Kamikochi in Golden Week
We took a chance and travelled to one of Japan’s premiere holiday spots during the busy “Golden Week” national holiday – and managed to have a good time doing it. The crowds thinned out the further we strayed from hotspots such as Kappa-bashi Bridge, and be arriving a day late and leaving a day early missed the worst of the crowded buses and trains. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring crampons and trekking poles to climb the still snow-laden trails into the mountains, but we managed to have a great two-day trek along the Azusagawa River which runs through the valley surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of Japan’s North Alps.
The bus into Kamikochi makes a stop at Taisho-ike Pond. The pond formed in 1915 after the eruption of Mount Yakedake, and even now under the clear shallow water of the pond you can see metallic browns and greens and blue sediments on the bottom. Unfortunately, glare from a cloudy sky made it difficult to get good pictures of the pond bottom without a polarizing filter. Still, the clear water, multi-colored pond bottom, and dead timber of the flooded forest at the base of snow-capped Mount Yakedake form a striking composition.
At times the river flows past gravel bars and standing forest…
At other times more “through” than “past”…
The view of Mount Myojindake from our room at the Myojinkan inn. Mitsuru Nashida-san, the master of the inn, told us that the area around Myojin-ike Pond is the “original” Kamikochi resort – people have apparently been visiting for millennia. The Tokugo-toge Pass climb starts here; Nashida-san warned us off attempting the 3 1/2 hour climb without crampons and trekking poles to handle the snow.
Early risers visit the pond and its waterline shrine at dawn to catch the sunrise. We settled for an afternoon visit…
Saru, Japanese macaques, live wild along the river. Locals and visitors do a good job of not feeding the animals, so the troops of monkeys we saw were quite indifferent to our presence.
Mountain Cherry Blossoms
The blossoms are still on the trees in late April; they close up during thew cold nights and re-open in the heat of the day. (For the record, the temparature dropped down to near freezing at night, though during the day it got intoo the 20s – that’s Celsius).
View from Kappa-bashi Bridge
The main tourist area of Kamikochi clusters around Kappa-bashi Bridge. Hotels and cafes line the riverbank; tents sprout like mushrooms on the open lawn of a campground. There’s a picnic-y, day-trippy, fun-for-the-whole-family kinda feel to the place.
Kamikochi is well on the beaten path, even in spring, and there’s plenty of travel information available online.
Introducing Kamikochi at Lonely Planet
Kamikochi Travel Guide at japan-guide.com
Kamikochi at Hiking in Japan
Back at the turn of the last century, during Japan’s Meiji Era, the Anglican missionary Walter Weston popularized Japan’s mountains for people back in Europe. His travel guide Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps (1896) is available for free online from archive.org.