Joe's Japan Travel Journal
by Joe, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2015/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps

Kamikochi's Yakedake rising over the Taishoike Pond in the afternoon

Perhaps the most impressive places to enjoy autumn colors in Japan are its mountain highlands, and today I made my way to one of the country's most well-loved alpine parks: Kamikochi. Located in the Northern Japan Alps, Kamikochi is a mecca for nature lovers, featuring some of Japan's most spectacular mountain scenery, and is the starting point for many hiking trails leading to the peaks of some of the country's highest mountains.

Through most of the month of October Kamikochi also boasts some incredible alpine and subalpine autumn color. Starting amongst the highest peaks at the beginning of the month and sweeping down the slopes, the foliage and alpine shrubs go through their autumn color cycle quickly.

Being near the end of the month, I was not expecting to see much color left on the trees today. To my surprise, though, after reaching my first stop of the day, the Taishoike Pond near the entrance of the resort area, I was greeted by the site of a blanket of bright yellow karamatsu pine trees draping the slopes of the nearby volcano Yakedake (2455 meters). While it was also clear that most trees in the area have lost much of their leaves already, the longer-lasting deciduous pine was still leaving a lot of color around the park to enjoy.

Yakedake over Taishoike in the morning
Trees just above Japan's subalpine zone (around 1500 meters) are giving their last colorful hurrah this week
Trees reflecting in the shallow waters of Taishoike
A mallard showboating his own colors
Autumn colors in morning light
Karamatsu (Japanese Larch): The star of Japan's high mountain autumn color scene
Almost all of the shirakaba (white birch) in Kamikochi have lost their leaves already
This cheeky monkey (and a friend) nonchalantly jaunted across the walking path about a meter in front of me
The Hotakadake massif hulking over a lodge; Okuhotakadake (part of this ridge line) is Japan's 3rd highest mountain

The one element that ties much of the landscape together here (in many senses) is the Azusagawa River, which flows down through the middle Kamikochi. With its source high up in the mountains, the river's clear waters are amazingly clear and reflect the blue sky particularly well, creating a beautiful palette with the greens, greys and yellows all around.

A bridge crossing the Azusagawa river
Enjoying autumn on the riverside
In the middle of somewhere special
There was no shortage of hikers and photographers out today taking in the last of the season's colors
The banks of the Azusagawa with Yakedake towering in the background

A centerpiece of Kamikochi is the Kappabashi Bridge, located just a few hundred meters up from its easily-accessible bus terminal. As private cars are restricted in Kamikochi, the area (while still constantly crowded with bus loads of tourists throughout its entire season, from early May to mid-November) is pleasantly free of traffic noise and air pollution. The bridge itself offers an amazing panorama of the Hotakadake massif, home to two of Japan's top five highest peaks.

The Kappabashi Bridge, bustling with tourists as always
Scoping out the mountains
A helicopter whisking supplies to the mountain huts and lodges high up on the ridge lines
Kamikochi's most famous view of the Hotakadake massif from the Kappabashi

Of course, a day in Kamikochi wouldn't be complete without doing some hiking. After hiking from Taishoike Pond to Kappabashi, I went another 3.3 kilometers beyond to check out the lovely Myojin Pond. The serene pond and wetland made famous by one Reverand Walter Weston (1861-1940), an English clergyman who is credited with popularizing mountaineering and alpinism in Japan, as well as with giving currency to the very name "Japan Alps."

And on my way back, I was lucky enough to make one last stop back at the Taishoike Pond, just in time to catch the colors around the pond in their afternoon light, even brighter and more vivid than in the morning.

Yellow and green lining the path to Myojin Pond
The beautiful Myojin Pond, with tiny karamatsu pines small enough to pick up with tweezers floating on the surface
Yakedake, robed in yellow
The slopes of Yakedake in autumn afternoon light is a site to behold
Special thanks to Saeki-san, the taxi driver who showed me this spot

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List of Posts:
2017/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2017
2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/03/24 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Mitake
2015/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Takao
2015/11/12 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/11 - Autumn Color Report: Fukuroda Falls
2015/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2015/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2015/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2015/10/13 - Autumn Color Report: Hakkoda
2015/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2015/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/04/14 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Yoshino
2015/04/13 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Miharu
2015/04/08 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Matsumoto Report
2015/01/29 - Crabs, Peonies and Castle Cruises in Shimane

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/16 - Seasonal Illumination: Osaka
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Kobe Luminarie 2014
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Ashikaga Flower Park
2014/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2014/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
2014/10/29 - Autumn Color Report: Shima Onsen
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2014/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/09/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/08/20 - Kusatsu Onsen Beautification