I organize trips to Japan every year and personally the place I love the most to calm the mind and quiet the heart is Kamikochi. It’s called Japan Alps and located near Matsumoto city in Nagano. The word ‘Kamikochi’ itself means ‘where god descends’. This place is an ideal start to many of the adventures to be done in the area. The most famous and relaxing activity is hiking along the river of Azusa, which takes only about 4 hours on an easy walking route. But to enjoy the atmosphere of the place more fully, hikers could choose to camp one night at some of the campsites there.
In October 2016, I brought two Malaysian friends here, Hanafi and Najihah. We planned to camp here for one night. We arrived in Matsumoto city and checked in into our guesthouse named Matsumoto no Yado . We’re so lucky to stay in a very traditional Japanese house with a nostalgic feeling in it. The house was equipped with Japanese straw mats called ‘tatami’ and we slept on traditional beds called ‘futon’. Those who had experienced sleeping on futon know how good it is. It made us slept soundly without being disturbed by the cold of autumn night.
The next day we woke up early to take a train from Matsumoto station to Shinshimashima that took 30 minutes followed by a bus ride to Kamikochi which took 60 minutes. Upon arriving, we had breakfast near the bus stop. We didn’t want to waste much time so we set off quickly. We were walking to a campsite called Tokusawa campsite which took around 2 hours from the bus stop. The weather in the morning was quite cold that we need to wear windbreakers. It was reaching the peak of autumn and we’re amazed by the colorful leaves of the forest as we didn’t have a chance to get this view back in Malaysia.
The water of Azusa River along the trail was crystal clear and the sound of the stream really calmed our spirit. What fascinated us was the attitude of Japanese people walking the trail. Almost all of them would greet us ‘Konnichiwa’ which means ‘Hello’. Imagine carrying a heavy backpack and along the way people greet you with a smile. It was such a great motivation for us to move forward despite of the difficulties. I thought to myself if Muslims can greet ‘Assalamualaikum’ among ourselves like the Japanese greet ‘Konnichiwa’, we would solve most of the problems facing us.
Another interesting fact about Japanese is that the elderly people love to go hiking. We met many old people along the trail. We’re surprised to see their fitness level and spirit. They’re very energetic. We talked to a group of mothers and they’re amazed when they know we’re from Malaysia. They said that’s the first time they met Malaysians in Kamikochi.
After two hours of hiking, we reached Tokusawa campsite and we decided to set up our tents before continuing for another one hour hike. The campsite was a beautiful open space area. It was well preserved and very comfortable to camp. It also had a toilet nearby. For me autumn is the best time to camp here due to the colorful trees and we could cook meals while enjoying the scenery. We brought our own tents to save cost.
The campsite fee was 700 yen per person per night. Rental tent was 7500 yen and sleeping bag was 2000 yen. I would advise those who plan to visit here to rent a tent and sleeping bag rather than bringing their own tents and sleeping bags. This could lighten their backpacks and make their journey more relaxing. There’s also a lodge to stay near the campsite.
It was 12:30 pm and for lunch we ate bread to fill our empty stomach. It’s good to have lunch under the warm sun in this cold season. We left our backpacks to continue hiking to Yoko Bridge. The hike took only 1 hour. We walked faster this time because we’re not carrying any weight. Near Yoko Bridge, there’s a lodge and a campsite as well. When arriving at the bridge, we took our time appreciating the beauty and calmness of the stream beneath us. Taking in all views of the mountains, we sat silently, hoping the time would stop ticking. Seeing the sun was lower and the air was getting chiller, I called my friends to return but Najihah and Hanafi were asking for more time as the stream of Azusa river had flown into their hearts.
It was getting darker when we arrived at Tokusawa Campsite. We hurried to cook dinner while there’s still light. We prepared spaghetti using cooking tools like mini stoves and butane gas. Najihah made us hot chocolate drinks. After praying Maghrib and Isha’ and when the sky is completely dark we did a stargazing activity. I taught them how to use stargazing apps. The app was cool because just by pointing the camera to the sky, it showed us what stars and constellations we’re looking at. We lay on the grass and were surprised to see shooting stars here and there in the sky. We could only see sky full of stars in this kind of place where there’s no pollution. Soon, we’re ready to hit the sleeping bags. The temperature was 5 degrees. For us Malaysians who’re not used to this kind of temperature, it felt extremely cold. I would suggest to those planning to visit this place to bring a proper sleeping bag suitable with the temperature.
The next morning, we prepared breakfast and packed our stuff and ready to hike back to the place we start yesterday, but this time we’re taking another route. It’s on the other side of Azusa River. The route felt longer than the previous one. On this side most of the land was marsh land. So we had to walk on long planks made of wood. The forest on this side beautifully different from yesterday. Something we couldn’t get in Malaysia.
As I was hiking, I thought to myself that hiking taught me some lessons that are important to be implemented in daily day life. We should always take one step at a time, always relax and breathe deeply, support each other, appreciate our surroundings, let go of the past and be in the moment and always keep God in our hearts.
We arrived at the bus stop at noon and we took a bus to get back to Matsumoto. We would never forget the beauty of Kamikochi and would sure want to come back here. I highly recommend Kamikochi to those who are interested in hiking here. There are other adventures to do. What I shared is just for the average level. If you are a climber, come and climb the mountains here, it would be a lot more adventurous and inspiring. But just by walking along Azusa River and under the autumn leaves of Kamikochi could nurture the soul. So what are waiting for? Hurry and plan a trip to Kamikochi!
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