DAY 2 (5/5): ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.26
Sometimes referred to as Japan’s Yosemite, Kamikochi (上高地) in the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園) is a picturesque valley in the Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈) or Northern Japan Alps. With an altitude of 1500m and a length of 18km, Kamikochi is bounded by Mount Hotaka (穂高岳, 3190m) to the north and volcano Mount Yake (焼岳, 2455m) to the south. The turquoise water of Azusa River (梓川) flows through Kamikochi and passed under the famous Kappa Bridge (河童橋) where most tourists gather when they arrive. Chubu Sangaku National Park was established in 1934 for natural conservation. As the crown jewel of the national park, Kamikochi sits in the midst of alpine peaks, marshlands and hiking trails.
Most visitors come to Kamikochi from Matsumoto (松本) or Takayama (高山). A traffic regulation was introduced in 1975 to prohibit tourists to enter Kamikochi in their own cars. Most visitors arrive in Kamikochi by bus, either directly from a nearby town or from a bus stop next to one of the many parking lots along the main road. A wide range of accommodation options are available in Kamikochi, from campsites to luxurious resort hotels. We chose a mid-range mountain lodge called Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge (西糸屋山荘) near the Kappa Bridge. At the heart of Kamikochi, Kappa Bridge (河童橋) is the most important landmark in the valley. First built in 1891, today’s Kappa Bridge is the fifth iteration of the original. There are eateries, souvenir shops and convenient stores at either side of the bridge for hikers to stock up supplies and fill up their tummies.
We were delighted to arrive in Kamikochi in perfect weather. We immediately fell in love with the crystal clear water of Azusa River (梓川).
Just a few minutes walk from the bus station, we arrived at the famous Kappa Bridge (河童橋). In Kamikochi, the bridge serves as the most important landmark.
Standing at the Kappa Bridge, the iconic view of Mount Hotaka (穂高岳) and Azusa River (梓川) was quite impressive.
Looking out Kappa Bridge to the opposite side from Mount Hotaka, we could see the mighty volcano Mount Yake (焼岳).
Shops right by the Kappa Bridge carry everything from snacks to souvenir. We got ourselves local yogurt, juice and beer for the night.
A few minutes walk from Kappa Bridge, we arrived at Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge (西糸屋山荘) where we would stay for two nights.
We took off our shoes at the vestibule and left them in the shoe storage room.
The spacious lobby of Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge was mainly finished in wood. A heater near the reception reminded us that it could get quite cool after sunset.
Next to the lobby there was a small cafe and souvenir shop.
On the upper level, we had high anticipation for the common baths, where users could enjoy the hot mineral bath and magnificent views of the snow capped Hodaka Mountains at the same time.
Since 7am in the morning, we departed from Shinjuku Station of Tokyo, made a whirlwind tour of Matsumoto and hopped onto a train followed by a bus into the Hida Mountains, and at last arrived at our hotel room in Kamikochi in the late afternoon.
The private room in Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge (西糸屋山荘) was clean and spacious. The setting was relaxing and the room was filled with fragrant of the tatami flooring.
At about 18:30, we went downstairs to the dining hall for dinner.
Just like many hotels in Kamikochi, the food served by Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge mainly came from the surrounding area.
After dinner, it was time to shoot some night photos. Unfortunately, the moon was already up and relatively bright.
Tourists still gathered at the Kappa Bridge despite the darkness.
Standing on the Kappa Bridge, the picturesque view of Kamikochi was enhanced by the lights from lodges along the river.
Despite the bright moon, we could still see some stars at the darker areas in the sky.
I set up the tripod facing Dakesawa (岳沢) and Mount Hotaka (穂高岳) to capture the starry night.
Dakesawa (岳沢), Mount Hotaka (穂高岳) and a bend of Azusa River (梓川) gave us the perfect image of Kamikochi.
Every visitor who comes to Nikko would be impressed by the century-old cedar forests surrounding the shrines and temples. What looks like a natural forest is in fact partially orchestrated by people 400 years ago, creating what we now called the Cedar Avenue of Nikko (日光杉並木), a 35.41km tree-lined path with 13,000 Japanese Red Cedar. The Cryptomeria tree (Sugi), also known as Japanese Red Cedar, is the national tree of Japan. We didn’t walk the Cedar Avenue of Nikko, the world’s longest tree lined avenue in Nikko, but instead, had our own close encounter with the magnificent cedar trees in a along the Takino’o Path. We came across the Takino’o Path from online research. For about an hour, the trail led us through its tranquil cedar forest and peaceful Shinto shrines. We began our journey from the Futarasan Shrine, passed by the Takino Shrine (瀧尾神社) and ended at the Sacred Bridge of Nikko, the Shinkyo (神橋).
The trail head of Takino Path was right beside the forecourt of Futarasan Shrine.
The trail passed by the the Taiyuin and Futarasan Shrine.
A few minutes later, we arrived at a small shrine by the path. It reminded us of Kumano Kodo, where we enjoyed a few days of hiking on the Kii Mountains of Kansai.
For a very long day hike, some visitors would climb the Mount Nyoho (女峰山, 2,465m).
The cedar forest soon got denser.
Along the trail, we could closely the centuries old Japanese Cedar.
Along the way, many old cedar trees were very photogenic.
After the crowded and relatively noisy experience at the Toshogu Shrine, only five minutes into the trail brought us to a completely opposite world of tranquility and lush green.
After about half an hour of leisure walking, we were soon approaching the Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社) in the forest.
After walking up the hill of Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社), we passed by a number of atmospheric small shrines.
Kaji Sadayoshi, a supporter of Tokugawa Iemitsu, built the Undameshi No Tori (運試しの鳥居). Like many visitors, we tested our luck by throwing a pebble through the hole between the two horizontal members of the tori gate.
Certain parts of the trail were covered with historical paving stones.
The Kodane Stone (子種石) behind an old tori gate near the Takino’o Shrine is believed to have the power of child birth.
On our way back out of the forest towards Shinkyo (神橋), we passed by Kannon Do Shrine, the Shrine of Safe and Easy Delivery of Child or Kyosha-do (香車堂).
After a little over half an hour, we returned to the main entrance of the World Heritage Shrine and Temple Park.
Across the street from the UNESCO World Heritage plaque, we finally reached the Shinkyo (神橋), the Sacred Bridge of Nikko.
We didn’t pay the admission fee to walk onto the Shinkyo (神橋). We walked over to the nearby bus stop for a ride to Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖). Beside the bus stop there was an interesting telephone booth made of a recycled gondola.