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Japan

The Japanese Alps: from Shin-hotaka to Kamikochi

One hour away from pretty Takayama, you’ll be standing in the real Japanese Alps. The main attraction here? The green and grey peeks around Kamikochi. We chose to stay near the Shin-hotaka cableway from where it’s easy to hike to Kamikochi. Prepare for beautiful views (if the clouds will allow it) and green nature that will turn you into a zen state of mind.

View from the top

How to get there

Get the bus to Hirayu Onsen

The central point for all your travellings in this region is Hirayu Onsen, connecting several bus lines. It’s one of the better known villages where you’ll find lots of small hotels with hot springs. Even if you’re just passing through the region, you can enjoy a refreshing foot bath in one of the nearby hotels after a long walk. Don’t worry about taking the bus in Japan by the way, it’s really simple. Every stop has a number that’s being called when the bus is about to pass. Make sure to announce you want to get off at the next stop. If not, the bus driver will continue onwards. Buses are always on time, which makes it very easy to follow the bus schedule you can pick up in the bigger bus terminals.

If you’re travelling from Takayama to Hirayu Onsen, you’ll have two options: go on to the Shin-hotaka ropeway or travel to Kamikochi. There’s plenty of flat and heavier hikes around Kamikochi, but we chose to combine both destinations by walking a more off-the-beaten track. 

Shin-hotaka

If you sleep in a hotel between Hirayu and Shin-hotaka. (read more about our hotel at the bottom of this post), you can leave early in the morning for the ropeway. Take the bus or if you’re lucky, you can arrange a free ride in your hotel. Try to grab one of the first ropeway rides up and enjoy the beautiful view at the top before heading off to the other side of the mountain. Check weather conditions beforehand because if there’s too much wind, the ropeway might be closed.

Hiking to Kamikochi

From the Shin-hotaka mountain station, you’ll start hiking uphill to a mountain hut at some 2.500 meter high. It’s a steep climb of about 1 to 1,5 hours. If skies are blue, you’ll get to see a glimpse of Kamikochi at the other side of the mountain. If you are indeed that lucky, make sure to climb a bit higher up in the direction of Nishi-Hotaka before heading down to Kamikochi. It’s a great spot to enjoy a panoramic view of the valley.

Going down to Kamikochi from Nishiho Sanso will take about 2,5 hours, something you’re legs will remember for a much longer time: it’s all down hill, quite steep from time to time. But you’ll be walking through beautiful ancient forests where you (almost) won’t see any people at all. When you get to the end, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the clear blue river running through Kamikochi. Some 20 minutes further on, the Kappa bridge forms the epicenter of the valley. Fuel up with a locally made potato croquette or bun, and walk further on to the Myoijin pond. It’s a beautiful forest hike that runs through ponds filled with koi carps. If you’re in basic shape, the whole hike is the perfect way to combine the two highlights of this region. 

The hike from Shin-hotaka to Kamikochi takes up 3,5 to 4 hours, and is not suited for people who’ve never hiked before. If you combine it with the walk to Myoijin, you’ll add another 2 hours. The trails in Kamikochi itself are flat and suited for everyone.

Practical tips

  • The last bus from Kamikochi to Hirayu leaves at 5 PM. So keep an eye on your watch because it’s the only way to get out of this place since no cars are allowed in the valley. From Hirayu Onsen, there are plenty of bus connections.
  • These mountains are inhabited by bears. You’ll see many Japanese people carying backpacks with a little bell hung on it to scare them off. If you’re here during bear season, make sure to carry something that makes some noise (or buy a small bell at the mountain station just like we did).
  • Everyone who’s hiking the mountains, has to fill out a form with their personal data and planned route upon arrival and departure . You can drop it at the unmanned huts. If you neglect to do this and you’re stopped by a patrol, you’ll face a severe fine.

Sleeping in the Alp region

The beauty of the Japanese Alps also have a counterpart: sleeping here is not cheap. In Kamikochi prices are going through the roof, except if you plan to camp there. Hiray Onsen is a better option if you don’t want to be ruined. We chose to stay at Hotel Nakaodaira, some 10 kilometers from the Shin-hotaka ropeway, right in the middle of nowhere. 

It’s a lovely place where you’ll be warmly welcomed by the friendly owners. Hotel Nakaodaire only has six rooms, which is perfect if you want to enjoy some peace and quiet. They also have private onsen, four on the inside and two on the outside offering a view on the mountains. Heaven! Since there’s nothing else in the neighbourhood, you’ll have to eat in the hotel. It’s rather expensive, but really worth it. All dishes are home made out of
healthy and locally grown products, Hida roast beef included. 

Hotel Nakaodaira

Read more about the Japanese Alps in our article about Takayama.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Chris
    29 May 2019 at 6:59 am

    Thanks for sharing. We just followed this route from the ropeway. Quite hairy at times as there’s still a lot of snow (late May 2019) and due to how horrifyingly steep the track is (both up and down), but the rangers mark the track out well enough with bamboo sticks every 10 metres.

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