Monday, September 15, 2014

Kamikochi - Northern Japan Alps

Kamikochi is one of the most picturesque places we have visited in Japan. Kamikochi, an alpine valley is located in the southern part of Chubu Sangaku National Park, otherwise known as North Japan Alps. Located at an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level, the valley has some of the most impressive scenery in Japan. Its alpine climate attracts tourists in the summer months. We visited Kamikochi on our recent camping trip to Hirayu.
Legend goes that a Buddhist priest from Toyama, Ban-ryu was the first person to climb Kamikochi mountains as a pilgrimage. During the Meiji era, an Englishman, William Gowland with a group of western engineers climbed Mount Yarigatake and is said to have first referred to the peaks as Japanese Alps which later became a term to refer to the mountains in Nagano prefecture. The popularity of the Japanese Alps is credited to an English missionary, Reverend Walter Weston who climbed Mt Yarigatake and was said to have introduced Kamikochi in his book " Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps". A plaque dedicated to him stands along the hiking trail. A festival dedicated to him is held in June to mark the beginning of the hiking season.   

Kamikochi is a plateau in the Azusa River valley  surrounded by Nishihotakadake, Yakedake, Okuhotakadake , Maehotakadake and Yaridake mountains.
Mount Hotakadake at 3190 metres is the highest peak in the Northern Alps while Mount Yake is the only active volcano in the Northern Alps. The valley receives heavy snowfall in winter and is closed to public between mid November-mid April. 
The snow capped peaks of mountains make a pretty sight in peak summer. Private vehicles are prohibited in Kamikochi and visitors have the option of riding a bus or hiring a private taxi from Hirayu in Gifu prefecture or Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture. The other option is to hire private taxi, convenient albeit expensive. Nouhi buses leave at regular intervals from Hirayu Onsen Bus terminal ( Click here for bus schedule). Visitors arrive at the Kamikochi Bus terminal from where they can walk along different trails to enjoy the alpine scenery. Visitors can collect information and hiking maps from the information centre near the bus terminal. 

The shortest hike is from the Bus terminal to Kappa Bashi Bridge, the symbol of Kamikochi. 
The Kappa Bashi bridge is in the centre of Kamikochi. 

The snow capped peaks in the backdrop, the flowing Azusa river and the suspension bridge together make a pretty sight.

We chose to hike upto Myojin Ike and back . The hike is flat terrain along the Azusa terrain and is easy. Our 7 year old daughter enjoyed the 2 hour hike. More adventurous hikers can climb one of many surrounding peaks.

The entry to Kamikochi is through a tunnel , a short distance from which is the Taisho Ike. A volcanic eruption of Mount Yake dake in 1915 created the Taisho Ike by damming the Azusa river. Decayed trees stand in the pond creating a nice sight. 
When walking from Taisho-ike towards Kappabashi, one comes across Tashiro-ike, a small pond surrounded by marshy land. 

On the way from Kappabashi to Myojin Ike we came across Takezawa Marsh.
 We crossed another suspension bridge, the Myojin bashi to reach the Myojin Ike.

Myojin Ike is a pond about an hours walk from Kappabashi along the Azusa river.

The Hotaka shrine, the inner shrine to the Shinto deity of  Mount Hotaka stands beside the Myojin Ike. A small mountain hut with displays dating back to Walter Weston's visit stands next to the Myojin Ike.  

Kamikochi is considered to be especially spectacular during the autumn foliage season, around mid October. Bears and other wildlife can be encountered at certain places in Kamikochi, especially around Myo-jin ike.  

Visitors can camp at one of the many campgrounds in Kamikochi resort or stay at one of the few hotels operating in the resort. 
We preferred to camp at the Hirayu Campground and take the bus ride between Hirayu and Kamikochi. 

Kamikochi can be visited as a side trip when visiting the preserved town of Hida Takayama in Gifu prefecture or the castle town of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. Visitors can also visit the Okuhida Onsengo, a group of hot spring villages in the mountainous Okuhida region of Gifu Prefecture.

Official Website: Click Here

Bus Schedule: Hirayu-Kamikochi Line

Kamikochi Hiking Map: Click Here

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