Sunday, 9 October 2016

Japanese Alps - Matsumoto and Kamikochi

Saturday, October 1st

I’m leaving Tokyo for now, heading to the Japanese Alps. It’s a mountain range south-east from Tokyo, with peaks of around 3000 m high. First stop - Matsumoto, which will be my starting point to Kamikochi.

Getting to Matsumoto from Tokyo is easy. You’re getting a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano, and then a local train to Matsumoto.
Shinkansen, the Japanese pride. If your daily commute to work includes using a train, and you don’t live in Japan, please skip this section, as it’ll only make you hate your life more.

Shinkansen is - to say the least - fucking amazing. It’s fast, it’s super comfy, it’s always on time.
You’ve got about twice as much leg room as on any European train I tried. You’ve got reclinable seats, you’ve got a foldable table that is actually well positioned. All the staff is extremely polite (but that’s not only on Shinkansen, Japanese in general are extremely polite. But in some countries (hello fatherland!) even if people are usually polite, staff on trains tends to be rude).
And it really runs on time. You could set your watch to Shinkansen. And all of that in the country that has earthquakes, typhoons, blizzards, snow, proper winters and other disasters.

From Nagano, I took a local, slow paced train to Matsumoto.
When I arrived at Matsumoto and checked in to my hostel, I decided to go for a run. Since yesterday’s hike took a bit out of me, I decided to go for a steady one instead of a hard session. I found out that about 7km from my place was a Buddhist temple, that was worth seeing - according to the Internet. I run there, first through the city centre, then through more countryside like area. Matsumoto is not very big (well, about 300k people…), so the city centre is not huge and it was fairly quiet. The more remote areas were very quiet, not many people, some rice fields, lots of green areas. I finally got to the Temple (Gofuku-ji). It was beautiful. Very quiet, I didn’t meet a single person there. Since it was quite remote, there were no city noises - just the sound of flowing water and chatting birds.

In the evening, after awesome sashimi dinner, I went to visit Matsumoto castle. Actually, I could see it from the window from my hostel. It is absolutely beautiful at night. Just have a look at the pictures.

I could witness Japanese mix of New and Old. There are benches under a tree facing Matsumoto castle. Since the place is so beautiful, romantic and quiet, it's a great location to go for a date. So there were a few couples sitting on the benches. Everyone playing with their phones...

When I got back, people running the hostel invited me to have some tea and rum with them (not mixed!). When we were chatting, two Japanese men arrived. They were both bikers in their fifties, slightly drunk. One of them - Murata-san - was speaking a bit of English and was in the mood for conversation, so they both joined us and we had very nice and quite funny chat. I've learned a lot about Buyō dance, that Murata-san was very keen on performing for us...

More great Japanese tea, and bed time. Tomorrow off to Kamikochi for a day.

Sunday, October 2nd

Kamikochi is a quite famous location in Japanese alps. It’s a river valley with great hiking trails, kind of a starting point to the exploration of the Mountains. Unfortunately hotels there are quite expensive, that’s why I decided to stay in Matsumoto and just visit Kamikochi for a day.
Getting there takes about 90 minutes. First, you need to take a train from Matsumoto to Shin-Shimashima, and then a bus to Kamikochi.
In Kamikochi I opted for an easy, relaxed walk up the river, as I had a long run planned for later.
To be fair, it crossed my mind to incorporate my run into the trip to Kamikochi, e.g. to go with the bus one way, and return back running, but when I realised it was over 50km from Matsumoto, I decided it’s probably not the best idea. I need to up my weekly mileage, but not necessarily this way...
Back to the hiking - one of the “points of interest” on the trail is Myojin Pond. It’s beautiful. Just have a look.

There are a couple of nice suspension bridges on the trail, with Kappa Bridge at the very beginning.
And there are monkeys! I met this one out of the blue. It was walking on the path, not paying too much attention to other tourists. Everyone is so polite in this country, even monkeys!

Ok, maybe not everyone. Seems black bears may be a bit rude at times:

I got back to Matsumoto around 8pm and went for a run. It was still warm and humid, so the run was fairly slow, but very nice as well. Running in Japan is very safe. Roads are usually well illuminated, drivers are careful and don’t drive very fast. When overtaking runners, they taking really good safety margin. Although it’s good to wait at traffic lights, as they tend to jump on the yellow light.

More pictures from Matsumoto here, and from Kamikochi - there.

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