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Kamikochi in Early Spring and the 49th Annual Kamikochi Opening Festival

While the emerald green mountains of Kamikochi are surely a beautiful sight to see in the summer, the snow-dusted peaks and crisp air of the early spring are also a wonderful experience. If you plan accordingly, you can catch Kamikochi’s Annual Opening Festival which is held every year in late April after Kamikochi opens in mid-April.

Azusa River

Azusa River

This year, in my first-ever trip to Kamikochi, I was lucky enough to attend the 49th Annual Opening Festival which featured a performance from Swiss Alpenhorn player, a traditional shishimai lion dance, a blessing from Shinto priests and special visitors from Matsumoto’s twin town, Grindelwald, Switzerland. After the ceremony, the ceremony officials broke open huge casks of local sake (rice wine) and doled it out to everyone attending.

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorns up close.

The Alpenhorns up close.

After enjoying my own cup of sake, I took walk around the park to take in the breath-taking scenery and learn about Kamikochi. One of the most famous spots in Kamikochi is Taisho Pond, which I was surprised to learn was only created 100 years ago when Mt. Yakedake erupted in 1915 and caused a section of the Azusa River to be blocked. This eruption occurred in the Taisho Period of Japan, hence the name “Taisho Pond.”

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

The mountain-scape

The mountain-scape

The Azusa River is fed not only by the melting snow from the surrounding mountains, but also natural springs in Kamikochi that bubble up pure groundwater. The waters are so clear that you can practically see every pebble at the bottom of the river and streams and water at the source of the natural springs is pure enough to drink (just make sure you don’t drink water from the river or too far downstream).

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Just look at this water!

Just look at this water!

Another interesting fact I learned about Kamikochi is that it is constantly in change. The creation of Taisho Pond is one obvious example, but every day, little by little, the water streaming down from mountains gradually carves out ridges in the steeps slopes, and as the sediment runs down into the Azusa River valley below, it gradually causes the valley to rise up. So even though Kamikochi is a nature “preserve,” the nature will never be preserved like a snapshot in time – it is always dynamically changing itself!

If you’re even thinking about coming to Matsumoto, then Kamikochi is a spot you do not want to miss! If you have the chance, I actually recommended visiting the park at least one time in each of the different seasons (except for winter because the park is closed), as every season will have new scenery, new colors, and new wildlife to enjoy. (Thanks to some lucky circumstances, I got to see a rare horizontal rainbow over the Azusa River. You never know what’s waiting for you in Kamikochi!)

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

Find more information about how to get to Kamikochi in our article here, in the English language Kamikochi Guide (pdf), or learn more on the Japan Alps Kamikochi Website.

Matsumoto and Nakasendo Not Affected by Eruption of Mt. Ontake

As you may know in the news, Mt. Ontake, the 3067-meter volcano, erupted on Sep 27, Saturday.

I want to express my deep sorrow that around 30 climbers climbing on the top of the mountain seem to have died.

You cannot enter ONLY the 4km-radius cautionary zone from the summit of Mt. Ontake. Matsumoto is 60km from Mt. Ontake so does not affect the ordinal life and travel.
Tsumago, Magome, and Narai-juku of Nakasendo, which is a very popular walking course among foreigners, can be also travelled safely.

All trains, buses, roads in Nagano Prefecure except inside the cautionary zone are operating as usual.

The Kiso area and Mt. Ontake that has Ski Resort in the mountain foot are very nice places. I hope the eruption would calm down and missing climbers would be found soon.

See also this blog.

Mt. Ontake, the 4km-radius cautionary zone, and major sightseeing spots:

See a large map.

Stay at Kamikochi – Twilight foggy pond, natural spring river, wild monkeys

I had a chance to stay in Kamikochi, at the foot of the Japan Alps. Kamikochi is popular for a carless resort and for the hiking courses you can enjoy in a national park, but many tourists visit only in the daytime.

But, its natural beauty in the evening and morning is awesome.

Kamikochi is located between Takayama and Matsumoto, two spots popular among foreign travelers and you can visit by bus from both towns.

Taisho Pond and Mt. Yakedake, an active volcano. The pond was created by an eruption of Yakedake in the Taisho era.

Taisho Pond with the backdrop of the Japan Alps

Mysterious foggy pond

Nobody was on the Kappa Bridge, the major and busy spot in Kamikochi.

