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8 Reasons to Visit the Japanese Alps

As you travel throughout Japan, why not include a few places that are off the beaten path? The Japanese Alps originally referred to the northern Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈) between Gifu, Nagano, and Toyama prefectures. Eventually, this term came to include the central Kiso Mountains (木曽山脈) and southern Akaishi Mountains (赤石山脈) as well. This rich and awe-inspiring natural landscape is home to a unique type of beauty. Today we provide a few reasons that the Japanese Alps should be near the top of your “must see” list while adventuring throughout Japan.

1. Hiking

Explore the pristine beauty that Japan has to offer by trekking to destinations that feel truly magical. The Hida mountain range offers scenic hiking trails through breathtaking valleys like Kamikochi, to some of the tallest peaks in Japan, like Mount Tateyama. You’ll discover crystal clear-lakes and stunning rivers, surrounded by nature’s splendor. Experience such wonders as the Hirayu Grand Waterfall (Hirayu Otaki), refreshing your mind as you stand in the wake of its impressive power.

Waterfall in the Japanese Alps

2. Ropeways

You can also scale the side of a mountain the easy way: lifted into the clouds by an aerial tram that offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. While there are ropeways throughout Japan that will shuttle you through the clouds, one of our favorites is Shinhotaka Ropeway (新穂高ロープウェイ) which ferries you up the hillside of Mount Hotaka, the third tallest mountain in Japan. We recommend going in autumn so you can get the extra benefit of seeing the autumn leaves, as discussed below.

3. Autumn Leaves

The phenomenon of kouyou (紅葉), or the changing colors of the leaves, deserves a category all its own, due to the magnitude of its beauty. If you plan to visit the Japanese Alps during autumn, you’ll likely find yourself enveloped in a wonderland of colors from crimson red to deep gold and orange hues as the leaves change their color. With a light gust of wind you’ll find yourself showered in seasonal beauty, as leaves float down from above.

Kouyou, or the changing colors of the leaves, at the Japanese Alps

4. Castles

Throughout history, Japan has built castles as a means of defense, as well as symbols of government authority and military power. Many have been destroyed over the centuries, with only a handful remaining relatively unharmed. Matsumoto Castle (松本城), known as the “Crow Castle” (烏城 Karasu-jo) due to its black exterior, is located in Nagano prefecture in the northern region of the Japanese Alps, and serves as one of Japan’s most intact and beautiful castles. Did we mention that it has been declared a national treasure?

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano prefecture near the Japanese Alps

5. Cities of the Alps

Nestled at the base of mountain peaks rest a number of fascinating cities, each with their own unique character and history to explore. Step back into the Edo period while walking through Takayama’s (高山市) historic old town, that feels as if it came straight out of a samurai movie. Many of the shops still use the original historical buildings, giving you a taste of what it might have been like centuries ago. Hida Beef (飛騨牛) is a local delicacy that is famous for its tenderness and a must try for meat eaters. Visit during the spring or summer to take part in one of the most beautiful festivals in all of Japan.

A historic Edo-style town in Takayama near the Japanese Alps

6. Skiing

Picturesque mountaintops offer a perfect environment for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding for all ages. After a long day of careening down the slopes, rest your weary bones in a steaming hot onsen bath while overlooking sparkling white mountains. Numerous restaurants and walk-up windows offer tasty and affordable hot food to recharge your energy. Convenient bus schedules from nearby towns make it easy to reach your ski resort and nearby hotels.

Skiing at Honoki Ski Resort in the Japanese Alps

7. Hot Springs

As one of the most unique and refreshing experiences Japan has to offer, natural hot spring baths, or onsen (温泉) can be found all throughout the Japanese Alps. Perfect moments are to be had while steaming hot waters rejuvenate your body, mind, and soul. There are onsen of all types that can be found, so you can find your ideal environment with just a little research. You might have even seen monkeys enjoying the hot springs on your regular nature television channel.

Monkeys in an onsen hot spring in Nagano, Japan in the Japanese Alps

8. Shirakawa-go

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go (白川郷) is a fully functioning mountain village that dates back centuries, where you’ll explore houses in the traditional gassho (合掌造り) style. This iconic style is easily recognized by the steeply angled grass roofs which resemble hands during prayer. Even today, these buildings are still built, repaired, and lived-in by the locals. Visit the official Shirakawa-go website for more information.

We’ve given you a few reasons to visit, but there are many more just waiting for you to discover. Add a little bit of creative flavor to your next adventure in Japan by including destinations throughout the Japanese Alps on your travel itinerary.

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