Bushbaby Travel: Inspiring travel for life
Nagano Mirror Lake, Credit Shutterstock

Japanese Alps, Japan

Sprinkled with superb onsen, ancient castles and a vast array of hiking and cycling trails, the awesome Japanese Alps are a must-visit destination for any Japan itinerary. Rising sharply near the border of Nagano and Gifu prefectures, all but one (Mount Fuji) of Japan’s highest peaks are found in this series of mountain ranges that dominate Central Honshu.

Nagano Mirror Lake, Credit Shutterstock

In the north, sitting on the Sea of Japan coastline, Kanazawa is packed with culture. It’s best known for Kenroku-en, a 17th-century castle garden. Its name, which means “combined six garden”, refers to the six attributes of horticultural perfection that the garden embraces: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, water and panoramic views. Visit in early morning or late afternoon for your best chance of experiencing its tranquility.

Kanazawa also boasts wonderfully preserved geisha and samurai districts. Don’t miss Myōryū-ji, commonly known as Ninja-dera. This Buddhist temple contains secret chambers, hidden stairways and escape routes that were designed to protect samurai from possible attack. It’s worth visiting the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and Omicho Market, where locals come to buy fresh seafood, meat, kitchen tools and flowers. Kanazawa produces 98% of Japan’s gold leaf, and you can pick up all sorts of gilded goodies, from pottery to ice cream.

Head east and inland towards Nagano, a place of pilgrimage since the Kamakura period. Its Buddhist temple, Zenko-ji, still attracts more than four million visitors per year. This is also the jumping-off point for reaching the snow monkeys of Yudanaka. The best time to visit is between January and early March when snow covers the park, and your chances of seeing the Japanese macaques in their natural winter environment are greatest.

Consider a stopover in picturesque Shirakawa-go, a remote mountainous region known for its thatched farmhouses. Or head south to Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city, with its excellent museum that will delight trainspotters (JR SCMAGLEV & Railway Park).

For those keen to hike, Kamikochi offers trails with a picture-perfect alpine backdrop. The 19th-century British missionary Reverend Walter Weston is credited with naming this mountainous region the “Japan Alps”. As you trek, look out for wildflowers, monkeys and “yama-goya” (mountain huts) where you can stop to eat a simple lunch.

Active folk can also hop on a bicycle to explore the Japanese Alps on two wheels. Takayama is ideal for a half-day cycling tour through rice paddies and riverside streetscapes. The city, which sits in the mountainous Gifu Prefecture, is one of Japan’s most atmospheric, with a layout that dates back to the 17th century. Museums and galleries rub shoulders with temples, traditional craft shops and sake breweries. Stroll through Sanmachi-suji district (the original district of three main streets of merchants) past immaculately preserved “furui machinami” (old private houses) and stop to sample this Japanese tipple.

sign up for inspiration and special offers

follow us on social media