I sat on the far back of the bus, away from most people. It was going to be an hour and 5-minute ride from Shin-shimashima bus terminal to Kamikochi— the Japanese version of the Alps. I kept on fidgeting as I wait for the bus to leave.
It was a Facebook post in November by one of my colleagues. The scenery in the photo amazed me. I wondered in which country she went. I looked at the comments under the photo to find some clues. Surprisingly, the place isn’t abroad. It’s just here in Japan.
It had almost been eight months and I was reminded of the Alps. I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday weekend. I’d been attempting to book a flight to Taiwan, but I was torn because the view of nature in Kamikochi was something I could not wait to see. In the end, I chose to travel domestically.
It was around 10:35 am when the bus finally arrived in Kamikochi. I must have drunk a lot of water before the journey because right after getting off, I just had to run to the restroom. I knew I was going to walk for several kilometers in a forest, so I just had to stuff myself with food. I looked around for a place to eat at the arrival terminal. I had ramen for lunch and then I was off to find the most important thing in my list — the bear bell.
I scolded myself for forgetting to bring a jacket. The place is situated on a high ground so it felt cold to just wear a simple blouse which doesn’t even have long sleeves. In the end, I did manage as the long walks kept me warm. In situations where I couldn’t see a single hiker in view, my heart rate would go faster and I made sure my bear bell tinkled louder.
How To Get There:
From Matsumoto Station, take the ALPICO Line for SHINSHIMASHIMA and get off at SHINSHIMASHIMA station. It takes 30 min and costs ¥700. From SHINSHIMASHIMA station, take the bus bound to Kamikochi.
I waved my hand at the Indian man across the street. He was wearing a huge backpack and his wife and three kids were trailing behind him. He stopped and crossed the street again to my direction. “The bus stop that I was referring to is here,” I said pointing to where I was standing. “We’re actually planning to just walk there,” he uttered. Seeing that he has children with filled backpacks strapped on each one of them, I managed to make him decide to wait for the bus going to Matsumoto castle. As the bus had not arrived, yet, his family walked to the Mos Burger restaurant which was just a few steps away from the bus stop.
I sat on the bench while waiting for the bus. I felt impatient. I was already running out of time. I still needed to go to two museums and it was almost three in the afternoon. I might not make it before the closing time. I checked the bus timetable and realized that it was a better idea to walk. I would even be like ten minutes ahead of the scheduled bus bound for the castle. I crossed the street heading in the direction where the Indian man was supposed to go before I waved at him. I walked hurriedly as a skift of snow was already falling.
This is the facade of the Matsumoto station.
This is a Yayoi Kusama bus. Yayoi Kusama is a famous Japanese artist from Matsumoto City known for the polka dot trademark in her artworks.
Matsumoto Castle late in the afternoon
The Former Kaichi School Building — the oldest elementary school in Japan
Within the Kaichi School premises
Matsumoto castle at night
Early morning view from my room at Richmond Hotel in Matsumoto
Resident swans at the castle waters
Matsumoto Castle early in the morning
I hopped on an early train to Nakatsugawa on the first day of the Golden Week. I quickly grabbed an empty seat because I knew that travel time was long. What makes the way to Nakatsugawa distinctive to me is the presence of high mountains full of greenery. It can be scary to get lost in this area because there aren’t so many houses and people in sight. However, the scenery which is abundant with nature allowed me to relax my mind.
I saw a picture of a traditional Japanese village with unique rows of wooden houses located in a high mountain slope. The lush mountains in the background made the village even more attractive and conducive to peaceful living. It was like a scene you can only see in Japanese anime. When I found out the name of the place, I checked the nearest station and found out it was just less than three hours from where I live. I decided to travel early in the morning because I wanted to avoid the crowd from blocking the view of the place whenever I take a picture.
There were more than five people who got off at Narai station. The first thing I decided to look for was the wooden arch bridge, Kiso Ohashi, which was my point of reference for the village. It was nowhere in sight so I had to choose which direction to tread. Fortunately, I made the right choice. I saw the typical houses common only during the Edo Period. They are basically of the same style with that of the traditional houses I saw at Takayama and Magome-juku. I have to admit that the view at Narai-juku is nothing new anymore once you’ve been to other historical villages of the Edo era. I wasn’t able to eat at a local café or buy ica cream like I always do when I visit a new place. I just didn’t feel too relaxed during that time since I didn’t see the bridge, yet.
I think I walked back and forth four times just to cover what I wanted to do in that place. However, I didn’t see the Kiso Ohashi until I decided to call it a day and look for a place to eat while I wait for the next train. I ended up not eating. Instead, I followed the signs that led me to the bridge. It wasn’t that far although I had to extend my departure for an hour again just to fully enjoy the area. The bridge amazes me because it’s still functional even if it’s around 300 years old.
It was only when I read again the wooden post sign that welcomes tourists to Naraijuku did I realize I was already in Nagano Prefecture. Walking around historic post towns just give me a sense of calm while making me feel as if I’m in a completely different world. I guess I long for places that take me away from this modern society. As I rode my train back home, I let sleep take over me so I could escape once again.How To Go There:
From Nagoya Station, take the Limited Express (Wide View) Shinano train to Nakatsugawa. From Nakatsugawa, ride the JR Chuo Line for Matsumoto and get off at Narai Station. The total cost is 3,770 Yen. If you want a reserved seat from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, you’d have to spend a total of 4,090 yen. Travel time is 2 hours and 25 minutes. If you want to lessen your fare, you can ride the JR Chuo Line Rapid for Nakatsugawa at Nagoya Station. Get off at Nakatsugawa and ride the JR Chuo Line for Matsumoto and get off at Narai Station. The total cost is 2,590 yen. Travel time is 2 hours and 55 minutes.