What is this famous ‘Kamikochi’?
Kamikochi is a Kamikochi is a plain located between the Northern Alps of Nagano Prefecture. It offers a delightful 10 km long walking course and boasts of a splendid environment abundant with natural scenery, rivers, ponds, forests, and marshes. In 1952, the area was recognized as a Special Natural Monument and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.
Kamikochi has been a popular tourist destination for about a century now. It gained fame after a novel that was set in Kamikochi was published in 1927 and was later chosen as one of the most scenic spots in Japan.
The designation of Kamikochi as a Special Natural Monument and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty led to a movement to protect its natural environment, which spread from early on. Consequently, Kamikochi has become a habitat for several rare plants, fish, and animals. lying between the Northern Alps of Nagano Prefecture. Here you can find a 10km-long walking course and a splendid environment filled with natural scenery, rivers, ponds, forests, and marshes. In 1952, the area was designated as a Special Natural Monument and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.
Kamikochi became widely known as a tourist destination about 100 years ago. In 1927, a novel that was set in Kamikochi was published, and it was selected as one of the most scenic spots in Japan.
Its designation as a Special Natural Monument and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty gave rise to a movement to protect Kamikochi's natural environment, which spread from early on. As a result, Kamikochi is home to many rare plants, fish, and animals.
Popular sightseeing spots in Kamikochi
Kamikochi is magnificent with its rivers, mountains, and ponds. Only a few hours away from the cities of Tokyo and Nagoya, you can enjoy its gorgeous natural beauty. But next, let’s take a look at some of the tourist spots you should visit in Kamikochi.
Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi), a symbol of Kamikochi
Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi) is a symbol of Kamikochi. In its first incarnation, installed in 1891, Kappa Bridge was a simple log bridge. After that, the bridge was replaced four times, and the fifth generation, which was installed in 1997, became the form you see today.
Spanning the clear waters of the Azusa River, Kappa Bridge is a place where you can overlook the beautiful river and surrounding mountains. You can also enjoy the different colors of the trees. In autumn, the foliage is gorgeous as the trees turn colors, and in the summer, they are a beautiful, lush green.
Kappa was a book written by one of Japan's leading writers, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, that was set in Kamikochi, around Kappabashi. This famous work is one of the reasons Kamikochi became known.
Taisho Pond: Tranquil pond with a mirrorlike surface
Taisho Pond was formed by the eruption of Mount Yakedake, a mountain that spans Nagano and Gifu prefectures. Taishoike Pond is surrounded by mountains, and here you can also still see Mount Yakedake, which created it. When the weather is nice, the mountains are reflected in the pond and a spectacular view.
Skeletons of dead trees, such as Japanese larch and Veitch's silver fir, stand in the middle of Taisho Pond, preserved in a still-standing state.
The Hotaka Mountain Range: a symbol of Kamikochi
The Hotaka Mountain Range is a symbol of Kamikochi. It is in the southern part of the Northern Alps, and here you can find mountains such as Mount Karasawadake, Mount Okuhotaka, and Mount Myojindake. It is also known as a place where the British missionary Walter Weston climbed up in the Hotaka Mountains with mountain guide Kamonji Kamijo to deepen ties.
The magnificent Hotaka Mountain Range is a popular tourist spot for climbers. The mountains can be viewed from many places in the area.
Yokoo: A spot that leads to Mount Yari and Mount Hotaka
Yokoo is a branch between the Mount Yari and Hotaka mountain ranges, and Mount Chogatake. It is also the headwaters for the Azusa River that flows through Kamikochi. Yokoo is different from the popular Kappabashi and Taishoike Pond, having a quiet and majestic atmosphere. Here there are many climbing spots, such as the perpendicular cliffs and the Yokoo Ohashi Bridge that overlooks the mountains.
Various flowers grow in the surrounding area, and in the early spring, pretty flowers such as pink Iwakagami (Schizocodon soldanelloides) and white Nirinso (Anemone flaccida) are in full bloom. Also, there are many unique places in Kamikochi where you can see rare plants; the spectacular scenery here will make you want to take photos.
When is the best season to visit Kamikochi?
Kamikochi has plenty of seasonal attractions, including blooming flowers, fresh greenery, and autumn leaves. Here are the recommended times to come and enjoy different scenery!
Spring: Kamikochi Highlights from late May to early June
In the highlands of Kamikochi from late May to early June, trees are sprouting, and the fresh greenery is beautiful. The climate is warm and perfect for hiking. It is also during this time that the pretty white Nirinso (Anemone flaccida) flowers begin to bloom. The carpet of Nirinso that spreads all over the place is a scene unique to Kamikochi.
Events such as the Kamikochi Walk Rally and Weston Memorial Festival are held at this time, and you can experience the nature of Kamikochi.
