Kamikochi is a high mountain valley area in the Hida Mountains of central-northern Honshu. It has spectacular scenery, pleasant walks and a number of conventional hotels and traditional ryokan style inns. Even a couple of camping grounds. The area has a number of spa locations. Winters are pretty tough here which sees the area closed from mid November to mid-late April. This place is very popular - apparently summer and autumn weekends plus school holidays can see 2 hour traffic jams on the access road north of Shin-shimashina. Our weekday visit in late October saw no traffic problems although there must have been a couple of dozen big tourist coaches parked at the visiting area. Our train (past the university) and bus had room to spare.
It is also possible to come from lovely Takayama to the west by both car and bus.
The wc's by the visitors' center asked a 100yen donation, something neither of us have previously seen in a "public" area in Japan.
A good few of the hotels are within easy walking distance of this bus arrival area.
* there are a number of side tracks which lead up into the highlands for the really keen.
There is a really good map with lots of detail of the whole area Tashiro Pond to Yooko at the end of this section.
We crossed back to the eastern side of the river at the Tashiro Bridge. Low clouds lifted a bit to expose Mt Mae-Hotakadake - at 3090m one of the highest in the area. The slightly higher Mt Oku-Hotakadake is obscured to the left. Average river height is 1500m. I have seen a pic of this area in spring on a cloud-free day. The snow covered peaks sure looked good.
A bit further south along a short side path is the Tashiro Marsh or Pond. The eastern valley slopes are closer, nearly as high and more precipitous than the western side in the previous shout.
Our southern turn-around was at the Taisho Pond. The active volcano Mt Yakadake (output is steam only in present times) is hidden in the clouds behind. Debris from an eruption in 1915 dammed the river to form the pond.
I couldn't resist pulling this great shot of Mt Yakadake from Google Earth's embedded pix. Image Panoramio - K Yato
The path north of the Tashiro bridge on the way back to the bus terminal had more fine river and mountain scenery. South of the bridge we took a more easterly "Forest Trail" which parallels the riverside track - this was more noted for its boardwalk sections over marshy areas than the trees.
With an average gap between shuttles to Shin-shimashima at 45 minutes we didn't have too long to wait at the bus terminal. A boarding pass with allocated seats is required so if you haven't done this on arrival make sure you call at the ticket office before departure.
Back on the bus....
Back on the train......
This excellent map from JAPAN ALPS KAMIKOCHI shows the complete area, not just the southern section we did, and has much more detail like hotel locations. Like all pix on this page it can be click expanded for detail but a much bigger version can be seen by clicking to the website here.
Matsumoto with about 240000 people is a basin city surrounded by mountains in the Nagano prefecture of the central northeren highlands of Honshu. It is a gateway to the surrounding mountain regions including several good ski areas, the Kamikochi area detailed above, the Norikura highlands (trekking, camping, skiing, spas, nature) - and has the oldest non-rebuilt castle in Japan. Matsumoto also has lots of museums and is a center of arts, particularly music. At a little over 600m altitude it has a mild summer climate and quite cool winters.
Access is good - the JR Azusa limited express from Tokyo's Shinjuku station takes 2.5 hours and a JR bullet from Tokyo central station to Nagano to the north (1.5 hrs) followed by the JR Shinano limited express (50mins) may work out around the same total time depending on connections. We came in from Nikko in the mountains north of Tokyo on a 4 train medley Nikko via Omiya and Nagano in around 4 hrs. We exited Matsumoto on the Azusa limited express to Shinjuku. People travelling from places like Hiroshima, Osaka and Kyoto can catch a bullet to Nagoya on the main southern line and then the Shinano limited express (2hr). Drivers can use the Chuo express from Tokyo or Nagoya. Matsumoto has an airport with connections to Fukuoka (Kyushu) and Sapporo (Hokkaido).
The heart of Matsumoto is the railway station which is adjoined by a big department store on the east (left). The eastern exit of the station runs by this and descends to a sizable square with local buses and taxis. The unassuming CBD starts to the east of this square. The long-distance bus station is across the road from the square to the south-east (the camera here is looking south-east from our hotel on the other side of the station). There is a host of reasonably priced restaurants within a short distance of the station - the various department stores have a floor of restaurants and the Ario Dept store adjacent the bus station has a budget-priced supermarket in the basement for milk, fruit, bakery stuff etc. I loved the cheap beer and wine.
Admission was 600 yen each which also gained entry to the smallish separate museum in the grounds (well worth a look - and I'm not big on museums). The interior of the castle is dark polished wood and steep staircases - there are some well documented and comprehensive displays of weapons, samurai armour etc.
Our digs in Matsumoto from the Dentetsu Railways (Kamikochi) platform: the grey Hotel Montagne - take the western station exit and walk north along the road adjacent the railway for 3 minutes. Inexpensive (mid $us80s), quiet, clean, room a tiny bit bigger than the average compact Japanese lower-midrange place, the usual impeccable service.
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