Kamikochi and Hiking to Yari-ga-take & Hotaka-dake (Japan Alps)
|Schedule of Kamikochi|
|Usually 3rd Fri in Apr||Opening Kamikochi Route|
|Apr 27||Opening Festival|
|First Sat and Sun in June||Weston Festival|
|Nov 15||Closing Festival, Closing Kamikochi Route|
About 51 km west of Matsumoto city lies Kamikochi, roughly meaning "where gods descend", originally. This place is gorgeous. It is the prime attraction of the Central Mountains National Park and the ideal start to many of the adventures to be done in the area.
Access by train and bus: Take the Matsumoto Dentetsu Line from Matsumoto Station to Shin-Shimashima(30 minutes), followed by a bus ride to Kamikochi(60 minutes). You could also take a bus to Kamikochi directly (two services in a day). It is a 90 minute journey and you can meet the bus in front of the Matsumoto bus terminal located across the street from Matsumoto JR train station.
The timetable is here.
Access by car: The road to Kamikochi is closed to private cars just below the last tunnel at Sawando. You can park your car at Sawando for 500 yen a day, and catch a bus or taxi into the park. The parking outside of Kamikochi is about 50 minutes by car from Matsumoto JR train station.
(Or you could do what I did this fall and ride your bike into the park. Unfortunately between the car and Kamikochi is a long, dark, steep, ascending tunnel where buses will rush by you and fill you with panic and exhaust. I did not enjoy this part. In my mind it was quite close to hell. However once out of the tunnel I felt as alive as I ever have; soaking in clean air sunshine and the most amazing mountain views I have seen in Japan. The ride around the valley almost made it worth it. I may even do it again).
Once in the park many visitors simply saunter along the Azusa River from Taisho Pond up to the Myojin Bridge. This is popular, easy and often very crowed in summer and on Saturdays. Taisho pond is seen as a romantic place where one can be "lured into the world of fantasy." The pond has an amazing view of the surrounding mountains often with a fantastic reflection. Up the river you will find the very popular and well-photographed Kappa bashi (Kappa Bridge) where there are also a few shops, restaurants, the visitor center and many trail heads. On the other side of the river and down a bit is the monument of British missionary Walter Weston. Weston introduced western style mountaineering to Japan and exposed Kamikochi and the Japanese Alps to the rest of the world being the first to use the name Japanese Alps.
If you are interested in climbing, hiking and mountaineering Kamikochi is a good hub. The most popular mountains are Yari-ga-take (3180m) and Hotaka-dake (3190m). These are beautiful mountains, and be warned that you may find yourself in a human traffic jam in peak season (late July to late August). Although if you do visit in peak season, don’t be too turned off by crowds in the valley because 90% of the visitors don’t get more than 500 meters of the bus terminal (in the areas mentioned above). It is not hard to find peace and quite, even on the busiest days, as long as you are willing to get a little exercise in the process.
For more information on specific hikes check out our Outdoor Activities page and Lonely Planet Publications’ Hiking in Japan. It has a lot of detailed information on trails and such. You can also get detailed map in Japanese at the Visitor’s Center which includes estimated travel times between huts.
There are hut systems (yama-goya) on many of the trails. The check in time is 4pm, but it is recommended that you get to the huts by about 2-3pm. You do not need to bring a sleeping bag, and they provide two meals and sometimes a simple lunch for around 8,000 yen per person. You can get more information at the tourist office. If you plan on camping you’ll be better off buying your food outside of Kamikochi. It will be much cheaper.
There are some very posh places to stay in the Kamikochi valley. These are pricey and require advance reservations. You have to call a year ahead of time to stay in the Imperial Hotel at a room starting at 27,500 yen a night! But for the rest of us other options include:
|Kamikochi Konashidaira Camp-jo||700 yen (campsite), 7,000 (tent), and from 5,000 per person (cabin)|
|Kamikochi Nishiitoya San-so||7,700 yen per person (bunkbed), 10,550 per person (double)||95-2206|
|Myojinkan Ryokan||8,400 yen per person (dorm), 10,550 yen (private room rate per person)||95-2036|
|Tokusawa-en||500 yen per person (campsite), 9000 yen per person (Japanese style dorm), and from 13,000 per person (private room)||95-2508|
You can download English guide pamphlet of Kamikochi including a map (pdf 2 pages, 8MB) (issued in September 2013). Also, GPS Hiking Route-Matsumoto (application for Android smartphones, issued in June 2014) is here.
- English guide pamphlet of Kamikochi was newly issued this September (10/13 /2013)
- Hike in Kamikochi, Tokusawa (6/4 /2011)
- Kamikochi Monitor Tour (9/10 /2010)
- Wild Flowers & Monkeys, Fresh Green and Music Festival (6/26/2010)
- Winter Wonderland: Snowshoeing in Kamikochi (winter hiking information, 2/5/2008)