Why Kamikochi and what is it like?
Kamikochi is one of the easiest access points to the Japanese Alps, just 45mins from Matsumoto by bus – perfect for a day hike!
The main trail is pretty easy (flat to slight incline), well-marked and every couple of miles there are restrooms and food areas. It’s a great place for a nice walk or a multi-day camping trip if you want to “glamp” in Japan. For advanced hikers, Kamikochi sits at the bottom of Mt. Hotaka which provides a challenge for those seeking altitude hikes (10K feet or 3K meters).
There are a few things about hiking in Japan that you are not likely to find in hikes in the US- food stations every couple of miles, restrooms, man-made structures such as suspension bridges over Azusa River, and lots of hiking groups. If you are looking for untouched nature, this will be a little different, but still worth the experience. Most people only visit the big cities and miss out on the beautiful nature that Japan has to offer.
Tips for hiking Kamikochi, The Japanese Alps:
- Plan on leaving Matsumoto early so that you can enjoy Kamikochi without hurrying to get back. The first bus leaves at 5am.
- Schedule a night in a Ryokan after you hike. This was a mistake I made. Instead of soaking in a nice hot onsen, I took a train back to Tokyo – I arrived super late and exhausted.
- The bus station is right across the train station. Leave your luggage in a locker at the train station and only carry what you need for the hike.
- The bus is not cheap, about U$45 roundtrip, but it includes a narrated guide over the area. It is all in Japanese, but still entertaining nonetheless, and if you seat close to the guide, you will be able to understand a lot of the tour by watching where the guide is pointing at different parts of the trip. Cars are not allowed in the park, so even if you rent a car, you will need to take the bus for the last leg of the trip.
- Take the left side of the trail from the river. I did a loop taking the right side, crossing the bridge and coming back on the left side and regretted that I didn’t take the left side both times. It was a lot more picturesque.
- Take food and drinks with you to avoid high costs and plan to bring all your trash back. There are no trash cans anywhere. Even if you buy food from a restaurant, you are required to bring the trash back with you to Matsumoto.
- Take a break by the river. It’s amazingly blue and clear.
- If you have a few days, the park offers tents that are already set up, which means you don’t have to carry any of that stuff and since there are food stations available, you don’t even need to cook- glamping!!
- Make sure to pay attention to return times. The last bus leaves Kamikochi around 4pm and the schedule sometimes changes. Check the timetables before you go!
- This is very important! Even if you bought a roundtrip ticket, you still need another ticket which lets them know you will be going back on the same day. You can get this ticket at the return bus stop when you are ready to leave. It will assign you a number and the number will be called when the bus is ready. A tip here: you don’t need to speak Japanese to know when they call you. Just find the person in line that has the number before you and pay attention to them- once they board, you should be next. Of course, this is only valid if they are not foreigners like you.
- Ah! Don’t forget basic rules of trails: take only memories, leave only footprints and say hi to everyone you pass, which in Japanese is Konnichiwa, but if you really want to sound cool, just say “chiwaa!” If you don’t get a response, they are probably foreigners.
Have you been to Kamikochi? Do you like to hike when traveling abroad?