We had taken the bus from Takayama JR station to Kamikochi and got off in front of the Taishoike Hotel where we had reserved a room in advance. Typhoon #9 of 2007 had just passed over the area and the weather was just getting better. The hotel was the usual small Japanese room but it had a pleasant surprise in the form of a nice view from the communal bath and an excellent dinner from a table with the same breathtaking view over the Taishoike pond. The next morning I woke up around around 5AM and after I took a look from the window, I grabbed my photo gear and took some of my favourite photos from the hotel room window. We got up and dashed outside where the first hikers were just getting ready. The Taishoike pond was covered with some early morning fog which together with the lonely decaying trees created a very surreal sight and it was difficult to put the camera down.
Kappabashi bridge and beyond
We checked out of the hotel and arranged for our luggage to be dropped off at the bus terminal for collection the next day and continued on foot towards Kappabashi bridge. It is close to the bus terminal and it is the main destination of most visitors who have their photo taken on the suspension bridge and buy some omiyage (souvenirs) to bring back for the family and colleagues who stayed behind.
Behind the bridge is a campground and the visitors centre which was worth a visit. Much more stunning scenery was awaiting us beyond Kappabashi, so it was time to move on and we continued on the anti-clockwise loop. By now we ran into warnings for bears and the people we met on the footpath became quickly fewer and fewer but more and more of those people were dressed in hiking gear and would have bells attached to their rucksacks to warn any bears you might otherwise scare.
Eventually we arrived at the Myojinkan Ryokan and Myojin-bashi bridge. This is the furthest most people go and where they turn around to return to Kappabashi and the bus terminal.
From the Myojinkan Ryokan, we kept on the right side of the river and continued over the now empty footpath. The riverbed became narrower and the landscape wilder while we made our way to Tokusawa.
At Tokusawa there are two lodges and a campground and it is used as base for people going rock-climbing. The atmosphere and people were completely different from Kappabashi. The lodge we had reserved, Tokusawa Lodge, was like an European chalet on the outside and the rustic inside immediately warmed up to me. The room was like any ryokan and dinner and breakfast were simple and traditional but plentiful. Electricity was only available between 16:00 and 21:00 but everybody was so tired that nobody really minded.
To reserve you’ll have to contact the Tourist office in Matsumoto.
Tips if you plan on travelling to Kamikochi:
Access to Kamikochi is by bus only and buses leave from Matsumoto and Takayama. Try to avoid the weekends as it gets really crowded and there usually is a big traffic jam of buses getting into the bus terminal. Alternatively, get off at the Taishoike Hotel and walk the rest and I would even recommend this option for people travelling outside of the weekend as you won’t have to go back and forth to the bus terminal when visiting Taishoike.
For a small fee you can arrange for the hotel to transport your luggage to the luggage room at the bus terminal so you need only take the things you need during your stay with you.
Hotels around Kappabashi are expensive, consider the Taishoike Hotel which we thought was really value for money considering it included an excellent dinner and breakfast. The view over Taishoike from the dining room was awesome.
Yearly, Kamikochi has a photo competition and the results of the previous year’s competition can we viewed in one of the buildings at the bus terminal. Make sure to pick up an entry form when you check out the photos.
The walks as described are mostly flat over excellent footpaths along the riverbed; however, there are lots of proper hiking opportunities. At normal walking pace, it’ll take you about 45min from one point to another, see map. However, reserve a lot more time if you are a photographer.
One thing I missed myself and still curse myself for is a visit to the Bokuden-no-yu cave bath at Nakanoyu onsen which is located just before the entrance of the bus-only tunnel entrance to Kamikochi at the Nakanoyu bus stop.