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Introducing Kamikōchi

Some of Japan's most spectacular scenery is found here – majestic snowcapped peaks, bubbling crystal brooks, wild monkeys, wildflowers and ancient forests. That said, it wouldn't be Japan without the crowds. Timing is everything.

In the late 19th century, foreigners 'discovered' this mountainous region and coined the term 'Japan Alps'. A British missionary, Reverend Walter Weston, toiled from peak to peak and sparked Japanese interest in mountaineering as a sport. He is now honoured with a festival on the first Sunday in June, the official opening of the hiking season. Kamikōchi has become a base for daytrippers, hikers and climbers.

Kamikōchi is closed from 15 November to 22 April, and in peak times (late July to late August, and during the foliage season in October) can seem busier than Shinjuku Station – plan to arrive early in the day. June to July is rainy season. It's perfectly feasible to visit as a day trip but you'll miss out on the pleasures of staying in the mountains and taking uncrowded early-morning or late-afternoon walks.

Visitors arrive at Kamikōchi's sprawling bus station, surrounded by visitor facilities. A 10‑minute walk along the Azusa-gawa takes you to Kappa-bashi, a bridge named after a legendary water sprite. Hiking trails begin here.