Summer: July to August in Kamikochi
The highest temperature in Kamikochi is about 23℃ even in the middle of summer. Since it can drop to a low of 14℃, many tourists visit in search of coolness.
In addition, there are many bodies of water here, such as the Azusa River, Taisho Pond, and Tashiro Pond in Kamikochi, so you should be able to cool off in the heat of summer. The Yomoyama Festival is also held every year on Mountain Day on August 11. You can enjoy live performances, lectures, and a sale of works by artists.
Even in summer, it is cold in the morning and evening, so you should bring a light jacket.
Autumn: Highlights of Kamikochi around October
Autumn, when the temperature drops sharply, is the season when winter clothes are essential. You can see colorful autumn leaves everywhere in Kamikochi. From Kappa Bridge, you can get a gorgeous view of the vividly colored foliage, the river, and the mountains. The trees lining the Azusa River also make for a great view of the fall foliage.
The combination of the "skeleton trees" and autumn leaves of Taisho Pond is a rare sight that can only be seen during this period.
As a heads up, Kamikochi is closed from November 16 to mid-April of the following year - even shops, facilities, and transportation are closed.
3 Recommended walking courses in Kamikochi, arranged by time
Here are some different walking tours that we recommend based on the time you have: 1-2 hour course, 3-4 hour course, and a half-day course. These are all ideal for a day trip to Kamikochi. This is a recommended course that starts at Kamikochi Bus Terminal, which can be called the entrance to Kamikochi.
Recommended 1-2 hour walk in Kamikochi
The first course can be completed in 1 to 2 hours. Since it is a relatively gentle route, light equipment such as walking shoes is all you need.
Kamikochi Bus Terminal → Kappa Bridge → Weston Monument → Tashiro Bridge/Hotaka Bridge → Kamikochi Bus Terminal
Spot 1: Kappa Bridge
Starting at the bus terminal, first walk on the left bank of the Azusa River to Kappa Bridge. Not only is it a beautiful viewpoint, but there are souvenir shops and restaurants, so it is a great place to take a break and have a bite to eat.
Spot 2: Weston Monument
Cross the Kappa Bridge and head toward the right bank of the Azusa River, where you will find the Weston Monument. Walter Weston, a British missionary, told Japan about the joys of mountaineering. He also helped spread the word of Kamikochi's beauty to the world.
Spot 3: Tashiro Bridge/Hotaka Bridge
Tashiro Bridge and Hotaka Bridge are made of timber from Nagano Prefecture. It is a spot that overlooks the Hotaka Mountain Range and Mount Yake. A bench and arbor are also located here, so it is a perfect place for a break.
You can enjoy plants such as Nirinso and Kitsurifune around Tashiro Bridge and Hotaka Bridge. This walk is perfect for those not wishing for anything too strenuous and who want to casually enjoy the scenery of Kamikochi.
Recommended 3-4 hour walk in Kamikochi
A round-trip to through some of the key areas of Kamikochi can be easily walked in about 3 to 4 hours.
Kamikochi Bus Terminal → Kappa Bridge → Hotaka Shrine/Myojin Pond → Weston Monument → Tashirobashi/Hodaka Bridge → Nakanoseenchi → Kamikochi Bus Terminal
Spot 1: Hotaka Shrine, Myojin Pond
Cross the Kappa Bridge and walk on the right bank of the Azusa River. Walking from there, it's about an hour to the majestic Hodaka Shrine. Myojin Pond in Okumiya is known as a sanctuary of Hotaka Shrine. Birds such as mallards and mandarin ducks swimming in the pond are also highlights.
Spot 2: Nakanose Park
Walk along the right bank of the Azusa River towards the downstream of the river. From there, you will see Naka-no-Se Soenchi over the Weston Monument and Tashiro Bridge/Hotaka Bridge. In Nakanose Park, you can worship the Azusa River and the Hotaka Mountains in the distance.
On the course that goes around Hodaka Shrine and Myojin Pond, you can see not only areas with tranquil natural scenery but spiritual spots as well.
Recommended half-day walk in Kamikochi
If you want to fully enjoy Kamikochi, take a half-day trip, and enjoy the surroundings.
Kamikochi Bus Terminal → Kappa Bridge → Hotaka Shrine/Myojin Pond → Tokuzawa → Shinmurabashi → Weston Monument → Tashirobashi/Hodakabashi → Kamikochi Bus Terminal
Spot 1: Tokuzawa
Tokuzawa, an open grassland, is located on the right bank of the Azusa River. It is an area where you can enjoy some of the most important plants in Kamikochi, such as the Japanese elm and Katsura tree. Also, you can see herring that school in large numbers. Tokuzawa, which is also a campsite, is a great spot to relax for a bit.
