A plateau that makes you feel at peace, surrunded by clean air, where you can get around while touching nature: this time we are going to talk about a place where to spend a relaxing week-end: here is Nagano prefecture’s Kamikochi!
【What’s special about Kamikochi?】
Kamikochi is a mountainous area located about 1500 meters above the sea level in the heart of Nagano’s northern Alps’ Chubu-Sangaku National Park. The surroundings consist of Azusa river and 3000 meters high mountains, like Nishi-Hotaka-dake, Oku-Hotaka-dake and Mae-Hotaka-dake. In Kamikochi there is a car traffic limitation, so buses and taxis are practically the only way to access the place. This might feel a bit uncomfortable, but this environment protection policy gives you the opportunity to enter in a deep contact with a genuine nature. Many hiking and photography fans visit Kamikochi.
In the beginning of Summer it is possible to see the spreading mountain vegetation, while around the half of October the gorgeous red maple trees become the main attraction.
The zone is particularly crowded during the O-Bon in middle August, and autumn foliage season. Moreover, hiking trails are constantly developed in Kamikochi: when I walked along them I had a very pleasant experience. However, the more you walk into them, the more they get steep: certain paths need a a more professionale training.
Visiting Kamikochi is only possible from Spring to Fall. So when you decide to go there, check the website first. Usually the opening period goes from mid April to mid November.
【How to get to Kamikochi】
Kamikochi is located in Nagano’s north-western part, and there are different way to get there, according to your departure location.
・ From Tokyo and Nagoya
Let’s reach Nagano prefecture’s Matsumoto city first, you can find the route in Matsumoto’s castle. Once you got to Matsumoto you have to take the bus or the train. At Matsumoto station take the Matsumoto Electric Railway line and get off at its terminal, Shin-Shimashima Station. Here you will find an Alpico Transport bus that will lead you to Kamikochi.
(Alpico Transport bus: http://tinyurl.com/kxcueq6 )
If you come from Hokuriku area, head to Hida-Takayama. There you have to take the bus to reach Kamikochi: at Takayama Station take the Hida bus heading to Heijo-Onsen, where you have to transfer on the bus heading to Kamikochi.
(Hida Bus: http://tinyurl.com/ldpkb3f)
If travelling by car, you have to take the National Road 158 that links Matsumoto to Takayama. Due to the environment protection policy you are obliged to park your car in the nearby area. At Kamikochi’s entrance there are a shuttle-bus and a taxi service. The parking cost is 500 yen per day.
If you travel by train, you must know that you can use the Japan Rail Pass to reach either Matsumoto Station and Nagoya or Takayama Station. However the pass doesn’t cover the section on the Matsumoto Electric Railway.
I visited Kamikochi in August, a few days before the O-Bon, but fortunately the place wasn’t so crowded as I expected. The weather was great, and the contrast between the blue sky and the mountains’ green was nice. If you visit Kamikōchi in May or June you will probably see that the surrounding mountains are topped in white: in August a few snow was still present on the surrounding mountains’ top.
Getting off the bus you immediately notice restaurants and souvenir shops. The closest attraction from there is the suspension bridge called Kappa-bashi. The visitors center is also really close, there you can learn about Kamikochi’s nature and characteristics and find maps and brochures.
On both banks of the river there are paths following the stream; I first crossed the Kappa-bashi. I could see some people camping with tents, which you can rent or bring from home, of course.
You can find some wild animals in Kamikochi, for example I could spot many Japanese monkeys clinging on trees.
After a little walk I crossed a bridge called Myojin-bashi: just before this bridge the Kandamyojin Shrine takes place and, close to it, there is a soba restaurant where I had lunch. I sat outside, the air was clean and the food was very tasty. After the meal I went back to the river and reached a place called Takezawa: this spot just enchanted me. There is a pont, which water was barely moving, it seemed to me that nature was holding her breath, still. Walking for a while I could behold the majestic shape of Hotakadake from far away, one of the tallest mountains of Japan.
Kamikochi was a place where I always wanted to go and I wasn’t disappointed at all: I had a day when I could feel on my skin pure air and an untouched nature. Next time I hope to visit here during the autumn!