Kamikochi, Japan

Chubu Sangaku National Park, Nagano


Kamikochi is a resort nestled in Japan's Northern Alps. It is essentially a 15km long plateau, about 1,500m above sea level, in the Azusa River valley. The park is open from mid April until November 15, it's closed during winter but it is still possible to visit - if you don't mind hiking through deep snow for a couple of days to a place with no facilities. I visited in late autumn, one week before the park shut down for the season.

There are several ways to get to Kamikochi, I took an overnight bus from Tokyo station. The bus departed around midnight and arrived just before 6:00am. The weather forecast was for around 8 degrees but, during the night there was a snow storm and it was absolutely freezing. I can't overstate how bloody cold it was.

After grabbing some breakfast near the bus depot I set off on the roughly 8km hike along the river to my accommodation, not far from the Myojin Bridge. Actually "hike" is a bit of an exaggeration, it's a pretty flat and easy walk. It took me most of the day as I took a few side trails and was constantly stopping for photos, not to mention that large sections of the path were covered in snow and ice.

There are plenty of options for places to stay from a camp ground to extravagant hotels. I stayed in a cheaper traditional Japanese inn. The inn had no heating other than little blow heaters and radiators in just about every corner. It was comfortable enough with a good hot bath and the home-style food was sensational.

The accommodation is located just near Myojin First Pond, a beautiful spot with the mountains in the background reflected in the still water. I spent an hour and a half or so there in the morning firing off some exposures.

Day two was much more pleasant, the sun came out and the temperature rose to a balmy ten degrees. The downside to the better weather was the number of people out and about, it became harder to find compositions without people. Interestingly the walk back, on the opposite side of the river, offered completely different scenery to day one... views of thick forest and small streams and ponds. I made it back to the bus depot with plenty of time for lunch before the 2:00pm departure. The bus arrived back in Tokyo well after 9:00pm.

Kamikochi offers plenty for photographers - from snow capped peaks, views along the river and across the ponds, forest scenery, and plenty of wildlife, including the Japanese macaque.

Northern Japan Alps

Northern Japan Alps

Mountain view

Mountain view

Azusa River

Azusa River

Snow-capped peaks

Snow-capped peaks

Late autumn colours

Late autumn colours

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