Spot 2: Shinmura Bridge
Shinmura Bridge is located upstream of the Azusa River. It is close to mountain trails heading to places such as Yokoo and Mount Yari.
The areas around Tokuzawa and Shinmura Bridge resemble mountain trails, so we recommend that you use hiking boots for this area.
How to get to Kamikochi
Kamikochi is a beautiful place to explore the scenery and plants, and it has a distinct atmosphere different from the city.
As a preservation measure, access by car is regulated. Therefore, it is recommended to use transportation modes such as the highway bus or train and bus to reach Kamikochi. Here are the main ways of getting to Kamikochi from Tokyo and Nagoya.
How to get to Kamikochi: Access by highway bus
A great way to access this area is via the Highway Bus. Compared to using the Shinkansen, you can arrive at Kamikochi at a lower price with fewer transfers, so it is a recommended access method for people with lots of luggage or people with children.
Access from Tokyo to Kamikochi
- Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (“Busta Shinjuku”)/JR Shinjuku Station West Exit → Kamikochi Bus Terminal (about 5 hours by Sawayaka Shinshu Line)
- Price: From 6,500 yen (*Standard seat price)
- Bus reservation page (English)
- Busta Shinjuku → Matsumoto Bus Terminal (about 3 hours and 30 minutes by the Matsumoto Line bus)
Transfer to the bus bound for Kamikochi from Matsumoto Bus Terminal. Alternatively, take the Matsumoto Electric Railway Kamikochi Line (train) from Matsumoto Station, get off at Shinshimashima Station, and transfer to the Kamikochi Bus from the Shinshimashima Station Bus Terminal.
- From Shinjuku to Matsumoto Bus Terminal (bus reservation website)
- From Matsumoto Bus Terminal to Kamikochi (bus reservation website)
- Shibuya Mark City → Kamikochi Bus Terminal (about 7 hours 20 minutes by Sawayaka Shinshu)
- Price: 7,900 yen (*Regular price for standard seats)
Access to Kamikochi from Nagoya (direct bus)
- Meitetsu Bus Center → Kamikochi Bus Terminal (about 6 hours 5 minutes by Meitetsu Bus)
- Price: 7,800 yen
How to get to Kamikochi: Access by train and bus
You can also reach the area using trains and buses. Although there are many transfers, the advantage is you can arrive earlier than access by highway bus.
- Tokyo (Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Ueno Station, Asakusa Station, etc.) → JR Nagano Station (about 1 hour 20-50 minutes by Hokuriku Shinkansen), JR Nagano Station → JR Matsumoto Station (1 hour 15-30 minutes by regular train * Wide View Shinano is 50-55 minutes), Matsumoto Electric Railway Matsumoto Station → Shinshimashima Station (Kamikochi Line train, about 31 minutes), Shinshimashima Bus Terminal → Kamikochi Bus Terminal (Alpico Transport Line, about 1 hour and 5 minutes by bus)
- Time required: Approx. 4 hours 11-56 minutes
- Price: 11,620 yen (* When using the Shinkansen unreserved seats departing from Tokyo Station)
- JR Nagoya Station → JR Matsumoto Station (2 hours and 4 minutes on the Wide View Shinano), Matsumoto Electric Railway Matsumoto Station → Shinshimashima Station (Kamikochi Line train, about 31 minutes), Shinshimashima Bus Terminal → Kamikochi Bus Terminal (About 1 hour and 5 minutes by Alpico Transport Route Bus)
- Time required: About 3 hours 50 minutes to 4 hours 15 minutes
- Price: 8,320 yen
- JR Nagoya Station → JR Takayama Station (2 hours 22 minutes by Wide View Hida), Takayama Nohi Bus Center → Nakanoyu (about 1 hour 10 minutes by Alpico Transport Route Bus), Nakanoyu → Kamikochi Bus Terminal (about 14 minutes by Alpico Transportation Route Bus), Shinshimashima Bus Terminal → Kamikochi Bus Terminal (about 1 hour 5 minutes by Alpico Transit Route Bus)
- Time required: About 4 hours 32 minutes to 5 hours 5 minutes
- Price: 8,270 yen
There are a lot of transfers when taking the bus or train, but this allows you the opportunity to drop in at other sightseeing spots around Nagano and Matsumoto before continuing to Kamikochi.
Kamikochi, where the beautiful natural environment is preserved as it is, is indeed a stunning example of a Special Natural Monument. If you walk around even a little, you can encounter rare plants and crystal-clear rivers. This is a perfect place to enjoy a different side of Japan.
Written by: Shiro Tsuchida
(*Prices and other information are as of 2019.)
Recommended Kamikochi tours
Make your trip extra memorable by booking one of these fun tours.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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