Spotlight: Kamikochi (Japan Alps)

My first year in Japan, I eagerly awaited the first three-day weekend on the Japanese calendar. For us, it happened to fall in mid-September and immediately, the wheels started turning. Japan is known for its stunning displays of autumnal color and I was determined to get us a front row seat.

One of the best places to go for leaf-peeping is Kamikochi, part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park in the Japan Alps. Part of the beauty in this park, aside from the leaves, is the fact that no cars are allowed to drive within the park’s borders. It makes access a bit tricky, but the payoff is worth it.

The Kappa Bridge in Kamikochi

Kamikochi is crisscrossed by hiking trails but most of the visitors congregate near the Kappa Bridge. It’s arguably one of the most photogenic spots in the park – a wooden suspension bridge across the Azusa River with the peaks of the Alps in the background. You could probably spend a lazy hour on the riverbank, taking pictures and enjoying the view. But stretch your legs and amble upriver a bit through the leafy woods to the Myojin Pond, a crystalline little watering hole that perfectly reflects fall colors on its surface.

If you’re an avid hiker, Kamikochi is an excellent jumping off point for the peaks above – the two-day Yarigatake trek is one of the most popular. It was this hike that inspired Englishman William Gowland, a goldsmith working for the Meiji government, to coin the term Japan Alps back in 1877. But regardless of how many miles you’re logging during your visit, avoid autumn weekends if at all possible. Like I mentioned before, we planned our trip for a three day weekend in September. Not exactly the wisest move. When I asked a woman at the main visitors’ center when the best time to enjoy the trails might be, she smiled and told me to come back in the morning (a Tuesday).

Myojin Pond

Kamikochi’s official English website is pretty informative so make that one of your firsts stops if you’re planning a trip to the Alps. Or leave the planning to me with an Uncover Japan personalized itinerary!

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