In the centre of Hida Mountain Range, which is also known as the Northern Japan Alps, a breathtaking highland valley is located. The valley is called Kamikochi, which means “where gods descended”. It is a mountain resort situated between Matsumoto and Takayama, located inside the Chubu Sangaku National Park. Kamikochi is only accessible by bus or taxi while private cars are not allowed inside the area. There are a lot of bus options to Kamikochi from Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka. However, most of them will take around 5-8 hours ride. The bus from Matsumoto or Takayama takes around 1 hour to reach the valley, making it a convenient day trip destination from both cities. Those who want to fully enjoy the valley can opt for overnight options by staying in hotels and campsites around the area.
Every year, Kamikochi attracts over 1.5 million outdoor enthusiasts from all around the world. However, the place is not open all year as it shuts down during winter. The valley is open for visitors from mid/late April until mid-November.
Surrounded by a mountain range, Kamikochi is a good hub for challenging trekking and climbing courses for the more adventurous and advanced hikers. The two most popular mountains are Mt. Yari (3180 m) and Mt. Oku-Hotakadake (3190 m). However, there are plenty of relatively flat walking trails which are popular amongst families and leisure hikers. These trails can be found around the Taisho-ike Pond and Myojin-ike Pond, which are the two popular attractions on the site. The walking trails in Kamikochi revolves around these popular attractions. Taisho-ike Pond is a lake formed by an eruption of Mt. Yakadake. During nice weather, it becomes a mirror-lake which shows a spectacular reflection of the mountain. Myojin-ike Pond is where a tranquil Hokata Shrine is located.
There is also a small restaurant situated next to the pond. Another popular sightseeing spot is Kappabashi Bridge, a red suspension bridge spanning the clear Asuzagawa River. Around the bridge, visitors can find several accommodations, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Another scenic spot in Kamikochi is the Tashiro-ike Pond, a small lake located along the walking trail from Kappabashi Bridge to Taisho-ike Pond which is surrounded by marshland.
While walking along the trails of Kamikochi, visitors may encounter Japanese snow monkeys roaming in their natural habitat almost all year long. Although visitors are allowed to take pictures of the primates, direct contact and feeding the monkey are strictly forbidden. Avoiding eye contact is another tip to not provoke the monkeys as they may see it as threatening behaviour.
Besides the area around Kappabashi Bridge, visitors can find restaurants on the second floor of the bus terminal. There are also several souvenir shops around the bus terminal and inside the visitor centre.
Other than winter, as it is closed for visitation, Kamikochi unveils different charms in each season. Hence, there is no best time to visit the valley. However, the site is most visited during the autumn when people enjoy the fall foliage or Momijigari (Japanese tradition of visiting the area which shows red foliage), especially around October.
Text and photos: GART