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    History  

Walter Weston

This British missionary who introduced modern mountain climbing to Japan, first visited Kamikōchi in 1891, and returned repeatedly over the course of the 15 years he lived in Japan to escape the summer heat and climb the surrounding peaks. Today, he is commemorated by the annual Weston Festival on the first Sunday of June. On the day before, there is a group hike which traces the original route into Kamikōchi up 20 plus kilometres of a steep mountain trail which sets out from former Azumi village and crosses the Tokugo Pass before dropping down to Myōjin. At the Festival, flowers are dedicated to Weston by local primary school kids.

 

Timeline

1896 Rev Weston's book "Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps" published in London
1915 Eruption of Mt Yakedake blocks Azusa River creating Taishō Pond
1916 Sanrinkyoku designates Kamikōchi as Hogorin; bans plant removal
1920 Matsumoto Electric Railway (Alpico) is established
1924 Kama Tunnel opens
1925 Hydropower dam proposal defeated by conservation faction
1927 Kappa novel written by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
1928 Kamikōchi nominated most beautiful valley in Nippon Hakkei, bringing national recognition Designated as place of Scenic Beauty and Natural Monument
1933 Imperial Hotel opens; First bus passes Kama Tunnel
1934 Kamikōchi designated in Chūbu Sangaku National Park Ranch farming ends
1935 Regular bus service begins from Shimashima to Kappabashi
1952 Designated under the Law for the Protection of Special Natural Cultural Property
1954 Large-scale hydropower dam plan proposed by Nagano Prefectural govt and TEPCO but proposal defeated by conservation faction
1957 'Ice Wall' publication starts mountain climbing boom
1962 Yakedake erupts again, injuring two and wiping out Yakedake Hut
1963 Kamikochi Beautification Association established
1963 Ropeway plan proposed by MHW but not realized
1969 Completion of three giant dams and new generators
1970 Kamikōchi Visitor Centre opens in Konashidaira
1971 Natural Parks Foundation (NPF) founded with (BES) Beautification Escort Service
1972 One million estimated annual visits exceeded for the first time
1975 Ban on private cars is introduced (Kamikōchi Line)
1994 Alpico introduce hybrid bus system
1997 Opening of Abo Tunnel improves Gifu access
1999 Start of tipping at toilets system
2005 Ban on private buses introduced (Kamikōchi Line)

 

   Mountains and climbing   

 

Mt. Yari

Known as the Matterhorn of Japan, the first person to stand on the summit of 3180 m Mt Yari was the priest and mountain ascetic Banryū  in July 1828; some 37 years before Wimper became the first person to climb the Matterhorn. Then in 1880 an Englishman named Gowland climbed Yari and coined the view from the top the "Japan Alps" followed by Weston, who went on to popularize the area through his book Mountaneering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps, published in 1910.

Kamonjigoya

Kamonji-goya is where Westonʼs guide, a local hunter called Kamijo Kamonji, lived from 1880 onwards. After paying your respects to the relief, check out the wooden-beamed hut where Iwana fish are skewered over an open hearth. You can still see the British Missionaryʼs original ice axe hanging above the fire-place.

Tokugō Pass

Traces the original route into Kamikōchi up and over the Tokugō Pass from former Azumi village. From the saddle of the pass at 2200m there are outstanding views of Myōjindake.

Tokusawa

Great elm trees dot the alpine meadow of this area which was formerly used for pastureland. It is known to Japanese climbers as the backdrop to Inoueʼs famous 1957 novel "Ice Wall." The eastern rock wall of Maehotakadake rises majestically above.

 

    Religion  

Myojin Shrine and Boat Festival

Every autumn, a number of shrine festivals called “O-fune matsuri“ are held across the Azumino area to give thanks for the harvest. People parade with float-shaped boats to commemorate the Azumi tribe, a seafaring people who fished for a living. The most famous one is held at Hotaka Shrine in Azumino City (Sep 26-27). At Myojin, the Zen-like pond and shrine form the backdrop for a unique annual festival where real boats are still used.

Nishihotaka-dake trailhead shrine

The Torii gates of this shrine marks the boundary between area of humans and the Kami spirits who traditionally inhabited the mountainsides.

Kappa

Although today's Kappa souvenirs look like cuddly Disney characters, their origins are more fearsome; the mythical creatures originally appeared in Japanese folklore as a type of water sprite much like the Scottish Kelpie used to scare children away from dangers lurking in water.
A notable feature of the kappa is the saucer-shaped depression on their scalps, which must at all times be filled with water if the kappa is to retain its strength and powers. Should the depression be emptied of water, the kappa will instantly be weakened and may even die if the water is not restored.
Kappa are usually seen as mischievous troublemakers. Their pranks range from the relatively innocent, such as loudly passing gas or looking up women's kimonos, to the more troublesome, such as stealing crops or kidnapping children. In fact, small children are one of the gluttonous kappa's favorite meals, though they will eat adults as well. They feed on these victims by sucking out their shirikodama a mythical ball inside the anus. The only food they love more than small children is cucumber!

 

    Architecture   

Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi)

Kappa Bridge is a wooden suspension bridge and known as a symbol of this mountain resort. Measuring 3.1m wide and 36.6m across, it was built across what was traditionally the narrowest point in the Azusa river. Summits of Nishihotakadake, Okuhotakadake and Myojindake, towering mountains over 3000 meters above sea level can be seen from the bridge. Look toward the downstream, Yakedake with slight smoke is coming out from its volcanic activity.

Tashiro Bridge and Hotaka Bridge

Constructed in 1998, these well-designed and environmentally-friendly bridges are made of Japanese larch and cypress produced locally in Nagano prefecture. From here there are magnificents view of the volcano Yakedake in one direction and Hotakadake in the other.

 

    Facilities   

Information Center

Conveniently located right next to the bus terminal, the Information Centre can provide you with maps, weather updates, and trail reports.

Visitor Center

Just 5 minutes further down the trail, the Visitor Centre explains the natural history, geology, plant and wildlife. Exhibits showcase local photographers while visitor activities such as guided walks and film shows also take place here

Konashidaira Camp Site

Camping is a great way to experience Kamikochi's starlit skies and the sound of birdsong at dawn. You can pitch your own tent in sites along the banks of the Azusa (¥700 per person) or hire one for an extra fee. Konashi also has cabins for rent, as well as a restaurant, shop and hot bath (not hot spring).