High in the Japanese Alps, Kamikochi is a mountain destination that delights visitors with vistas, hiking and gorgeous autumn foliage.
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Japan is home to plenty of spectacular mountain scenery, but that doesn’t make a trip to Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps any less special. This seasonally open mountain destination is a real treat for anyone excited by the prospect of dramatic scenery, fresh alpine air or amazing hikes.
Part of the allure of visiting Kamikochi is that this mountain valley is quite remote, but it does make getting to this wonderful place a challenge. Here’s what you need to know about getting to Kamikochi with a Japan Rail Pass and what to do once you’re there.
Brief Background to Kamikochi
To really appreciate why you should visit Kamikochi, you first need to know a little about the region and its history.
Kamikochi is a mountain valley up in the Hida Mountains, near the northern end of the Japanese Alps. The valley mostly sits at an elevation between 1,400 m (4,600 ft) and roughly 1,600 m (5,200 ft), but is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the country. The Azusa River flows right through the valley down into Lake Taishō.
Today Kamikochi, which loosely translates as “where gods descend”, is protected by the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park and is listed on several cultural Japanese registries. However, in the past the region was known exclusively for logging until the mid 19th century. It’s said that the outside influence British missionary Rev. Walter Weston helped steer the region’s fate instead towards hiking and mountaineering. A plaque to Weston can be found on the west side of the Azusa River and a festival in his name is held at the beginning of each mountain-climbing season.
Due to its protected status within the Chubu Sangaku National Park, development around Kamikochi has been kept to a minimum. As such, facilities and accommodation options are limited and private cars are forbidden from entering Kamikochi.
Sights to See at Kamikochi
One way to pass the time with a trip to Kamikochi is by exploring the region’s various natural attractions. Some of the most popular and easiest to reach places include:
- Taisho Pond: This romantic pond along the Azusa River was formed after an eruption of the Yakedake volcano.
- Tashiro Pond: A serene pond found within marshland that is surrounded with impressive scenery.
- Kappabashi Bridge: Spanning the Azusa River, this photogenic suspension bridge lies in the heart of Kamikochi and enjoys a dazzling mountain backdrop.
- Dakesawa Marsh: Found a short walk from the centre of Kamikochi, this marsh has a real wilderness feel to it.
- Myojin Pond: A small dock leads out onto this gorgeous pond, where you can get stunning reflections of the mountainside in its calm water.
Hiking in Kamikochi and the Northern Alps
The main draw for visitors to Kamikochi is the main hiking, trekking and mountaineering routes that lead from here into the Alps. Throughout the mountains there are a wide range of routes that vary in difficulty and duration, meaning there are hikes and walks that suit all manner of visitors.
If you’re not up for a big hike then many just do the gentle walk that goes from Taisho Pond to Myojin Bridge along the Azusa River. This walk is primarily over flat terrain and only takes a few hours.
Those looking for hikes that leave the valley floor should consider easy hikes like those to Tokusawa and Yokoo. One of the most popular easier hikes is the trek up to the volcanic summit of Mt. Yakedake, which can be done as a day trip from Kamikochi. Another common climb that’s relatively accessible is Mt. Chogatake, with several options for how to tackle it.
Serious hikers aren’t left out either, with some long and relatively technical climbs that take you to the region’s highest peaks. The 16-hour hike up Mt. Oku-Hotakadake is very popular as it takes you nearly to the summit of this mountain, the third highest in Japan. On the other hand, the 20-hour climb up Mt. Yari actually brings you right to the 3,180-metre summit of the mountain.
Find a full list of treks at Kamikochi here.
Information for Visiting Kamikochi
- Kamikochi is only open from mid-April to mid-November, with transport, facilities, shops and hotels closed in the off-season. In 2021, the region is open from April 17 to November 15.
- This alpine region is famous for being especially pretty during autumn, with October a great time to see the mountains decorated in autumn colours.
- The area is busiest during the summer holidays of July and August, as well as on weekends when the autumn foliage is at its peak.
- Visitors to Kamikochi have a reasonable selection of accommodation to choose from, with hotels, ryokan, lodges and campsites covering the full spectrum of budgets.
- Anyone planning on hiking into the mountains is required to submit a trekking itinerary.
Visiting Kamikochi with the JR Pass
Due to its remote location, there is no quick way to visit Kamikochi. While travelling from cities like Nagano or Toyama close to the mountains will make the journey shorter, it’s still a slow trip up into the mountains.
The JR Pass is only able to cover part of the visitor’s travel to Kamikochi. When going from Tokyo, pass-holders can take the JR Azusa limited express from Tokyo to Matsumoto.
From there, they will need to purchase tickets for the Matsumoto Electric Railway to Shinshimashima and then take a bus to Kamikochi, which is also not covered by the rail pass. It will take around five hours to travel from Tokyo to Kamikochi. Fares for the bus and train come to 2710 yen.