Mention Kamikōchi to Japanese outdoors enthusiasts and their eyes will light up. They'll tell you that this is where it's at and where you should be. In the late 19th century, foreigners 'discovered' this remote valley and mountainous region and coined the term 'Japan Alps'. British missionary Reverend Walter Weston toiled from peak to peak and sparked Japanese interest in mountaineering as a sport. He's now honoured with a festival on the first Sunday in June, the official opening of the hiking season.
It's 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. Stay overnight and savour the snowcapped peaks, bubbling brooks, wild monkeys, wildflowers and ancient forests.
Kamikōchi is closed from 15 November to 22 April. In midsummer and autumn-foliage season, the area around Kappa-bashi bridge may seem busier than Shinjuku Station.