As I cruised up the Chuo Highway at 110 km per hour in my father-in-law’s BMW, on a perfectly clear morning in Tokyo, with a stunning view of Mt. Fuji in my rear view window and the Japanese Alps ahead of me, I thought to myself, “Dubai? What Dubai?” Maybe having to leave abruptly was the best thing that could have happened to us. No jobs? No house? No work visa? No plan? No problem! It’s the perfect time for a Japanese Road Trip!
Getting out of town was our top priority after arriving in the madness that is Tokyo. Right now is the brink of autumn, when all of the world turns yellow, gold and red, and it’s the best time to head north from the city and see the Japanese countryside. We were heading on a five-day trip to see three places: Kami-kochi, Takayama, and Shirakawa-go. All of them offered different attractions, so I’ll write about them one by one.
Part 1 of this story covers Kami-kochi, written in Japanese as 上高地, which translates to ‘Above the High Ground’. Kami-kochi is known as the ‘Japanese Alps’ due to its stunning tall mountains, made famous by a British explorer who wrote a book in the 1930s about hiking in Japan. Today Kami-kochi is a popular destination for hikers and nature seekers, and sometimes tour buses full of Chinese tourist. Because it is a national park, cars are not allowed in, but buses are regular and there is a lot of information and signage in English which makes it easy if you do not have the luck to have a Japanese husband. We got on the bus at Sawando, and got off at the stop for Taisho-Ike and walked the rest of the way, about an hour and a half. The walk is quite easy, more like a stroll through the wilderness really. One Japanese woman was even carrying her Louis Vuitton bag!
There are a small number of mountain lodges and one or two really big hotels, most of which are situated by Kappa-bashi Bridge. Our hotel, Nishi Itoya Sanso, was a beautiful lodge right on the river. We stopped by but since our room wasn’t ready we just kept hiking. There were lots of other hikers, a number of whom were foreigners, and everyone was quite friendly. Anyone who has visited Japan before will know the language barrier can be hard, but Kami-kochi was very foreigner friendly and well mapped. Even if you don’t speak or read any Japanese, going here would still be an easy trip.
The best part about Kami-kochi is that it’s just so goddamn beautiful. The whole world is alive with colour… every river and lake and pond is full of crystal clean turquoise water… everywhere you look your eyes soak up nothing but green and red and yellow and orange. After five months looking out at sand, hiking in the Japanese Alps was like arriving in heaven. In fact it really made me wonder what in the hell we were thinking going to the desert in the first place!
Next stop — Takayama, Gifu Prefecture