this year in Japan and it was 35 degree C (95 deg F) downtown that day, but in Kamikochi and Norikura, (altitude is 1500 meters), it was 25 deg C (77 deg F).

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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.

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.
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Kamikochi Rain Monkeys!!

June 28th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

 Everybody knows about Nagano’s Snow Monkeys. They’ve been on the TV… they’ve been in the New York Times… they’re even rumoured to have had a paw in the concept design for Bathing Ape T-shirts (But that is JUST a rumor, so don’t sue this website:)

 But less widely-known among foreign visitors is that top Nagano-destination Kamikochi also has its fair share of wild Macaque monkeys. There are said to be 2 troops that live in Kamikochi along the banks of the Azusa River in the Japan Alps National Park. The Myojin troop alone has a population of about 70 monkeys, and we must have met most of them on a recent trip because the Myojin-bashi Bridge area was swarming with the little beasts who seemed untroubled by the pelting rain.


There were so many of them that I was sure the numbers must be on the increase, but one of the Visitor Centre Staff told me that this was not the case; according to their research, the populations have remained stable over the past few years. The same cannot be said for their range of movement; last Sunday morning they could be seen frolicking on the banks of the river, crossing the bridge and swinging on its metal support wires.


Unlike Jigokudani, where the Snow Monkeys live, the only time you are likely to see the Kamikochi monkeys actually IN the water is in March, as the first signs of Spring appear. Although the air temperature is still brutally cold, (it drops down to minus 25 degrees centigrade in the Winter) the river water is a few degrees warmer, although nothing like as cosy as at Yudanaka Onsen.



And even in the darkest depths of winter, the Azusa river is still home to Iwana. Although it is hotly disputed if the monkeys actually eat these fish, they may well gain nutrition from insects living on and around the river, as well as solace from this lifeline for local wildlife. More usually, the Kamikochi monkeys live off a diet of plant shoots and roots, topped up with dwarf bamboo sprouts and tree bark in the Winter, when they lie low over long periods, sticking close to their food source and sheltering from fierce snowstorms.


We visited in late June, towards the end of the breeding season, and saw lots of little baby monkeys piggybacking  a free ride across the bridge. When the summer comes around the monkeys are on the move again, clambering up the steep sides of the Hodaka Range to reach the Alpine meadows and peaks above.

Japanese Matterhorn

June 14th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
Yari June 2010

Yari June 2010

Although Mt Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, and Tanigawadake the most dangerous (in terms of numbers of dead climbers), Mt Yari is possibly the best-loved among the climbing community due to its distinctive shape and enviable location at the heart of the Japan Alps.
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64th Kamikochi Weston Festival, June 5th-6th

June 1st, 2010 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Walter Weston, a British missionary who introduced modern mountain climbing to Japan, first visited Kamikochi in 1891, and returned repeatedly over the course of the 15 years he lived in Japan to escape the summer heat and climb the surrounding peaks. Today, he is commemorated by the annual Weston Festival on the first Sunday of June, preceded by a group hike the day before which traces the original route into Kamikochi up and over the Tokugo Pass from Azumi.


 In an academic paper which Weston presented in 1910 to the Japan Society of London, he declared of the Chubu region “that the neighbourhood is probably one of the richest in Japan for variety and abundance of Alpine plants.” Now a national park, the Japan Alps (Chubu Sangaku) area remains one of Japan’s biodiversity hotspots and well worth a visit before the summer crowds set in.


To join the hike, meet at the Azumi branch of the Matsumoto City office in time for a 6AM departure on 6/5.  For more details on Weston see here.

New 2-Day and 4-Day Bus Passes to Enjoy Kamikochi and Beyond

June 1st, 2010 by
Category: Information

Many foreign tourists travel around Japan using a JR Rail Pass. But when they get to Nagano Prefecture, they are hit with the realization that most of the most popular destinations like Kamikochi, Togakushi and Jigokudani Snow Monkeys (as well as my onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada) all require non-JR transportation. Then there’s the issue of getting from Hida Takayama to Matsumoto, two major “Inbound” tourist destinations. Using JR would take over 5 hours to go around the Alps. However, another option would be the trans-Alps bus that takes just over 2 hours.

