A trip into the Japanese Alps

Guide to Kamikochi


I personally never need an excuse to take a trip to the mountain but taking a step back from the busyness, noise and bright lights of the Japanese cities and finding myself immersed in Japan’s exquisite nature made my visit to the Japanese Alps feel extra special.


Kamikochi, which I’ve read translates to either ‘highlands’ or ‘where gods descend’ is a 15 kilometres long tableland that sits approximately 1,500 meters above sea level in the Azusa Valley of the Hida Mountains. It is nestled between Mt. Hodokadake (3,190m) and Mt. Yakedake (2,455m), which is an active volcano.


Here you will find excellent hiking, both relaxed and adventurous, blissful views, wonderful drives and a lot of peace and quiet. It is the perfect mountain retreat getaway.

Getting there!


When I was travelling in Japan I was using the Japan Rail Pass to explore the country. Unfortunately, the rail pass doesn’t currently have any routes into Kamikochi. Several options will take you to where you want to go, here’s the route I chose.

After getting a bus in the evening back from Shirakawa-Go to Kanazawa I took a train from Kanazawa station to Matsumoto. I spent the night in a capsule hotel, woke early and checked out the Matsumoto Castle before making my way to Kamikochi.

From Matsumoto Station, I took the local train "Matsumoto Railway" to Shinshimashima Station. It took around 30 minutes.

When I arrived at Shinshimashima Station I bought a 3-day bus pass with the Alpico Group. They service the Kamikochi area extensively and this bus pass was all I needed to move around over the next few days.

I jumped on the next available bus which took me towards Kamikochi and my accommodation. I had booked to stay with the Japanese Hotspring Guesthouse Raicho.

Over the next couple of days, I used my bus pass to take me in and out of Kamikochi and eventually back to the Shinshimashima Station.

Where I stayed

As I mentioned earlier I stayed at the Japanese Hotspring Guesthouse Raicho. The location was beautiful, it’s around 15km outside of Kamikochi but the scenery was amazing. It is about a 5 -7 minute or so walk from the Kanko Centre/bus stop which can take you directly into Kamikochi. The guesthouse was very clean, kitchen well equipped and a really good breakfast that you can prepare yourself at a very reasonable price. As an added bonus there was a private onsen that guests could use free of charge. Budget travelling at its finest!

There are lots of options for accommodation and budgets in the mountains, many of which are closer to Kamikochi. Check them out here.

Activities

Arriving late on the first evening I took advantage of the private onsen and the chance to relax and a very busy few days.

My plan for the following day was to climb Mt. Yakedake aka ‘The burning mountain’. While researching the hike that evening I read somewhere on Tripadvisor that the Mt. Yakedake track officially closes on the 29th of October each year. It was just my luck to have arrived a few days after the 29th. I decided to take a chance and try to hike it anyway.

I woke early the next day, cooked my breakfast, made my lunch and got the first bus to Kamikochi. Jumping off the bus I headed straight for Mt. Yakedake. The weather wasn’t great, the skies were grey, it was pretty chilly and it was spitting rain.

Climbing Mt. Yakedake attempt 1


After about half an hour walking south-west along the Taisho riverbank, I made it to Mt. Yakedake trailhead and started my ascent up the mountain. The start of the trail was beautiful, winding through forest and rock. It was raining pretty heavy and as I made my way up the mountain that rain started to turn to snow. I reckon I was almost halfway to the top when my fears were confirmed. Along the trail, you have to cross over a ladder crossing (effectively a ladder used as a bridge) that connects one large boulder to another. This ladder had been removed as the trail was now officially closed.


I had a quick look to see if there was a way around but there was nothing obvious, the weather was worsening and I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks so I made my way back down to the river. I spent some time wandering around the Taisho Pond but the bad weather had spoiled the day and I headed back to the guesthouse to warm up and jump in the onsen.

The weather reports for the following day were much more promising with clear skies and warmer temperatures promised. As I sat enjoying a nice warm onsen I couldn’t help but to try and think of a way that I could climb Mt. Yakedake the following day. I had figured that I could try to go back up and build my own bridge or find an alternative route.

Climbing Mt. Yakedake attempt 2


Eat, sleep, hike Mt. Yakedake, repeat. The next morning I pretty much did the same as the morning before, bar I brought my backpack with me as I was planning on catching a bus back to Matsumoto that evening. I put my luggage into storage and made my way towards the trailhead. Up I go again, this time in much better weather and much better spirits. I made it to the ladder bridge again. I searched the area for some timber or something long enough to make a bridge but I couldn’t find anything that I felt safe enough crossing. I looked for some alternative routes but there didn’t seem to be any. On the positive side, the view from where I was was pretty epic and that in itself made the walk back up worth it.

Climbing Mt. Yakedake attempt 3


In this scenario 3 is not a charm! As I came back down from attempt 2 the zips on my backpack opened and my FujiFilm went flying, luckily I picked it up and there was no damage done. I thought nothing more of it and continued down to Taisho pond. The views today at the Taisho pond were top-notch, lots of beautiful autumn colours and an ice-capped mountain backdrop. I walked along the river bank and headed over to check out the Tashiro-ike Pond before making my way back to the Kamikochi visitor centre. Hungry from lots of walking I went to grab some food from my backpack. While I was searching in my backpack I noticed that my RayBans sunglasses weren’t there. In a bit of a panic, I searched everywhere but they were gone.


Then the penny dropped, the glasses must have been catapulted from my backpack before the camera was. I’m not the luckiest guy when it comes to sunglasses or mobile phones but that’s a topic for another day, having lost 3 pairs of RayBans in the past I really didn’t want my total to rise to 4.


So I set off again towards Mt. Yakedake trailhead again, for the third time. I followed the trail all the back up to where the ladder bridge is meant to sit but unfortunately, they were nowhere to be seen. I made my way to the Kamikochi visitor centre, made an Instagram post and caught the bus back to the Shinshimashima Station.

No matter what your interests are you’ll be rewarded with great views, drives and walks on your visit to Kamikochi. There are hiking trails to keep everyone happy. The walks along the riverbank are very picturesque and peaceful and if you’re up for a bit more adventure there are lots of days hikes and even some multi-day hiking in the area. I hope you have better luck than I did!