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If you’re overwhelmed by city life, a quick weekend trip out of Tokyo to Kamikochi and Takayama is the perfect antidote. The mountainous region of Kamikochi and the historic town of Takayama are deep within Nagano Prefecture. The two pair well together for a day in nature followed by a day admiring Edo Period streets.
In this guide, I’ll suggest how to manage a trip to Kamikochi and Takayama in a weekend.
Day 0: Overnight bus from Tokyo to Kamikochi
Day 1: Kamikochi & Takayama
Day 2: Takayama & back to Tokyo
The most convenient way to visit Kamikochi and Takayama from Tokyo (or other major cities in Japan’s main island) is via public transportation.
Tokyo to Kamikochi
From Tokyo, take the highway bus to Kamikochi. You have the option to either take a bus that runs during the day or the night. In order to fit the trip into a quick weekend getaway, I took the overnight bus from Shinjuku Station. The bus has a very generous cancellation policy (the cancellation fee is only ¥100 up to an hour before the departure time) so I suggest booking a seat in advance. Late July through early November is peak travel season to Kamikochi and buses can book up several weeks ahead.
The overnight bus from Tokyo takes about 6.5 hours and arrives in Kamikochi around 5AM. Most hikers who visit for the day or stayed in Kamikochi overnight are most active after 9AM, so arriving so early is a wonderful way to get a few hours of quietude in nature.
I recommend disembarking at Kamikochi Bus Terminal since it has luggage storage available (the service opens at 6AM). Drop off any baggage you don’t need for the day for a few hundred yen.
The bus costs between ¥8,200 to ¥10,400.
Note that private vehicles aren’t allowed to enter Kamikochi in order to preserve the park’s environment, so even if you prefer to drive to the area, you will need to switch to either a taxi or bus for the final leg of the journey.
Kamikochi to Takayama
To reach Takayama, take a bus from Kamikochi to Hirayu Onsen and then transfer to another bus to Takayama. The total travel time takes between 1.5-2 hours.
The bus from Kamikochi to Hirayu Onsen departs every 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the time of year (see the timetable here). You can buy the bus tickets from Kamikochi to Takayama at the Kamikochi Bus Terminal for less than ¥3,000 per adult. Bus seats aren’t reserved, so you need to queue in line about 15-20 minutes before your intended bus departure time.
Takayama to Tokyo
It takes around 4.5-5 hours to reach Tokyo from Takayama.
From Takayama Station, take the Hida Limited Express train to Nagoya Station. Transfer to the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to either Shinagawa Station or Tokyo Station.
The total cost of the train tickets is around ¥12,000
The views of Azusa River and the surrounding mountains in Kamikochi were some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Japan. The water is impossibly clear, the air refreshingly pure. If you crave an escape into nature, there’s hardly a better place than Kamikochi.
Where To Stay
I didn’t stay overnight in Kamikochi since I took the overnight bus to get there and stayed in Takayama the next night, but there are many accommodations options in the park.
For a relaxing visit, you can stay in centrally-located lodges such as Kamikochi Nishi-itoya Mountain Lodge or Nakanoyu Onsen Ryokan. If you prefer to hike any of the longer routes, you can camp or stay at a lodge deeper in the park (like near Yokoo Sanso).
What To Eat
Food and restrooms are located about every 2-3km along the main trail between Taisho Ike Pond and Yokoo Sanso.
Of course, you can always pack your own food, but know that there are ample dining options as well. Many of the restaurants serve Japanese staples such as curry, udon noodles, and soft-serve ice cream.
What To Do
While there are many overnight and multi-day hiking trails in Kamikochi, I stuck to hiking along the Azusa River.
Over a leisurely 6 hours including breakfast and lunch, I hiked from Kamikochi Bus Station to (in chronological order):
- Kappa Bridge
- Myojin Bridge
- Tokusawa (turned around here)
- Myōjin First Pond
- Dakesawa Marsh
- Kamikochi Bus Station (arrival and departure point)
The entire route outlined above follows a very flat and well-maintained trail with approximately 2-3km between each landmark. You can easily turn around at any point, continue beyond Tokusawa to Yokoo Sanso or further, or walk down to Taisho Ike Pond from Kamikochi Bus Station.
The majority of visitors stay around Kappa Bridge and Myōjin First Pond. You will find a noticeable decline in crowds beyond those points.
The historic mountain town of Takayama offers glimpses of Edo-Period architecture, traditional Japanese craftsmanship, and a close-knit community. If you seek an experience of Old Japan, Takayama is well-worth a visit.
Where To Stay
During my visit, I stayed at Takayama Ouan. The hotel is just a 5 minute walk from Takayama Station and is conveniently located between the historic downtown and Hida Folk Village (both are a 20-25 minute walk away).
Aside from the location, my favorite part of the hotel was the onsen (thermal, communal bath). The onsen sits in the hotel’s top floor and has magnificent views of the cityscape and surrounding mountains. I went to the onsen three times, including to enjoy the sunset. There are indoor and outdoor onsen options.
I would absolutely stay at Takayama Ouan again on my next stay in the area.
What To Eat
Markets operate every morning from around 7AM to noon. The most popular one is Miyagawa Morning Markets, which has a variety of handicrafts and food vendors. Visit between 9AM to noon to maximize the number of shops that are open. This is a great option for a casual breakfast sampling different foods.
If you’re an early morning riser, Coffee Don is one of the few coffee shops open before 8AM. This simple cafe serves a variety of beverages and snacks, including a basic breakfast set consisting of toast, coffee, a boiled egg, and juice.
Takayama ramen is unique due to its famed thin broth and curly noodles. I dined at 麺屋真菜 (Menya Mana) and enjoyed how the ramen was considerably lighter than bowls served in other parts of the country. Heianraku is another extremely popular ramen restaurant in Takayama that is reservation-only.
What To Do
Takayama’s most famous attractions include Sanmachi Suji and Hida Folk Village.
Sanmachi Suji is a popular street of traditional Edo Period-style buildings that are now a mix of restaurants, shops, and residences. The old part of town bleeds over to several surrounding streets as a small maze of interesting businesses to explore. You’ll be able to sample a variety of different foods and visit unique specialty stores, including Funasaka Sake Brewery and 渋草焼 窯元 芳国舎 (locally-made ceramics shop).
Venture southwest of downtown Takayama to Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum featuring historical buildings from the region.
In the village, you’ll be able to view and enter nearly thirty buildings, including homes of silk producers, farmers, and loggers. The buildings are well-maintained and contain lots of written material explaining their history and significance. Hida Folk Village is a fantastic way to pass a few hours learning the history of daily life in mountainous Japan.
Hida Folk Village opens at 8:30AM. I recommend arriving no later than 9AM to avoid crowds. I visited around 9AM on a weekday and had about an hour exploring the grounds nearly by myself.
The entrance fee to Hida Folk Village costs ¥700 for an adult.
If, like myself, you are a fan of handmade craftsmanship, walk about 10 minutes down the road to Koito Pottery. The small ceramics shop sells handmade pottery made in a unique local style.