Shimizu River. Its water is 100% from a natural spring, so the river is never muddy even after a heavy rain.

I met wild monkeys. Kamikochi is also a place you can meet them closely.

Kappa Bridge in the morning

Walking trail in the woods

Five tips to enjoy Matsumoto Craft Fair

Craft Fair Matsumoto is the biggest and oldest craft fair in Japan, attracting 50,000 ~ 70,000 visitors during the event.
This year, celebrating its 30th anniversary with 280 craftsmen from all over Japan, along with many relative events in downtown Matsumoto city.

May 24th (Saturday) & 25th (Sunday) / Free admission

The “Five Tips” to enjoy Matsumoto craft fair even more are….

1) 歩・・・Take a walk

The craft fair venue is at “Agata-no-mori Park“, just 2 kilo meters away from JR. Matsumoto station. It is a nice walking course with lots of natural spring wells (w/ drinkable water) and unique shops. Arriving Agata-no-mori, exploring the buildings of the “Former Matsumoto High School” . The school buildings full of western influences were constructed in 1920, and designated as a national important cultural properties. In the campus, old trees of zelkova and cherry are forming an atmosphere of small forests.

2) 知・・・Expand the knowledge

280 craftsmen including wood carvings, ceramics, lacquer wares, metal works, weaving, dyeing, glass works, leather and food producers will be all over the park. From traditional to modern techniques you can learn various craft art forms all together.

3) 聴・・・Live concerts
As you may already know, Matsumoto is so-called the town of music. Here at the site, live music concerts will be held on Saturday evening (May 24th). Admission Free, can bring your own food and drink, or temporary mini bar is available at the site. It is so relaxing to listen to nice music on live in homey atmosphere.

4) 食・・・Eat
There are always full of booths selling various foods and drinks. Usually they are situated at the north-east side of the park, and so many to choose from: Japanese, Cambodian, Indian, Italian, German,  Macrobiotic and so on. And there are many nice restaurants on the way from the station, too. It’s worth visiting just for experiencing different taste!

5) 買・・・Shopping

Nothing to explain here, I guess!
Hope you are able to find a special piece and take home with other beautiful & unforgettable memories of Matsumoto City.
*The vendors often don’t accept credit cards at the site. Go to International ATM (the main post office on Honmachi St. is closer from the park) before visiting the event if you wish to purchase there.)

Read also an article of Matsumoto Craft Fair by Winifred Bird on The Japan Times

Plum Blossoms Festival in Norikura

The 43rd Plum Blossoms Festival(sumomo-matsuri) will be held at Ichinose Ranch(一の瀬牧場)in Norikura Highlands on May 18th Sunday.

The ceremony starts from 10:30 a.m., admission is “free”. Live music with Alpine Horns, Taiko(Japanese drums), Yodel Chorus and Japanese traditional dance are offered to the visitors along with “Sake”, “soba” and “Miso soup” services.

Sumomo(Japanese plum) trees grow naturally in Norikura Highlands, they usually start blooming from mid- May and last until Mid June.

Sumomo jam, wine and ice ream are on sale at the shop in Ichinose ranch.

And don’t forget about famous Norikura Onsen(hot springs)! There are several inns and public bathhouse for day trip visitors.

Yukemurikan(湯けむり館)opens from 9:30~20:00, admission fee is 720 yen for adults, 300 yen for kids.
There are many small inns and hotels with onsen in Norikura area. ⇒Norikura accomodations

To reach Norikura highlands, Haruyama bus(春山バス) services are available until June 30th.
The bus departs from Shinshimashima bus terminal in Matsumoto, and takes visitors to the snowy corridors on Mt. Kuraigahara.
Haruyama bus info

2 Days Free Bus Passport (& 4 days also available)

Good news for the tourists who wish to visit Kamikochi, Norikura, Matsumoto and Utsukushigahara all at once.

Very reasonable 2 Days Free Bus Passport is now available at ALPICO bus terminals in Matsumoto and Shinshimashima.

This 2 days free passport is 5,150 yen for adults (half price for kids (including tax)), available at ALPICO counter in Matsumoto Bus Terninal and Shinshimashima Bus Terminal. It is handy to use and perfect for touring Matsumoto area! Just to show this passport to the driver before get off the bus (except for Kamikochi line). For Kamikochi line, you need to get a “Numbered ticket (determining order of service)”at Kamikochi Bus Terminal in addition to this 2 days passport for boarding.

