One of Japan’s Most Stunning Alpine Landscapes
Often described as one of the country’s most beautiful natural treasures, Kamikochi sits high in the Hida Mountains – Japan’s highest mountain range. Also known as the ‘Kita Alps’ or ‘North Japan Alps’, the mountain range is one of three – along with the Kiso and Akaishi Mountains (or Central and Southern Japan Alps) – that make-up Japan’s mountainous heartland.
Kamikochi is found at the southern tip of the Chubu Sangaku National Park. A true alpine oasis sitting beneath the high peaks of Mt Yari (3180m), Mt Hotaka (3190) and Mt Yakedake (2455m), the valley follows the Azusa River and is home to diverse range of flora and fauna. Hiking trails span-out along the valley floor and follow the river as it meanders north to south, before more advanced hiking and climbing routes ascend to the mountains above.
Access is controlled to ensure the important ecosystem is preserved for generations to come. A long-standing ban on private vehicles means visitors must use coaches, private taxis or tours to access Kamikochi and though extremely popular, most visitors congregate around Kappabashi – to photograph the iconic bridge with Mt Hotaka rising in the background – and don’t venture much further along the valley.
But don’t let the crowds put you off. By following the trails that lead away from Kappabashi, you quickly be out of the congestion as you wander to some of the best known points including Taisho Pond, Dakesawa Marsh and Myojin Pond. Hiking trails are suitable for all levels – from easy to expert – and duration – from 1 to 2 hours to multiple days. Visitor centers, restaurants and cafes – mostly around Kappabashi – and a range of accommodation options – from camping to luxury hotels – make Kamikochi one of Central Japan’s most popular attractions and one that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Notable Highlights of Kamikochi
Most visitors to Kamikochi will disembark their transport at the Kamikochi Bus Terminal. From there, it’s a short walk – under 5 minutes – to Kappabashi (Kappa Bridge), the most iconic site in the valley. The short span bridge crosses the Azusa River with the three peaks of Mt Hotaka rising-up behind. With the main concentration of restaurants and cafes around the bridge, this is the busiest area of the Kamikochi but nevertheless one that will still get your attention give the stunning alpine view it is famous for.
Running beneath the bridge and along the valley floor, the waters of Azusagawa (Azusa River) shimmer and entice with a deep azure. With walking trails spanning-out from the bridge and following the river, merely walking alongside Azusagawa is a highlight of Kamikochi.
Following the river north, you will pass Dakesawa Marsh within 10 to 15 minutes. Trees rise from the clear water and spotted fish can be seen idly floating below the surface. As you walk on through the forest, you are on your way to Myojin Pond where Hotaka Shrine sits quietly on the edge of the pond with the mountains rising behind.
From Kappabashi, the trail leading south takes you to Taisho Pond and Mt Yakedake. An active volcano, Yakedake’s last major eruption in 1915 lead to a lava flow which blocked the Azusa River and in doing so, created Taisho Pond. The similarly pure and mirror-like water of Taisho now reflects the surrounding mountains, as Yakedake continues to brood to the south.
Whichever way you decide to go, keep an eye out for wildlife including monkeys, deer, bears, hawks and eagles, and more!
All attractions listed are easily accessible on day a visit. A true mountain oasis in the heart of Japan, Kamikochi is a captivating destination.