Taking their name from the European Alps that they resemble, the Japanese Alps stretch across the Nagano, Toyama, and Gifu Prefectures on Central Honshu and are home to the country’s most gratifying mountain views. This volcanic mountain range is characterised by snowy peaks that crash down to hidden crystalline lakes, lush green pastures and small mountain villages populated with ancient ryokans and therapeutic onsens.
The charming town of Matsumoto is the main focus for this alpine region, offering an attractive departure point for hikes further afield in the beautiful deep mountain domain of Kamikochi, a highland plateau where the gods are said to reside. While you’re here, make sure to visit Matsumoto’s ominous looking Black Crow Castle, one of Japan‘s best preserved castles which still bears the marks of ancient battles.
The prestigious venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano is a world-class ski area featuring excellent runs and facilities that are well worth checking out if you visit in winter. The onsens of the area also particularly popular in winter when wild monkeys come down from the hills to bathe in natural hot springs such as Yudanaka Onsen. Summer time provides a wonderful opportunity for hiking and while photography enthusiasts flock to the region for nature’s spectacular display of red leaves and cherry blossom in autumn and spring.
WHEN TO GO
The Japanese Alps are a year-round destination, offering different experiences each season.
What to do
- Visit Matsumoto's famous ‘Black Crow’ castle
- Bath in therapeutic onsens
- Hike in the Kamikochi deep-mountain region
- Follow walking trails among the mountains and lakes
- Take a tour of the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics
- Ski in this world-class winter sports destination
- Visit in early Autumn for spectacular Autumn leaves viewing
- Tour the Daio Wasabi Farm, the largest wasabi plantation in Japan