Well, the people at Alpico Bus have apparently been listening, and have come up with the following 2 new bus passes that are perfect for people wanting to explore the Matsumoto – Kamikochi – Hida Takayama area:

Alpico Bus's 2 new Passes

Alpico Bus's 2 new Passes

2 Day Free Passport Kamikochi / Norikura
*Price: 5,000 yen for adults, 2,500 yen for children
*Area: Kamikochi, Shirahone and Norikura to the west, Matsumoto, Asama Onsen and Utsukushigahara to the east.
*Availability: Buy at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal or Shin Shimashima Station from 01-April 2010 until 31-March 2011.
This pass covers Nagano’s most spectacular scenic spot, Kamikochi, which is also the launching area for mountaineers to climb the Japanese Alps, as well as secluded Shirahone onsen with its milky white hot spring waters and Norikura, outdoor sports paradise. Then you can ride back down to Matsumoto and see its world-famous castle, take a dip in the hot springs at Asama and Utsukushigahara Onsens, before riding back up to the panoramic views from Utsukushigahara Kogen.

4 Day Alps Wide Shinshu/Hida Free Passport
*Price: 10,000 yen for adults, 5,000 yen for children
*Area: Same as the 2-day pass PLUS Hida Takayama, Shirakawago, Shinhotaka Onsen and Gero Onsen
*Availability: Buy at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal, Shin Shimashima Station, and Takayama or Gero Bus Centers from 01-April 2010 until 31-March 2011.
Included in this Pass are the impeccably restored neighborhoods of Hida Takayama, the world heritage thatched roof farmhouses of Shirakawago, Shinhotaka Onsen on the western side of the Alps, and Gero Onsen, known from long ago as one of Japan’s top 3 onsens.

Fellow Nagano Inbound Ambassador Tom-san reports that Kamikochi is in fine spring form, so take advantage of these new passes from Alpico and enjoy!

For more information, contact Matsumoto Dentetsu at 0263-28-3111
And/or check out the official Kamikochi website.

Kamikochi 2010 season

May 25th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

Kamikochi, the southern hub of the Japan Alps National Park, opened for the 2010 season on April 27th with Swiss horns and a Lion dance, but the unofficial start line has just been crossed as the spring-like Nirinsou Anemone burst into life across the forest floor. The beds of white flowers takes their name from the twin stalks (Ni meaning two) and can be seen at Tokusawa, a popular extension route to the Myojin trail that takes around 2 hours round-trip from the Bus Terminal.

 To get to Tokusawa, take a bus to Kamikochi then cross over the Azusa River at the centrally-located Kappabashi Bridge. Next, stroll upstream along the boardwalk through the Dakezawa Marsh, which looks murky enough to house a Kappa, the mythical water imp after whom the famous bridge was named. Follow the path upstream for 1 hour to Myojin, stopping off outside the shrine to pay your respects (and a 300Yen entrance fee). Nearby, Kamonji Goya marks the spot where Walter Weston’s Guide, a local hunter by the name of Kamijo Kamonji,  lived from 1880 onwards – you can still see the British Missionary’s original ice axe hanging above the fire-place. Cross over Myojin bridge then head on upstream to Tokusawa (60 mins one way).

Climbing a Volcano from Kamikochi

October 5th, 2009 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

Morning at Kamikochi

Morning at Kamikochi

I climbed Mt. Yakedake on September 21st. Mt. Yakedake is an active volcano that you can see above Taisho-ike pond in Kamikochi. It took 4 hours to climb to the peak from Kamikochi, and 2.5 hours to go down to Nakanoyu Hot Springs. From Nakanoyu you can catch a bus. From the peak, it takes about 3 hours to return back to Kamikochi. Read the rest of this entry »