Kamikochi is often regarded as the Japanese Yosemite although it is significantly smaller than its American counterpart. Located in the western portion of the Nagano Prefecture, it is one of the most popular hiking spots in Japan where the mountain peaks reach an altitude of 4,900 feet.
The region is home to two camping areas, hotels, a post office, a tourist information center and several souvenir shops, located mainly between the bus/ taxi terminal and the Kappabashi Bridge. The entire highland is protected as part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park and access is granted by bus or taxi only (private cars are prohibited) from mid-April to mid-November, with the highest number of visitors in the area during the summer school holidays (end of July through the end of August) and when the autumn leaves are at their peak in October.
Kappabashi Bridge, a suspension bridge, is the symbol of Kamikochi. If you arrive early between 5:00 AM and 6:30 AM, you may get a rare glimpse of the local monkeys (Nihon saru) making their morning crossing from one side of the bridge to the other.
According to Japanese legend, the “Kappa” is an imaginary creature who inhabits ponds and rivers. These creatures are usually seen as mischievous troublemakers or trickster figures who sometimes befriend human beings and perform beneficial tasks for them.
Mt. Yakedake (Mt. Yake) is an active volcano separating Kamikochi from the Shin Hotaka Hot Springs. It is one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains, reaching 8,054 feet at the highest peak. Volcanic activity from the mountain in 1920 formed Taisho Lake. It is fed by water from the Azusa River, which is the clearest and cleanest water in a natural setting. Taisho Lake is regarded as the most scenic point in Kamikochi.
Also a part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, is Mount Hotaka. You can take an aerial tramway, the Shin Hotaka Ropeway up to the hillside of Mount Hotaka, the third tallest mountain in Japan. The Ropeway which is operated by The Meitetsu Group who also operates hotels in the area, opened in 1970 and consists of two lines. The first line travels 1,880 feet and reaches a vertical interval of 617 feet. The cable car can carry 45 passengers and the duration of the one-way trip is 5 minutes. The second line uses double decker cars and is the first aerial lift in Japan to do so. It travels a length of 1.6 miles reaching a vertical interval of 2,782 feet. The double decker cabins have a capacity to carry 121 passengers one a one way journey which lasts 7 minutes.
It is said that a Buddhist priest from the Toyama region was the first climber of the Kamikochi mountains. During this time, mountain climbing was practiced as worship. By the Meiji period, mountain climbing was introduced as a leisure and sport activity. Today, travelers to Kamikochi can expect a good selection of hikes, from the simple to the very challenging; each guaranteeing a breathtaking series of views that change according to the season.
(Photo credits: Rocky Andoh)