Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kamikochi: The Japanese Alps

Kamikochi is a popular mountain resort in Nagano Prefecture, Japan that offers a lot of beautiful mountain scenery, especially during autumn. It's open from mid-April until mid-November and closes during the winter. It's not necessary to stay there to enjoy the place although there are a few high-end hotels. It's accessible as a day trip from a number of places, including Hida-Takayama where I was staying.

From Hida-Takayama, I took a bus to Hirayu Onsen (1 hour) and from there took another bus to Kamikochi (30 minutes). There are round trip tickets available at the Takayama bus station for JPY5040, which is cheaper than getting separate tickets. There's no specified time at the ticket but buses run on a timetable. 

From Hirayu Onsen, you have a choice of going down at Taisho Pond, Tashiro Bridge, or the Kamikochi Visitor Center. I went down at Taisho Pond and made the ~4-kilometer hike towards Kappabashi Bridge, near the visitor center, where I'll take the bus back. 

Taisho Pond

Gravel deposits

It's actually barely a hike because the whole trail's terrain is flat, might as well call it a bushwalk. I was a little worried because I had injured knees and my doctor said to take it easy. However, I figured I can always take a rest stop in case my knees get tired.

Walking trail

The backdrop should have been mountainous had the skies been clear.

Tashiro Pond

Azusa-gawa (river). That super clean water!

Such beautiful autumn view!

There are wild monkeys there. This one's hanging out outside one of the hotels.

The whole walk took me two hours (with short frequent stops in between, as well as a lot of picture-taking). Actually, I couldn't take very long rest stops because it was very cold! I had to keep walking if I wanted to keep myself warm. I was just wearing cotton base layers, a knitted pullover, and a thick cotton jacket. It was 10degC and it would have been a lot better had it been sunny but it wasn't.

The trail is also well-marked so no worries about getting lost.

It's a hanging bridge so it moves a lot especially when it's windy or when there's a lot of people on the bridge

The view from Kappabashi Bridge. Unfortunately, the clouds are covering the snowy mountains.

Kamikochi is very well maintained and the autumn views are just AMAZING. Honestly, everywhere I look seemed postcard-worthy. My injured knees didn't give me a hard time so all's good.

The original plan was to have lunch at one of the shops near Kappabashi bridge but there was a lot of people there so I just grabbed a snack. It was a Monday but, turns out, it was a holiday and Kamikochi is a popular destination during autumn so there was a lot of people that day (which is a good thing too because it's not a good idea to hike alone when there's no one else around). The queue for the bus back to Hirayu Onsen was very long and I still wanted to go to an onsen (hot spring) so I went back before the queue got any longer.

Kappa-shaped taiyaki with red bean paste filling

When I got down at Hirayu Onsen, I went to Hirayu no Mori, which is right next to the bus terminal. They're open to daytime bathers for JPY500. There is an indoor pool and a pretty big outdoor bath with multiple pools. Bring a towel because a bath towel there costs JPY500. Shampoo and body wash is available for everyone to use.

It wasn't my first time in a public bath in Japan. I've done it three times when I went to Japan in 2013 for summer school and we had a field trip to Tohoku so I guess I'm quite used to bathing naked with Japanese strangers (lol). Just familiarize yourself with public bath etiquette and you're good to go.

With the cold and all the walking in Kamikochi, a bath in the hot springs was definitely what I needed.

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