Kamikochi is a popular springboard for bigger climbs in the Japan Alps. It sits in a bowl, surrounded on all sides by towering 3000m snow-capped mountains (climb one of them here: Tateyama-Kurobe Alpen Route). Many of the lakes and pools in the area were shallow or dry due to the time of year we visited. I imagined the snowy peaks of the Japan Alps melting and trickling down to refill these.
The Azusa river runs down the middle of Kamikochi, the colour a startling azure, more vibrant than any I've seen before. It looks photoshopped - it's that blue. I think this can be attributed to the flourishing wildlife. The presence of predatory animals in the area forces their prey to keep moving, meaning that the foliage along the riverbank doesn't become so ruined due to excessive grazing. This, in turn, allows other critters to build homes into the sides of the sturdy banks. The whole process actually affects the colour of the river. I heard about this from this film documenting wolves returning to Yellowstone National Park. I'm convinced the same applies here. It makes me wonder what the UK would look like if were returned to its natural state.
Cute wooden planks underfoot guide you in and out of the forest. They take you down to the river's edge and up towards fantastic mountain viewpoints. As we explored Kamikochi we stumbled across a group of wild snow monkeys hanging out in the treetops. They seemed completely unfazed by us. Content to pick at each other's backs and lounge around in the shade of the many branches. Monkeys seem to be to Japan what deer are to Scotland.
We also spied many feathered friends; beautiful exotic birds, with exotic bird calls. In the Tokyo metro, the cries of a robotic bird can often be heard ringing from speakers as the trains come in. Here we heard the same bird call in real life. For me, it really highlighted the differences between these two worlds we inhabit as a species. The world of humans and the world of - well, the actual world. Fabricated vs original. Artificial vs natural. I hope the robot bird doesn't outlive the real thing.
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // spring 2015
Kamikochi is open from mid/late April to November.
Only buses are allowed into actual Kamikochi. You can park up on the western side (Hirayu onsen) and get a shuttle bus or taxi. Or you can get a bus from Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka directly there. There are also options from Takayama (via Hirayu) or from Matsumoto. Click here for more info.
You should exit from the Bus Terminal on the map.
There are maps available once there and the way is marked throughout (although patchy on eastern side).
Unfortunately we cannot provide in-depth directions as Kamikochi was walked before the website had even been thought of. Please click here if you need help printing/saving the map.