The Northern Japan Alps
Unforgettable experiences above the tree-line in one of Japan's most picturesque mountain ranges.
The Northern Japanese Alps hold many famous hiking spots and with a little planning and legwork, you’ll be well on your way to a magical nature experience while in Japan.
The mountains of Japan’s Northern Alps comprise one of three ranges to bear the modern title of “alps” — the other two being the Central Alps and the Southern Alps. (The Japanese names of these ranges, from north to south, are the Hida Sanmyaku, the Kiso Sanmyaku, and the Akaishi Sanmyaku.) Here are some basic points of orientation along with a list of mountaineering highlights for anyone seeking an unforgettable experience above the treeline.
The Northern Alps as part of a national park
The Northern Alps lie west of Tokyo within the boundaries of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, which includes parts of Nagano, Toyama, Gifu, and Niigata prefectures. It’s a vast area comprising more than 1,740 square kilometers, including famous destinations like Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and Kamikochi. Tantalizing for ambitious hikers, such areas are also connected by proper mountain walking treks which traverse countless kilometers of rugged terrain and grant access to some truly sublime mountain vistas.
Choose your adventure
Exactly which experience you’ll want to pursue in the Northern Alps will likely be determined by your specific interests and abilities. Many are happy just to take a brisk walk around the Kappa Bridge area of Kamikochi snapping pictures of the surrounding mountains and pure mountain rivers and streams. For others, the main attraction of an alpine summit would be a glimpse of a raicho, an iconic species of alpine wildfowl only encountered at altitude. And yet another kind of alpinist only feels alive when scaling a sheer rock face like the Byobu Iwa in the Hotaka Range. Whatever your preference, it’s all here to discover, so let’s take a look at some of the most popular options.
Newcomers are encouraged to think of Kamikochi not just as a gorgeous park where you can loaf around and enjoy the view, but also as a gateway to adventure. Once in the park, you can set out on such hikes as Mount Yake, Mount Chogatake, as well as Mount Yari or the Hotaka Range (or a combination of both via the perilous Daikiretto traverse). There’s also a celebrated multi-day trek linking Kamikochi and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route/Tateyama Range
Beautiful views come along with popular spots like Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (as well as the expansive Kurobe Gorge).
In addition to the route itself, long a favorite among visitors to Toyama and Nagano, the surrounding mountain peaks are pilgrimages in their own right. Not far from Murodo station, the holy mountain of Tateyama attracts huge crowds in the warmer months and offers a mountain walking experience suited to all levels. Further away and in the opposite direction, Mount Tsurugi offers a much higher level alpine experience for which you’d want to be at least a fit intermediate with a taste for ridgewalking. As mentioned above, you can also set aside most of a week for a heroic multi-day trek to Kamikochi.
Mount Yari and the Hotaka Range
Within Striking distance of Kamikochi, you’ll find Mount Yari and the picturesque peaks of Hotaka. Both of these rank among the 100 Famous Mountains of Japan and include the fifth and third highest peaks in the country, respectively. Yari and Hotaka are also linked by a long, forbidding stretch of knifepoint ridge called the Daikiretto. Negotiating this beast involves scrambling across many exposed areas where one misplaced step could send you hurtling to your doom. Definitely not for the faint of heart.
The two ‘Ginzas’
The many veins of the Northern Alps include two popular routes named the Omote Ginza and Ura Ginza — loosley, the “outer” and “interior” Ginza. Of the two, the Omote is much easier to access and includes popular peaks like Mount Tsubakuro and the aforementioned Mount Yari. Traveling south from Tsubakuro, you can also opt to take the other choice where two mountain paths fork at Otensho and head to Kamikochi by a gentler route across Mounts Jonen and Chogatake.