A Place Worth the Effort to See
At an altitude of 1500m, Kamikochi is a vast plain that stretches for 10km along the Azusa River,
found in Japan’s Northern Alps around the Hotaka mountain range.
If you walk along the river banks, you can see a rich variety of stunning mountain landscapes.
The panoramic view of the Hotaka mountain range from Kappa bridge is particularly impressive.
The mountains are surprisingly close, and from here you can even see the figures of people climbing the mountains.
It’s best to stay the night if possible to soak up the special atmosphere created in the mornings and evenings
when there are fewer people around.
Although accessing the mountains is difficult, this stunning vista is worth the effort.
So as to protect the nature in the surrounding area, personal cars are prohibited from entering Kamikochi throughout the year.
Due to this, the only access is by taxi or bus.
Taxis take about 1 hour 30 minutes from Matsumoto Station and have a set fee of 16,000 JPY.
Up to 4 people can ride in the taxi, which would cut the cost to 4,000 JPY per person.
If taking a bus, then the easiest route is the direct bus from Matsumoto Bus Terminal, which takes about 1 hour 30 minutes.
This costs 2,450 JPY one way, or 4,550 JPY for a return ticket.
During high season, the number of buses leaving the station at the departure times is increased,
so there is no need to worry about not being able to get into the bus.
However, although a taxi or bus is the easiest access route, neither are very interesting.
Because of this, we also recommend using a combination of local train lines and buses.
Taking the train and having a short break halfway might be a good idea,
especially for those with small children who may get bored while sat on the bus for an hour and a half.
It’s also possible to drive either a rental car or your own to the nearest car park, Sawando, and take a bus or taxi from there.
For Travel by Train and Bus
First, take the number 7 line for about 30 minutes from Matsumoto Station to Matsumoto Dentou’s Shinshimashima Station.
Change to a bus at Shinshimashima.
This will then take about an hour, following a rather twisty road.
Once the bus passes the Shinkama Tunnel, it has arrived in Kamikochi.
A secluded island of land is a befitting description of Kamikochi, as outside the Shinkama Tunnel, nothing exists but walking over the Tokugo pass.
We Recommend Walking from Taisho Pond
As the bus enters Kamikochi, a large pond and the jagged outline of the mountains are visible to the left.
These are the Taisho Pond and Mount Yake.
It’s usually at this point that the passengers aboard the bus let out a chorus of “Ooh!” in admiration.
Get off the bus when it arrives at the Taisho Pond stop which is straight ahead.
From there, it’s approximately 4km to the Kappa Bridge.
Because the path is flat, this is a safe course even for beginners.
The Famous Dead Trees of Taisho Pond
Since there are stairs right next to the bus stop which lead down to Taisho Pond, head here first.
Taisho Pond was formed in the year Taisho 5 (1915) when an eruption of Mount Yake dammed the river.
Because of this, the trees surrounding the pond wither where they stand, creating the magical scenery which they are famous for.
However, the number of these withering trees has clearly declined when compared with 15 years ago,
and it’s likely that this magical scenery will not be around to enjoy for much longer.
On the other side of the pond, Mount Yake rises up to an altitude of 2,455m.
This is an active volcano, and on a clear day, a faint trail of smoke can be seen rising from its summit.
The water of Taisho Pond is surprisingly clear and very impressive.
From Taisho Pond to Tashiro Pond, Enjoy the Varied Scenery
Heading upstream of the Azusa River from Taisho pond, there is the well-organized walkway.
This stretch of the walk features a variety of landscapes to enjoy across a short distance.
Although it’s a flat area, one section has a scree slope with stones scattered across the ground, so a little care is needed.
The first part of the walking route is boardwalk.
You can also see a mountain stream with a mirror-like surface, creating some beautiful scenery.
Then, after passing over a short scree slope, there is a promenade along the Tashiro Marsh.
The marshlands are lined with white birch trees and many flowers bloom here.
Taisho Pond can be found after about 1km from the start of the Taisho Marsh.
The observation deck at the edge of these marshlands offers a sweeping view of the Hotaka mountain range.
Unfortunately, it was hidden under the clouds when I took a picture...
Turn right at the observation deck and walk about 50m to Taisho Pond.
It used to be around 5m deep, but as sediment has gathered, its depth now only reaches about 10cm.
