Kamikochi is one of the most scenic mountainous spots in Japan and is just 90 minutes away from Matsumoto. A remote mountainous highland valley in the western part of Nagano Prefecture, it is only open from late April to mid-November due to heavy snowfall through winter and spring.
From Matsumoto Station, I took a 30-minute train ride through the Kamikochi Line to Shinshimashima, and from there took the bus to Kamikochi. I was initially worried that I might not catch the bus but when we arrived at the station, the bus was just right there as if waiting for the train passengers.
The combined train-bus ticket costs ¥2450, which is not really cheap, but the scenery on the bus section alone is worth the trip.
The never-ending twists and turns along the highway have fantastic views of the Asuza river valley, mountains covered in red and yellow, several tunnels, mountain villages, and a few dams.
The one-hour bus ride ended in the spacious Kamikochi bus station. As soon as I stepped out of the bus, I was immediately awed by the grandeur of the Japanese alps.
Going along with my plan. I first reserved a seat on one of the returning buses bound for my next stop – Hirayu Onsen, where there is a connecting bus going to Takayama. Next, I got a hiking map from the visitor center and grabbed a quick lunch. There aren’t any restaurants around the station but one can buy a bento from numerous food stalls and find an empty spot on the benches and tables sprawled al fresco style.
After lunch, I started my hike following the road towards Kappabashi Bridge. The symbol of this mountain resort, Kappa Bridge, is a wooden suspension bridge with panoramic views of the summits of Nishihotakadake, Okuhotakadake, and Myojindake – towering mountains over 3000 meters above sea level.
It is possible to walk along the side of the river, cross the bridge, hike to Taisho Pond up to the Weston Memorial Plaque and back in just more than 60 minutes. Reverend Walter Weston who first came to Japan as a 27-year old missionary, is known as the Father of Mountain Climbing in Japan.
Walking along Azusa River from Kappa Bridge one will pass an area called Myojin where several lodges and shops attract visitors. I followed the trail and reached Myojin Pond. The scenery is reminiscent of a tranquil Zen garden, quiet and refreshing, perfect for soul-searching moments.
The walk usually takes an hour, but I wanted to savor the moment, took lots of pictures, and went down the river bed, so it took me 2.5 hours, just enough to get back to the bus station for the 2:40 PM trip.