About 51 kilometers west of Matsumoto City lies Kamikochi, roughly meaning “where gods descend”, originally. This place is gorgeous. It is the prime attraction of the Chubu Sangaku (central mountain) National Park and the ideal start to many of the adventures to be done in the area.
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 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 Mt. Yari (3,180 m) and Mt. Oku-Hotakadake (3,190 m). 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.
Walking and Hiking
At 1,500 meters, Kamikochi is cool, scenic—and busy. During the summer months and into early autumn, the walking trails along the Azusa river offer spectacular scenery and fresh air. If you want to be right in the center of the northern Japanese Alps, then Kamikochi is your place for leisurely walks and also rigorous hikes. The center of activity is at the Kappa Bridge where you’ll find a few restaurants and souvenir shops, and it’s a short walk from the small bus station. Here are some of the popular hikes and mountain destinations:
You can also hike the historical trail to Kamikochi from Shimashima via Tokugo Pass, which takes about 10-12 hours (or 2 days if you choose to camp or lodge at Tokugotoge Lodge).
The Lonely Planet Publications’ Hiking in Japan has a lot of detailed information on trails and such, as well. You can also get detailed map in Japanese at the Visitor’s Center which includes estimated travel times between huts.
Lodging and Camping
Mountain lodges (or yama-goya) provide futons and bunk space, and meals and don’t require reservations. Costs vary from about ¥6,000 to 9,000. Most lodges have adjacent campgrounds for campers. On popular trails in August, you may make a few new friends while sharing a futon at one of the mountain lodges! The check in time is 4 pm, but it is recommended that you get to the huts by about 2-3 pm. You do not need to bring a sleeping bag, and they provide two meals and sometimes a simple lunch. If you plan on camping, the cost is ¥500–700. You’ll be better off buying your food outside of Kamikochi. It will be much cheaper. Some options include Konashidaira Campgrounds, Nishiitoya Sanso, Myojinkan Ryokan, and Tokusawa-en.
There are also 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, use the lodges or campgrounds above.
See also the following FAQs: