Kamicochi is often described as Japan’s Yosemite. Located west of Matsumoto along highway 158, this alpine plateau sits at nearly 5,000′. It hosts a small cluster of Ryokans and a camp site, well developed hiking trails along the Azuza River, and spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. You can access the area between 19 April and 15 November; the area closes through the winter. Personal cars have been banned from Kamicochi since 1975, visitors are required to park at one of several parking areas along Highway 158, then head up the mountain by bus or taxi. (Japan Guide offers a great overview: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6040.html).
Kamicochi offers great day long family hiking along essentially level and easy to navigate paths extending up and down the Azuza river as well as world-class technical climbing on the surrounding peaks. The scenery is outstanding. We were also lucky to enjoy a large troupe of monkeys feeding right outside the hotel each evening, and bear sightings, while uncommon, happen.
DIRECTIONS: It’s possible to get to Kamicochi from Fussa by train alone. There’s a train station on the west side of Matsumoto (Shinshimashima) that terminates at the Highland Express bus terminal where there are regularly scheduled buses to Kamicochi. However, most Yokota travelers will probably go by car.
Google maps predicts a 3.6 hour drive from Fussa via the Ken-O, Chuo, and Nagano Expressways to Highway 158. Take 158 westbound into the mountains along the Azuza River. Driving west along 158, you’ll come to a traffic light with a ‘guard shack’. Proceeding straight through the light would take you up route 24 directly to Kamicochi—-you can’t go that way without a bus or taxi. To access Kamicochi, you’ll need to park at one of the parking areas between this intersection and Matsumoto, or make a left at the intersection and proceed westbound for about 10 minutes where you’ll pass through another toll booth, then hit a traffic light. At the traffic light, turn right onto “old 158” toward Hirayu Onsen. (Map 1) Pulling into the onsen town, you’ll see a large parking area at what looks like a standard rest area. If you’re spending the night at Kamicochi, drive past that up 158 a bit further (you’ll go up hill and feel like you’ve gone too far), until you reach the entrance to the Akadama parking area (Map 2). Make a left, and snake down a few switch backs to the parking gate, get a ticket, then drop your things off at the bus terminal in the parking area.
You can buy bus tickets from a machine at Akadama Parking Area. 1000¥ one way for adults, 500¥ for kids. The bus leaves Akadama every half-hour until 1650 for, first the Hirayu Onsen lot you past on the way, then up to Kamicochi terminal.
Once on the bus and headed up the hill, you’ll have a choice to get off at Taishoike Pond bus stop or continue all the way to the main terminal. Many travelers disembark at Taishoike then walk (about 1 hour) to the main terminal (near Kappabashi Bridge) for the return trip. As overnight travelers, we took the bus all the way to the main terminal then walked, with luggage, about 10 minutes, across the Kappabashi bridge to our hotel.
The return trip was very easy. Back to the terminal, caught a bus back to Akadama Parking, then paid the machine (500¥ per day) for parking.
LODGING: We found our lodging, the Nishi Itoya Inn, through internet search. Their website, http://www.nishiitoya.com/ns-eng/eng-home/eng-index.html, looks a bit amateurish. Rest assured, the accommodations and service are absolutely top notch. They have a few western style rooms, but we stayed in a large and comfortable Japanese style room overlooking the river. In standard ryokan style, breakfast and dinner are included with the lodging cost. Both were outstanding, but understand that they serve Japanese style breakfast only—a challenge for some western pallets.
In preparation for our trip, we corresponded regularly with the hotel staff via email. They were quick to respond and completely helpful. In addition to meals, the hotel offers free wi-fi, free coffee in the mornings and evening, and a nice Japanese style bath. – Andrew Campbell, November 2o13