By Jerome Lee
I have always been a firm believer of waking up early while traveling. Why waste time sleeping during these precious traveling hours when you could wake up early, soak up the first rays of the morning sun and take in the beautiful sights that a foreign land has to offer? Especially for a place like Kamikōchi in Matsumoto city, Nagano prefecture, it would be all the more worth sacrificing those extra 2 to 3 hours of sleep.
Setting off at 6.30am from Matsumoto station, it is roughly a 40 minute ride on the Alpico line to the last stop, Shinshimashima station, an hour-long bus ride, to Kamikōchi bus terminal. Upon reaching the station, I was greeted by the beautiful Kamikōchi visitor center, where guests can find out more information about walking the nature trails along Kamikochi, or even mountain climbing for the adrenaline junkies. However, taking a short 30 second walk to the river, I came face to face with one of the most beautiful sights ever in Japan, the Hokata mountain ranges. Visitors stood along the river banks, cupping their hands to taste the fresh flowing waters and enjoying the breathtaking views Kamikōchi has to offer. From there, it is a 10 minute walk to the Kappabashi bridge where a few photographers and painters stood, all trying to interpret the beauty in front of them their way. There are also a few hotels near this bridge, with prices ranging from ¥8,500 to ¥20,000 a night.
From Kappabashi bridge, it is a 70 minute walk along the forests of Kamikōchi, trudging through narrow paths and man-made planks before arriving at Myojin pond. The area has a rest stop where visitors can grab a bite, and it costs ¥300 to enter the Myojin pond area, whose sights are reminiscent of Japanese zen gardens combined with swampy marshlands and erect mountains. Within the area, I crossed the Myojin bridge and walked for another hour before reaching the Tokusawa area, where lodging and camping facilities are available, and promises some amazing views during the stay. A nearby resthouse provides some snacks for those feeling peckish, and enjoying a soft serve while lying on the grass admiring the mountainous is a real luxury afforded only by those who care to walk there far in the Kamikōchi area.
Some of the places worth visiting in the Kamikōchi area are the Yokoo area, which is the start of the Okuhotaka, Yarigatake and Chogatake peak for the mountain climbers, and the Taisho pond, an hour's walk south of the Kamikōchi bus terminal, which offers up fantastic views of the Hotaka mountain range in the early morning. However, due to time constraints and bad weather in the afternoon, I was unable to visit these two places, but it was still a fantastic day spent at Kamikōchi. There is always a scenic view to be had at every corner, the snow-capped mountains still sightable even in summer. It's not a place to be visited only once, and I can guarantee that I'll be back at this spectacular place the next time, possibly scaling the mountain ranges for an even better view of this treasure of Japan. I did manage to capture some other amazing shots. You can check them out here.
For those on the JR East Pass, take the Asama shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano station, and change to the JR Shinonoi line at the latter to Matsumoto station. From there, the round trip ticket from Matsumoto station to Kamikochi bus terminal costs ¥4550, and takes you on the train from Matsumoto to Shinshimashima station, where you'd have to change to the bus bound for the Kamikochi bus terminal.
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Singaporean who lived in Melbourne, Australia for 3 years, and undertook a journalism degree. A lover of soul, funk music (Motown especially), and many other forms of music. Love meeting new people, and creative things (art, fashion, photography, design, films...). Currently working at JapanTravel in Tokyo as Operations Manager for the Travel Agency department, and chasing spelling mistakes/grammatical errors in Tokyo