WHAT IS THE JAPANESE ALPS FAMOUS FOR? WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS TO SEE IN THE JAPANESE ALPS? WHERE TO STAY IN THE JAPANESE ALPS?
The Japanese Alps are a group of three high mountain ranges, sometimes volcanic, in the center of the main island Honshu, about 200 kilometers northwest of Tokyo.
These are the Hida Mountains in the north, the Kiso Mountains in the center and the Akaishi Mountains in the south, which span the prefectures of Nagano, Gifu, Toyama, Niigata, Yamanashi and Shizuoka.
From the historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, to the most beautiful onsen, passing by the best ski resorts, discover what to see and what to do in the Japanese Alps.
Here is a glimpse about the Japanese Alps:
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS
1. Explore the historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Located in central Japan, the historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are famous for their traditional Gassho-style houses.
Built between the end of the Edo period (1600-1868) and the Meiji era (1868-1912), these houses are made of wood, straw, ropes and thatched roofs. This exceptional heritage has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.
Nestled in a valley in Gifu Prefecture, Shirakawa-go will enchant you with its magical atmosphere. Far from the frenzy of the modern world, this mountainous village will make you discover the daily life of the older Japanese generations.
Nestled in the heart of the forest, Gokayama is a group of villages located in the Shokawa Valley. Unlike the houses of Shirakawa-go, the mansions are inhabited here.
The natives will be delighted to introduce you to local crafts. In particular, you can learn the art of Washi (the traditional “Japanese paper” made with intertwined mulberry fibers).
2. Check out Takayama one of the best places to visit in the Japanese Alps
With its wooden houses, craft shops and sake breweries, Takayama is absolutely stunning!
The city is also famous for its cuisine with the famous Hida Beef, said to be, along with that from Kobe, one of the best in the country!
Also do not miss the Miyagawa market, in the early morning, along the river that winds through the city. You will find local products, but also typical handicrafts of the region.
And if you are there in April and October, you will undoubtedly have the opportunity to admire the Takayama Matsuri Festival during which many floats, adorned with their finest assets, parade through the streets of the city.
Takayama is.a must when visiting the Japanese Alps.
3. Visit Matsumoto and its famous black castle
Matsumoto is one of Japan’s prettiest cities. It is a charming place especially famous for its unique castle! But Matsumoto is also full of cute streets, nice galleries, delicious cafes and beautiful surrounding scenery. Indeed Matsumoto offers amazing views to the Japanese Alps.
Matsumoto castle, one of the best things to see in Matsumoto, is Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of four castles designated as National Treasures. The castle is often nicknamed the Crow’s Castle due to its black color.
We went to Matsumoto multiple times and every time we enjoy this place even more. Check out our full guide here for a visit to Matsumoto.
4. Hike through Kamikochi valley, elected the best view in Japan!
Kamikochi is a 15 kilometer forest valley located along the Azusa River in the heart of the Japanese Alps in Nagano Prefecture.
The site offers a delightful walk that can be done in one day, embellished with magnificent landscapes in spring and autumn. Kamikochi is classified as Natural Heritage of Japan.
The Kamikochi is 1,400 to 1,600 meters above sea level, with peaks reaching over 3,000 meters for the surrounding massifs.
The first to have reached the peaks of the region is the Buddhist priest Banryu (1786 – 1840), from a branch of Buddhism advocating long retreats in the mountains.
Plan at least 1 day to fully appreciate the Kamikochi valley, often described as the most beautiful view of Japan from the famous Kappa Bridge.
Visiting Kamikochi was one of the main highlights during our road trip through Japan!
5. Follow the Nakasendo way, a legendary route taken by the samourais
Due to the construction of new roads and railways most of the traditional Nakasendo Way has disappeared (sadly). However, some parts located in Nagano and Gifu prefectures still remain well preserved!
If there is something not to be missed during a trip to the Japanese Alps, it would be the Nakasendo Way.
Check out the post towns of Magome, Tsumago and Narai Juku. This is some of the most stunning places we visited in Japan and which we recommend to anybody visiting this country!
6. Go skiing in Hakuba, one of the best ski resorts in Japan
We went to Hakuba for the first time in 2020 to ride the famous Japanese Alps with our snowboards. We instantly fell in love with this region of Japan and not only for the Japow!
The Hakuba Valley is located northeast of the Nagano department, in the heart of the Japanese Alps. The peaks, covered in snow for much of the year, dominate the surroundings. The mountains are magnificient and majestic.
Hakuba is actually an all year round vacation and leisure destination. For winter sports until May, with guaranteed quality snow. In spring and summer, hikes are in the spotlight, to climb the slopes among alpine flowers and rediscover the invigorating freshness of the peaks.
Finally, in autumn, the beautiful colors of the trees that transform the entire forest will delight you.
7. Visit the charming town of Obuse
Obuse is not in most guide books, however it’s a beautiful village nestled in the middle of the Japanese Alps which deserves to be visited!
If you are planning a trip in the Nagano prefecture, we highly recommend that you put Obuse on your bucket list.
It is one of the prettiest town in Japan.
Obuse is beautiful in all seasons, just wander around the town to admire its art and its flowers. The village extends from the north of Nagano prefecture to the edge of the Chikuma river.
Obuse is also a pretty town, with many gardens and orchards, also known for its delicious chestnuts.
Obuse is famous thanks to the famous painter: Hokusaï Katsushika.
Most famous Japanese artist of ukiyo-e during the Edo period (1603–1868), Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is the author of a world-famous work: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” (1831 ). Hokusai called himself “the drawing madman”.
Visit the Hokusai Museum where many of the painter’s work is displayed. It is a beautiful museum worth a visit.
8. Have fun watching the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Park
A trip in the Japanese Alps wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Snow Monkeys. At Jigokudani Park you can see the Monkey enjoying their life in a natural onsen.
Hundreds of Japanese monkey reside in the Japanese Alps. This natural park, which is specially dedicated to them, is an opportunity for a beautiful winter stroll through a forest punctuated by hot springs. Winter is the ideal season to visit as they will bath in the onsen surrounded by snow. What a scene!
9. Relax at Gero Onsen
A trip to Japan would not be perfect without enjoying a good onsen, a Japanese hot spring. Gero Onsen is one of the three most famous hot spring towns in Japan along with Kusatsu and Arima.
Located in the heart of the Chubu region in Gifu prefecture, between Nagoya and Takayama, Gero Onsen has developed on a transparent alkaline hot spring whose properties have been known for nearly 1000 years.
The good thing about Gero Onsen, is that the city established an Onsen discovery pass: Yu Meguri Tegata
With this pass, you can visit 3 onsen for a price of 1,300 yen and you can use it for 6 months. The pass can be purchased at hotels, convenient store, souvenirs shops. (Check out the official list of all onsen in Gero Onsen).
There are other interesting things to see in Gero Onsen, which we invite you to discover in our full Gero Guide here.
10. Kanazawa, the gateway to the Japanese Alps
Kanazawa is the gateway to the Japanese Alps.
It will seduce you with its district of very well preserved old samurai houses. In particular, the Nomura house with its typical garden which even received the visit and the favors of Emperor Heisei.
Do not miss its castle and its garden, Kenrokuen being one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Or the old district of Higashichaya, which looks like Kyoto, without the crowds of the imperial city!
Kanazawa is also known for its crafts: gilding, lacquer, silk dyeing (yuzen) and its large fish market! A perfect alternative to that of Tsukiji, the fish market in Tokyo, less visited since its move.
If you like crabs, then you won’t be disappointed in Kanazawa as it’s their local specialty! Super yummy!