Kamikōchi


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Land of the kappa

Published by Pia Boxy — 23 days ago

Located deep within the Japanese Alps, where private transport can't reach and home of the rumoured kappa or water spirits, lies Kamikōchi.

Land of the kappa

Kamikōchi, which can be freely translated to the "the place where gods descend" is by far one of the most idyllic places in central Japan and worth a visit. If you’re looking for beautiful scenery, leisurely strolls and maybe even monkey-spotting (!), this is the place to go.

When I first arrived the end of September in Matsumoto, this place was first on my list to visit. When I asked my Japanese friends to take me there the first weekend, they said no. Astonished, I asked why we couldn’t go and they told me I had to wait for the kouyou. This is a word which cannot be literally translated to other languages, though it can be interpreted as “leaves changing colour”. Kouyou is when the locals visit Kamikochi mid-October to see the trees turn to shades of green, yellow, orange, red and brown, as if dotted on the mountains with a paintbrush.

Land of the kappa

Reaching the mountain range from Matsumoto city takes about half an hour (30 minutes train + 60 minutes bus), however, it’s worth the trip. The bus ride alone provides you with spectacular panoramic views even in overcast weather, which was the case for me. Actually, I secretly enjoyed watching those misty mountains, as if we would stumble upon a secret ninja village, only visible during special occasions.

Kamikōchi itself requires no hiking experience since the tiny roads lead you along mostly flat areas along the Taisho pond, the Takezawa marsh and the Kappa bridge. Now, if you’re a bit of a daredevil, you can do one of the more advanced routes, which takes you to the mountain peaks.

Land of the kappa

Kappa bridge is the center of Kamikōchi. This bridge was named after the infamous kappa creatures which were believed to nest under the bridge in the past. For those of you who do not know, the Japanese are notorious for their mythology and urban legends. From stories about trees with human-faced fruits to ghosts who lick untidy bathroom floors. The kappa is a water creature with a fierce passion for cucumbers, resembling a mix between a duck and turtle. Sounds cute? Well, they’re also rumoured to live in toilets and steal your shirikodama, which is supposedly a small organ located within your… Well, you get the idea if they steal it from within your toilet, right?

Now, back to Kamikōchi. Although I was quite sad to not spot actual kappa around the bridge, it is a good place to enjoy lunch while people watching. There are a few food shops located within the area, however, if you prefer not being too touristy, I recommend making yourself a bento or Japanese lunchbox which tastes delicious while you watch the scenery.

Land of the kappa

Following the basic route takes about two to three hours, but do take time to wind down, eat and not forget to visit the Hotaka shrine. Once there, toss a yen into the shrine box, ring the bell, clap your hands three times and bow three times to receive fortune.

Now, normally I try to avoid typical tourist gift shops, for the obvious reason that every tourist does not want to admit they’re a tourist, BUT, do go to the one located at the end of your Kamikōchi journey, near the bus stop. You can buy kappa socks (yes, I have them), local foods and KitKats with wasabi flavour (no, I’m not making this up).

There is definitely something spiritual about “the place where gods descend”, therefore, be sure to include it in your trip for a wonderful Japanese experience.

Land of the kappa


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