With this amazing open ticket, all bus services including Kamikochi line(train), Utsukushigahara line and of course Matsumoto city zone lines become free within 2 days after the purchasing.

In addition to this, by paying double the price of 2 days pass, you can get 4 days free ticket called “Shinshu – Hida Wide Free Passport“.
With this 4 days pass, you can even visit Takayama and Shirakawa village and come back to Matsumoto. The pass is available at ALPICO counter in Matsumoto and Shinshimashima bus terminals, Takayama Nohi Bus Center and Gero Bus Center in Gifu.

Have fun!

“Heidi a girl of the Alps” Sp Exhibition in Utsukushigahara

One of the most well-known Swiss novel, “Heidi a girl of the Alps” was written by Johanna Spyri in 1880. Heidi became very popular among children in Japan after the first TV animation program released in 1974. To celebrate 40th Anniversary of “Heidi a girl of the Alps” animation, there is an official Heidi Exhibition held at “Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum” up on Mt. Utsukushigahara.

This special exhibition has just started and will last until the 16th of November this year at Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum.

April 26th to November 16th

Admission Fee: Adults 1,000 yen, Students 800 yen, Kids 700 yen
///Important ///Kids w/parents will be Free Admission “every SATURDAY” (Only kids fee, parents have to pay)!!

Plus good news is,  a discount coupon is available through internet. ←Go to the site and print the page out and show at the museum’s ticket office.

Transportation from Matsumoto: Utsukushigahara Kogen Bijutsukan (Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum) Line
There are only two services a day
(one in the morning and the last one in the afternoon) from Matsumoto Bus Terminal, and same as return bus to Matsumoto. Bus Fare is 1,500 yen(2013 summer fare).

Have fun on the Open Air Museum and beautiful Utsukushigahara heights!

“Matsumoto Concierge Map” will be distributed

“Matsumoto Concierge” is a civic volunteer group guiding tourists from JR Matsumoto Station and the downtown tourist information booth.
The Castle Town: Matsumoto Concierge Map” was created by “Matsumoto Concierge” members after numerous discussions, and the most useful, often unwritten, tourist information has been selected.

Recommended restaurants with price range, availabilities of credit cards, free wi-fi and English menus, and the locations for  free bicycle pick-up, convenience stores, drug stores, banks, coin lockers, camera equipment stores are addressed on the map.  Since all the spots, shops and restaurants introduced on the map are selected by the locos (Matsumotorian),  the short comments tell real stories of Matsumoto.

This unique and very useful map is provided at the major hotels and inns in the downtown area, and will be distributed at the “Matsumoto Concierge” booth which is located in front of the wicket gate of JR Matsumoto station during tourist season starting from this golden week.

However, the number of the map is very limited, it may not be available to every tourist who will visit Matsumoto in this year.

Please download the map image from ⇒ “Matsumoto Concierge Map“, so you can install in the tablets of yours and use them while strolling the town.

Have lots of fun along with this handy information!

Come to see our gorgeous cherry blossoms!

According to the blossom forecasts for cherry trees this year, best timing to visit Matsumoto castle will be April 9th to 16th.

“Yozakura kai (night sakura viewing festival)” will be held during the season, free admission to the castle’s inner garden (can not enter in the castle’s keep at night, though) .

There will be traditional tea ceremony services (500 yen), live performance of flute, Japanese traditional instruments such as “koto (琴)” and the ancient court music “gagaku (雅楽)”, as well as various food service inside of the garden.

Craft Picnic in Agata-no-mori Park

The 12th Craft Picnic is this weekend, October 19th to 20th in Agata-no-mori Park.

About 100 craftsmen mainly living in Nagano are gathering at the park for two days, showing how to make their craft works.
Participants need to pay participation fee in order to attend each session. Fees are arranged from 300 ~ 8000 yen depending on the products.
From easy and handy wooden toys to genuine chairs, woodwork, pottery,  leather, textile, tile, wax candles, broom making, metal works and food products, you can choose from many categories.

Date: October 19th Saturday to 20th Sunday
Time: 10:00~16:00
Venue: Agata-no-mori Park (about 2 kilo meters east of JR Matsumoto Station)

See more info → Craft Picnic 2013 , Matsumoto Craft Navi Map

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