Kamikochi is a famed scenic site and one I’d heard the apparent beauty about for months before I actually got my butt into gear to go visit. Winter was coming (…) and from November 15th through to April, Kamikochi is closed for business. So, on Cultural Something Something Public Holiday (a Thursday) in November, a rare weekday off from work, I decided to make the relatively straightforward journey from my home in Matsumoto, to this scenic paradise of nature.
Leaving from Matsumoto, you have a couple of options. You can catch a bus directly to Kamikochi from the Matsumoto bus terminal, BUT there are only two of these a day; one leaves at 5:30 am, the other at 10:15 am. For the rest of the day, catching a train from Matsumoto station is the way to go. This ‘Kamikochi Line’ train will take you to Shin-Shimashima station, where you transfer to a bus that takes you the rest of the way.
You can buy a round trip ticket for 4450yen from this machine at Matsumoto station. (NB: a JR pass can’t be used for this train/bus.)
English options are included at the touch of the button, so this is pretty straightforward. From here you are dispensed with two tickets.
Once through the gates at Matsumoto station, head towards platform 7, the dedicated platform for Shin-Shimashima station/Kamikochi destinationers.
It takes about half an hour on the train to get to the end of the line. From Shin-Shimashima, a bus will be waiting for you to board, (it won’t depart for at least 10 minutes or so, enough time to buy a ticket if you didn’t get the train/bus deal). Then it’s a stunning, scenic 1hr bus ride up into Kamikochi!
When you arrive, you can get your bearings at the information centre and purchase a bilingual map for 100yen from the desk. (chizu ga ichimai onegaishimasu)
The day I journeyed to Kamikochi was a particularly cold one; it was lightly snowing for a few hours during the day. I was glad to have worn all my warm layers (singlet, t-shirt, long-sleeve, puffer jacket, snowboard jacket, and my basic sneakers/Nikes seemed to do the job for walking whilst keeping my feet warm and dry for the day). I imagine during warmer times, hiking to one of the peaks would be a great option, but it definitely didn’t interest me on this day!
Once I’d sourced some cheap vending-machine coffee from the information centre, I ventured off to Kappabashi bridge before deciding to walk along a 2-hour circuit that would bring me to one of the onsen hotels. This was basically just taking an extreeeeeme detour to get to a hotel that was only about a 20-minute walk from my actual starting point.
The walk was pretty amazing, even for someone who’s almost grown bored with all the beautiful scenery of Japan. In fact, it was so good that I had to regularly stop to take in the view through the breaks in the trees and soak it all in. There was also a good amount of change in scenery throughout the loop, which kept things interesting.
I was super excited to arrive at Lemeiesta Hotel once completing my very scenic detour and asked about using their onsen.
Onsen o haite mo ii desu ka
Literally: May I enter the onsen?
Then my eyes inadvertently popped when I heard the entrance fee. A whopping 2,100yen (or if you like, throw in a lunch course for only 3,800yen total(which is actually quite reasonable considering how nice it looked…)). I figured this big spend had to be worth it, and luxury would await me on the other side.
I wasn’t disappointed. Any hints of regret about parting with my money vanished as soon as I stepped into ‘The Spa’…
In the foyer area, spa users have access to four deluxe massage chairs. I walked on through to the change room and saw beautifully stocked dressing tables, spacious lockers, and unlimited towels for use. But then. But then. Once I had undressed and taken my locker key, I walked on through into the bathing area…and saw that it not only had a relaxing-looking indoor bath (and dividers between washing bays) but a NATURAL SPRING WATER OUTDOOR ONSEN. It was beautiful. The bath had been designed to look like a natural rock pool, and although there was shelter over most of the onsen, a small part was exposed to falling snow, and beyond the falling snow was a stunning view of red-leaved trees.
And I had the whole place to myself for about 30mins, just by luck. Heavennnn. I couldn’t contain my immense happiness about such idyllic relaxation-nessitivity. I soaked in my surroundings and practiced a few yoga poses, sometimes sitting up from the onsen to let the cold air moderate my temperature. It was chill.
Once I’d had my onsen fix, I dried my hair and dressed. Then I hung out in the free massage chairs for 45minutes, reading.
It was a quick walk back to the bus station from the hotel, and by this time the weather had cleared and the tops of some of the mountain ranges were visible. I was again taken aback by the beauty of the landscape. Beauty. Feelings. Ugh.
Although I’d already purchased the round trip ticket, it was necessary to go to the ticket counter before boarding the bus (worth doing at least 10 minutes before departure time), to show my ticket and receive of queue number. This is basically just a ticket that determines the order in which you board the bus (no seat allocation, still).
I napped on the bus ride back to Shin-Shimashima station, then waited about 10 minutes before boarding the train to Matsumoto station. I was shocked at how relaxing and therapeutic my day had been — I felt totally ‘recharged’, and it wasn’t even 4 pm. This trip had seemed to have turned me into some sort of outdoors-loving hippie with a new-found spiritual love for nature.
And I’m kind of ok with that.