I’ve never been much of one for hiking and the outdoors, but that all changed on May 17th when I visited Kamikochi (上高地). Taking a much-needed weekend off from my work duties in Japan, I met my friend and we travelled together to Kamikochi for a spot of hiking and fresh air. I think it would be fair to say I have never seen such beautiful scenery, and I finally learnt what ‘breathtaking’ means.
After dropping off our things at the Hotel Shirakabaso where we would be staying the night, we set off for a gentle hike down to Myojin-ike (明神池 / Myojin Pond) and Myojin-bashi (Myojin Bridge). The map below, taken from the official Kamikochi tourism website, shows the area.
The walk down to the Myojin area wasn’t really that far, but we took our time and admired the scenery along the way. And what scenery!
There was still snow on the mountains, which I just hadn’t expected in May. Along the way we even spotted a raccoon…
OK, so not a real raccoon, but how cute are these signs!
In fact, Japan came up trumps with the cute again here in Kamikochi – even the information and warning signs were adorable.
Near Myojin Bridge we rested in Kamonji-Goya mountain hut and snacked on some freshly caught ‘iwana’ fish (the ‘white spotted char’, a kind of trout).
It was very salty, but really good. This guy seemed to take great pleasure in his job…
Myojin Pond, described on my map as ‘a solemn pond in a virgin forest’, is part of a shrine. Every year on October 8th a boat festival takes place in the shrine, which sounds kind of cool.
Crossing Myojin Bridge we began retracing our steps down the other side of the river, heading back to our accommodation.
Our hotel was right by the famous Kappa-bashi, or Kappa Bridge.
Kappa (河童) are a kind of ‘yokai‘ (妖怪) or monster from Japanese folklore, and I think they’re probably my favourite creature. There’s be a whole lot more to come on this blog on the subject of kappa once I reach the Tohoku portion of my trip, but for now just remember that these little, often green, ‘river children’ are pretty nasty (but kind of cute!).
Naturally, kappa were all over the omiyage…
And the hotel…
Our hotel room was a simple, Japanese style room.
All the fresh air had worn me out and I slept really well. The following morning we rose early for a bit more hiking and were rewarded with this gorgeous view from our window:
Kamikochi, part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園), is hardly touched and the few buildings that are there are built discreetly and in keeping with the area. It’s simply beautiful.
Short on time, we decided to take a bus down to Taisho-ike (大正池 / Taisho Pond) this morning and hike back. Taisho-ike was formed in 1915 when Mount Yakedake erupted and caused the river to be blocked. It’s stunning, and we were so lucky with the weather that morning.
After leaving Taisho-ike we met some Japanese macaques just wandering along. I’ve seen the snow monkeys in Nagano before, but these wild monkeys were somehow different. They were in charge, and we were on their land.
There were more monkeys than people around, and that was a little scary but also incredibly cool. I kept an eye out for monkeys (and kappa!) all the way back.
Before getting on the bus we just had time for a ‘kappa-yaki’ – a sweet pancake filled with red beans. Yum!
Kazueさん – ありがとう for the fantastic idea to go to Kamikochi! 楽しかった！
Kamikochi is only open from mid-April to mid-November, so please be careful if you plan to go there (which I highly recommend you do!). I’m itching to go back and explore some more.