Monday, 7 September 2015

Walking around Kamikochi

After posting some of my pictures of my recent trip to Kamikochi, many of my friends have asked me how to get there and how much it would take to get there, so I decided to make a blogpost about it, in case anyone else was wondering as well.

So Kamikochi is sort of a basecamp for hiking into the Japanese Alps and it is located about one and half hour from Matsumoto in the Nagano prefecture of Japan (see this well written explanation about the place and the official website here). It is a perfect get a way for a two day easy nature trip from Tokyo, and it can also satisfy more advanced climbers since from Kamikochi you can easily climb up to the more difficult routes of the Japanese Alps.

Here are some of the more pragmatic information relating to Kamikochi

View from the Kappabashi bridge, one of the easy accessible photo spots in Kamikochi

How to get there?

It is actually quiet easy to get to Kamikochi, there is a bus that is run by the KEIO bus line from Shinjuku that goes directly to Matsumoto, it takes around 3 hours and 10 minutes. Then you have to take the train to Shin Shima Shima Station, which takes around 30 minutes, and from there a bus will take you to the Kamikochi bus terminal, this takes around an hour. The KEIO bus line provides a whole package that covers the trip from Shinjuku-Kamikochi-Shinjuku, and this will cost you around 8,200 yen. 

Since I traveled with my Japanese friend she was the one who found the deal of the 8,200 bus+train ride, and she paid it directly by going to the KEIO bus terminal in Shinjuku. I would advice you to call directly to their office or just pay them a visit if you are in the area to ask about this package. 

If you are planning to go by car please note that it can only go until a certain point, and then you still have to take the bus to get within the Kamikochi area. There are also other JR packages that you might be able to use. 

The view from the walking path in Kamikochi

Where to stay?

The Kamikochi area is a popular tourist destination that only opens 5 months per year, so naturally the accommodation around there is pretty expensive. Me and my friends stayed in the camping ground that is closest to the main viewing spot, Kappabashi, this camp ground is called Konashidaira. 

If you are planning on staying in a cabin, the budget would be around 5,000 yen per person, believe me this is cheap in comparison to the other hotels in the area. You can however also stay in a tent, which is considerably cheaper. If you have your own tent than you pay 800 yen per adult, while if you use the tent provided by them its 8,000 yen per tent (it can fit 4 people), please note however that it gets cold especially during the night and in the morning so it is advised for you to bring your own sleeping bag since the camp ground does not provide sleeping bag rentals. 

Other than the Konashidaira Camp ground mentioned, there are a number of other camp grounds in the area, please see the link here

If you are like me and have no sleeping bag and nobody around you can lend you one, there is a very nice rental place in Shinjuku, Tokyo that rents out all sorts of outdoor gear, such as sleeping bags, climbing jackets, climbing boots, bags etc (see the link here). Renting a whole set of sleeping bag is 4,000 yen for two days and with every additional day it only adds 500 yen or so. A full set of climbing clothes is also around 4,000 yen for two days, and an additional 200 yen is needed for every additional day.  The good thing about the this rental service is that after wards you can simply go to any convenience store inside Japan and send it back to the rental place, free of charge, considerably reducing your baggage weight, if you were to have a long trip in Japan.

What to wear?

If you are not planning on hiking one of the nearby mountains, and are just thinking of staying around Kamikochi and do easy hikes like I did there really isn't so much need for fancy hiking gears, usual clothes are OK, as long as you yourself feel comfortable walking in them. You will however need to have warm clothes nearby since even in early September the temperature can get down to 13 degrees or so. 

The Marsh Land close to Tashiro Pond

What to see?

There's plenty to see in Kamikochi, and everything is relatively close by, the farthest being a two hour (easy) hike, you can see the course route from this link.  The most famous sight would be the Kappabashi bridge which is a 3 minte walk from the main Kamikochi Bus terminal. From here you acn already see the most breathtaking view of the gorgeous Japanese Alps and the blue river that flows from it. 

The route of going up and down from Kappabashi will each take a little more than half a day back and forth on an easy pace, but you can potentially do everything in one day, although that would probably defeat the whole purpose of having a refreshing week end among nature. 

The Taisho Pond and Tashiro Pond are by far the most beuatiful spots in Kamikochi for me, but the walk in the forest is also quiet refreshing by itself.  Please note the weather report, since like many other nature places Kamikochi is best enjoyed with beautiful weather. 

What to eat?

Kamikochi is a tourist destination so you are not going to starve to death since there's plenty of restaurants selling delicious food with a wide variety of options. They do however close pretty fast (all shops are closed by 5.30 pm I think) and are quiet expensive (ranging between 800-1200 yen per meal). 

There are some cheap options though, such as eating at the canteen in the camp ground, where you can still get some soba at around 500 yen or so, or if you are staying in a cabin inside the camp ground you will get a fully functioning cabin in which you can cook your own food. You can buy groceries such as vegetables, oil, rice, noodles from the shop at the camp ground. This might be best option for the vegetarians out there since despite the big variety of food in the restaurants in Kamikochi, most of them are not vegetarian friendly. 

Beautiful Tashiro Pond

What to do?

Everything in Kamikochi closes early, so don't imagine to be in a place where there is much activity after dark. Other than hiking and eating (and sipping in all that beautiful nature), you can also enjoy Onsen in the hotels in the area. They have specific open time where visitors who are not hotel guests can also enjoy the Onsen in that fancy hotel. The time allocated for outside visitors are usually between 12:00pm - 2:30 pm, although it might change depending on the hotel. 

The Onsen are typically 600 yen to get into but does not include towels. If you were to rent towels it will cost you an additional 200 yen or so, so I would advice you to have a towel ready for whenever you are thinking of going into a fancy hotel Onsen.

The internet coverage of even Docomo is quiet weak in Kamikochi, especially in the camp ground, although it gets better around major hotels. So you will have to think of other things to do then browsing your smartphone during the night. An excellent chance to finally disconnect from the internet like you always thought of doing but never get to do. 

Make sure that you do go with a set of great friends to talk to since traveling to Kamikochi is a great opportunity to catch up with them. 

The view of Taisho Pond from inside the forest. 

I hope I have covered all the questions you might have about Kamikochi, and I hope this would be helpful for anyone planning on going to visit Kamikochi. Enjoy your trip!

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