My first trip into Nagano was not actually for one of my many snowboarding expeditions in Hakuba but to the remote mountainous highlands of Kamikōchi (translates basically as Upper Highlands) on the western side of the prefecture. The reason for the outing was to see the Autumn leaves in their perfectly formed red and yellow glory back on the 28th and 29th October in 2005.
Kamikōchi is 169 miles from Tokyo and located in the Hida mountains in the northern part of the Japan Alps. To get there meant leaving Shinjuku at 8am via the Azusa Ltd Express (approx. 6000 yen) to Matsumoto which took three hours. My girlfriend-of-the-time (this was nine years ago remember!) then changed to the Dentetsu line (680 yen) which took us on to Shin Shinashima station where a bus then completed the journey and we finally disembarked at around 2pm!
A long morning but it was worth it as it was a beautiful, sunny day for walking amid the breathtaking views of the mountains for 2.5 hours to Kappabashi bridge, Myojin bridge, and its pond.
I’d pretty much forgotten about visiting Kamikōchi until a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled upon my old Microsoft OneDrive photos from the past. As Tokyo Fox wasn’t born until February 2006 it was quite nice to be reminded of certain Japanese experiences from yesteryear which I thought had all been lost after this site switched from MSN Spaces to WordPress in September 2010.
The central Kamikōchi Valley is relatively flat and possesses a number of marshes and ponds including Myojin Pond. It’s the Azusa River which flows through Kamikōchi and its water consists mainly of melted snow runoff so the water was really cold when I put my hand in to check the temperature.
We left Kamikochi at 4.40pm and got dropped off near some waterfall where we then had to wait 50 minutes for a bus to drive us to our nights accommodation which was a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in the middle of nowhere! With not much to do in such a place after dinner we actually ended up playing cards, shōgi (Japanese chess) and having an indoor and outdoor onsen.
The following afternoon we left for Matsumoto city where it was raining. Before continuing on back to Tokyo we had a quick stop in the city to see Matsumoto-jo castle which is one of Japan’s most historic castles and nicknamed ‘crow castle’ due to its black exterior. It was a very impressive sight for me due to its closeness to the surrounding moat as it’s a castle built on plains rather than on a hill or mountain.
Admission to the castle is 650 yen and it’s usually open from 8:30pm till 5pm. It’s a 15 minute walk from JR Matsumoto station and the view (above right) can be seen along the way.