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Have you heard of the Japan Alps?
They’re a gorgeous snow-capped mountain chain in western Japan, but one that is not easy to reach.
Start your journey by visiting the official website for Kamikochi.
That website has everything in both Japanese and English. Kamikochi is hugely popular among the Japanese, yet missed by a lot of foreigners traveling to Japan. (Although tour buses of Chinese with giant cameras regularly offloaded passengers).
The biggest problem with Kamikochi is getting there — expensive and time-consuming.
Before you go near Kamikochi decide where you will stay and how you will get there. It will effect how much time you have and everything you can do at Kamikochi.
That web page gives a great description of all the different ways to reach Kamikochi. You can take a direct bus from Shinjuku station to Kamikochi that will take 5-7 hours.
Another option is the four day UNLIMITED PASS:
This pass allows unlimited travel on the trains and shuttle buses, express buses and local buses to/from Kamikochi, Norikura Highlands, Matsumoto (castle town), Takayama and the world heritage “Shirakawa-go” within 4 days.
■ Fee : Adults 10,290 yen / Child 5,150 yen
If you are in the area, then be aware that the last bus to Kamikochi from Sawando station is at 5:24 pm.
Going by car will only take you so far. The parking spots all cost around 1,000 yen for the whole day. When you park, you go wait for the bus.
This is their most recent schedule for the buses:
The buses became less frequent in the afternoon. If you hit it wrong, you’ll wait 40 minutes for one. The fee to Kamikochi is 2,000 yen ($20) per person. That means if you go by car you will pay like by this formula:
1,000 yen (parking) + 2,000 yen x no. of members = your total
You are not allowed to drive to Kamikochi because it is a protected environment. You must take the $20 bus or walk (which will take over an hour) to Kamikochi. Biking is another option (uphill most of the way).
Go early. Parking spots fill up in the tourist season and the buses get busy. The biggest, most expensive part is getting there. You will wait half an hour for an fifty minute bus ride to Kamikochi.
Next is a place to stay.
There are lots and lots of option for staying in and around Kamikochi.
If you want to stay around Kamikochi, then a car is better. There are lots of great Traditional Inns (Ryokans) in the area that will require a car to reach.
If a car is not an option, then you can stay at one of the many hotels, traditional inss, lodges, and campsites in Kamikochi. Here is a link for those. They will be expensive. In the busy seasons bookings can be hard to get.
The nice thing about staying at Kamikochi is that you can start the trails whenever you want without having to wait for those buses that take forever. The downside is the price.
The cheapest thing you can do to stay overnight at Kamikochi is rent or bring your own tent and stay at one of two campsites: Tokosawa or the Yokodo. The fee of planting your tent in those areas from 2pm to 12pm the next day is 700 yen.
You can reserve a spot at Tokosawa online, but Yokodo can only be done by phone (in Japanese).
There is no cost of admission on the actual trails. That part is free.
What To See
Here is the link to a map of the sightseeing area.
Most of the tourist buses ship people to these areas. They are beautiful, photogenic in most weather (even cloudly), but the most likely to have crowds. Nevertheless, the crowds even on Golden Week were not that bad.
The hiking trails are graded in difficulty here.
The most difficult trails require approval of your “climbing skills” and gear to even attempt. The easiest ones can be done in a day. For beginners, Mt. Yakedake is recommended. It takes six hours and you should start early.
The hardest peak to reach is Mt. Yari (20 hour) climb and is only recommended for people with experience. The toughest trail is Dai-Kiretto (26 hours) and you need permission to attempt it.
We have not had a chance to hike any of the trails to the mountain tops. We want to try next year or this summer. We only did the river walks that take you through the forest. It is a hiker’s dream.
A breathtaking experience…