Matsumoto is surrounded by high mountains on both its east and west sides. The western area is treasured for its deep, picturesque nature and is characterized by Mt. Yari, Mt. Norikuradake, and other towering peaks of Chubu Sangaku National Park’s Northern Japan Alps, some of which rise above 3000 meters. Kamikochi and Norikura Highlands will amaze you with their breathtaking views throughout the year. In the eastern area of Matsumoto, in Utsukushigahara Highlands, you can enjoy a treasure of trove of alpine flowers in spring and summer, beautiful panoramic views of the Japan Alps and even Mt. Fuji on a clear day.
Kamikochi is considered as one of the jewels on the crown of Chubu Sangaku National Park because of its marvelous landscape. It’s name literally means “the highland where gods descend”. Kamikochi is a stunning resort with the beautiful harmony of rocky mountains, riverside forests and clear streams. This is the mecca of hiking and sightseeing of the Japan Alps.
Located at the entrance to the park, Taisho pond’s incredible views of the Hotaka moutains and Mt. Yakedake greet you when you first arrive to Kamikochi. The pond was formed after the eruption of Mt. Yakedake in June 1915 (Taisho era 4 year), causing the volcanic mudslide dammed the flow of Azusa River below. You can still see the remains of some of the trees that were submerged under the water after the eruptions – an eerily beautiful sight. Primarily, the pond was called as Azusa pond, but it’s name was officially changed to Taisho pond thereafter. Japanese monkeys are often observed here. They are very fun.
After a five-minute walk from Kamikochi Bus Terminal you will see the Kappa bridge. It’s name is a the mythical creatures originally appeared in Japanese folktales. It is a type of water sprite used to scare children away from dangers lurking in water. Although it bears a quite scary name, Kappa bridge is the characteristic landmark of Kamikochi. With its views of the Hotaka mountains, Mt. Yakedake, the crystal-clear Azusa river and unparalleled natural scenery, Kappa bridge is Kamikochi’s most popular photo spot.
Myojin pond is another beautiful pond that is highly recommended. It takes about two hours to get to the Myojin area from Kappa Bridge and back. It is a gourd-shaped pond, and the one in front is called Ichi No Ike (Frist pond), while the other behind is called Ni No Ike (Second pond). A rare kind of water weed called Icho Baikamo, fresh water fish (iwana char fish) and mallards can be found there. Hotaka Rear shrine sits by Myojin pond. They host Hotakami no Mikoto, the deity who guards maritime and onshore traffic as well as the Japan Alps. Every October 8th the Hotaka Rear Shrine boating ritual (Ofune Shinji) is held in Hotaka Rear shrine. This is a ritual of expressing gratitude for the safety and benefit of the mountains. They play ancient music on two boats decorated with a dragon and an imaginary bird, which is a graceful scene.
Kamikochi is home to countless species of birds, mammals, fish, and insects. You may have chance to catch a glimpse of Raicho (the japanese rock ptarmigan) here. This rare bird is the much-loved symbol of Japan’s alpine region.
Kamikochi is opened for tourism from early April until late November every year. Spring and summer are seasons of new green leaves. The forest is awake after months of severe winter, tiny buds start to appear on the trees and the shrubs in the forest. We can feel the spring in the air. Snow on moutains melts and the Azusa river begins to fill up when it run through the basin of Kamikochi.
Kamikochi is well-known as a finest place for autumn foliage observation in Shinshu area. When you take the trail from Kappa bridge to Myojin area, the scenery is just marvelous with the harmony of the Hotaka peaks and the Azusa River and the autumn leaves shining gold.
In order to protect the environment and the natural beauty of Kamikochi, tourists are prohibited from entering Kamikochi in their own cars.
From Matsumoto → Shinshimahima Sta. → Kamikochi
- Use the local train “Matsumoto Railway Kamikochi line ” from Matsumoto Station to “Shinshimashima Station”.
- From Shinshimashima Station to Kamikochi by bus.
- You can buy the ticket at Matsumoto bus terminal or at the ticket vending machine in Matsumoto JR station. (JPY 2,500 / oneway / person)
There are also direct buses from Matsumoto bus terminal, but few are practical. You need to check the information at the terminal or the website.
Visitors vacationing in the Kamikochi area also have easy access to Norikura Highlands and Shirahone Hot Springs.