Tucked away in the Azusa valley at an altitude of 1500m is the beautiful mountaineering and hiking resort of KAMIKŌCHI (上高地). Little more than a bus station and a handful of hotels scattered along the Azusa-gawa, Kamikōchi has some stunning alpine scenery, which can only be viewed between April 27 and November 15 before heavy snow blocks off the narrow roads and the resort shuts down for winter. As a result, the place buzzes with tourists during the season and the prices at its hotels and restaurants can be as steep as the surrounding mountains.

Kamikōchi owes its fortunes to the late nineteenth-century British missionary Walter Weston, who helped popularize the area as a base for climbing the craggy peaks known as the Northern Alps. The highest mountain here is the 3190m Hotaka-dake (also known as Oku-Hotaka-dake), followed by Yari-ga-take (3180m). Both are extremely popular climbs; one trail up Yari-ga-take has been dubbed the Ginza Jūsō (“Ginza Traverse”) after Tokyo’s busy shopping area, because it gets so crowded. However, the congestion on the mountain is nothing compared to that found at its base, where, at the height of the season, thousands of day-trippers tramp through the well-marked trails along the Azusa valley. The best way to appreciate Kamikōchi is to stay overnight so you can experience the valley in the evening and early morning minus the day-trippers. Alternatively, visit in June, when frequent showers deter fair-weather walkers.