A Refreshing Walk Along the River from Taisho Pond to Taisho Bridge
From Taisho Pond, there are two possible routes.
The Rinkan Course which goes through the forest, or there is the Azusa River course.
As there is a walkway along the Azusa River, we recommend following this course.
Unlike the area surrounding the Taisho Pond, here you can watch the fast and powerful flow of the deep river while walking along.
The Taisho Bridge, which is the midpoint of the walk, is straight ahead from here.
There is also a toilet available at the foot of the bridge.
From Taisho Bridge, Follow the Left Bank to Kappa Bridge
From Taisho Bridge, there are walkways along both sides of the river.
The question now is which one to walk along?
If you choose the right bank, there is a monument to Walter Weston who ‘discovered’ Kamikochi.
There are also several onsen ryokan, a type of traditional Japanese inn with baths available to use, making this a good day trip.
But, personally, I would recommend taking the left bank which allows you to walk while taking in the views of the Hotaka mountain range.
If you walk along the right bank, then you will walk through the forest, as shown in the picture below.
Kappa Bridge; The Perfectly Placed Suspension Bridge
Walk further along the Azusa River and you will arrive at Kappa Bridge, wedged between hotels which line both sides of the river.
There are also several souvenir shops and restaurants.
The Kappa Bridge offers the perfect photo spot.
Face upstream to see a sweeping vista of the Hotaka mountain range.
The mountains are surprisingly close, and you can even see the tiny figures of people climbing near the summit.
You would be wrong to think it’s only a short climb to reach the top.
Face the other direction downstream to see Mount Yake.
From Kappa Bridge to Myojin Pond Just a Little walk, you can find the stunning view
For those who are taking a bus tour, it might be that you don’t stop at Taisho Pond and are taken straight to the final stop at Kamikochi Bus Terminal.
If that’s the case, then we recommend taking a walk to Myojin Pond after enjoying the views from Kappa Bridge.
However, it’s almost a 4km walk to Myojin Pond and takes over 1 hour to get there, so make sure to check with your schedule and decide how far you can go.
This time, I recommend following the right bank along the river.
After crossing several streams and walking for about 10 minutes from Kappa Bridge, you’ll arrive at a stunning viewpoint.
Rows of Withered Trees at Dakesawa Marsh
While walking along the wooden path that has been built through the marshlands, you will find a small observation deck to your right.
This is the Dakesawa Marsh.
From here, you can enjoy the scenery of small ponds and withered trees.
While the Taisho Pond only has about 10 of these withered trees left, there are still many that remain in these marshlands,
creating a magical sight to enjoy.
Also, keep going for about five more minutes and you’ll arrive at the edge of the marsh.
From here, the scenery looks as though it came from a painting.
Up to this point is easily accessible, making it a safe place to visit for those who don’t have much time.
Head to Myojin Pond and You Might See Wild Monkeys
For those who decide to head to Myojin Pond, there is a path to follow which rises and falls slightly.
There is also the possibility of meeting some groups of monkeys on the way.
They seem to be pretty used to humans, so take care not to get scratched by them.
Any visitors must be careful, and make sure not to catch their gaze or offer them food.
Myojin Pond is roughly a 70-minute walk from Kappa Bridge.
As it’s also part of the Hotaka Shrine, there is an admission fee (300 JPY adults, 100 JPY elementary school students).
What to Wear?
If you plan to walk, then trainers or hiking boots are best.
As for clothes, wear something a little warmer than you would wear in the city.
In summer, wear long sleeves and trousers,
and in spring or autumn, take clothes which will protect you against the cold, such as a fleece.
The weather in the mountains can also change very quickly, so take waterproofs as well.
The Coexistence of the Dynamic with the Delicate; The Charm of Kamikochi
What makes Kamikochi so attractive is the way in which its dynamic mountainous scenery, similar to that of the European Alps,
exists alongside the more delicate landscape that spreads out across the base.
There are not many other places where so much diverse scenery can be seen in one place, and it’s definitely worth a visit.
Personally, if I get chance, then next time I would like to go in time for the autumn foliage, just before Kamikochi closes for winter.
During this time the Japanese larch plants, known as ‘karamatsu’,
shine golden and it seems there are also fewer people, making it the perfect time to enjoy the peaceful beauty of Kamikochi.