Robert Schrader in Kamikochi, Japan

Discover the Japanese Alps

The Japan Alps loom high over central Honshu, not to mention in the consciousness of Japan travelers. At the same time, they remain one of the country’s most elusive regions for many, and not just because of their distance from the coast and cities like Tokyo and Kyoto.

Whether you visit Chubu Sangaku National Park (as the Alps are officially known) to hike, trek or climb, or simply to partake in the excellent cities and culture that exist in and around them, continue reading to learn more about your options, which include some of Japan’s best skiing.

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Is Mt. Fuji in the Japan Alps?

Looking at the Japanese Alps on map, it can be difficult to see where they begin or end. In particular, many travelers wonder whether Mt. Fuji, doubtlessly Japan’s most iconic mountain peak, sits within the Japan Alps region. While geologists might diverge from what I’m about to say, I believe the two to be separate, not only in terms of geology but in culture and vibe.

The Fuji Five Lakes region, to be sure, has a distinct range of scenery and activities, much of which has nothing to do with the hiking and trekking you associate with the Japan Alps, climbing Fuji itself notwithstanding. Whether you spend a month in Japan or just two weeks, you should think about Mt. Fuji and the Japan Alps as two separate destinations.

Climbing in the Japanese Alps

Mt. Fuji is famous, but the highest peak in the Japanese Alps is actually Mount Kita, which rises some 10,476 feet above the island of Honshu. Other high Japanese mountains, which attract climbers from all around the world, include Hotakadake, Kaikoma and Kisokoma, all of which are more than three kilometers in height.

Hiking in the Japanese Alps, to be sure, is both a more popular activity than climbing, not to mention a more accessible one. From the Nakasendo (which is actually more of a walk) to trails near cities like Matsumoto and Nagano, hiking is a Japan Alps activity that even proud city slickers can easily enjoy, as compared to other hikes in Japan.

Mount Fuji in the Japanese Alps
 
Snow monkey in the Japanese Alps
Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps
 
Matsumoto Castle in the Japanese Alps
 
Castle in the Japanese Alps
Takayama in the Japanese Alps
 
Nakasendo in the Japanese Alps
 

Japan Alps: What to Do and When to Go

Speaking of the Nakasendo Way, which connected Kyoto and Edo (the former name of Tokyo) in ancient times, it’s an easy way to enjoy the Japanese Alps. From Nagoya, get a train to Nakatsugawa and a bus to Magome, and begin your walk through the Japanese Alps—November, with its autumn colors, is one of the most beautiful times to walk the Nakasendo.

If you come to the Alps in winter, on the other hand, you’ll almost certainly take part in Japan Alps skiing, which is less famous than what you find in Hokkaido, but also easier to reach from Tokyo and elsewhere in Honshu. Popular Japan Alps skiing spots include the Hakuba Valley and Shiga Kogen, which boasts nearly 20 resorts although it occupies only one mountain pass.

Cities of the Japanese Alps

The Japan Alps are a nature lover’s paradise, but you needn’t leave the comforts of the city to enjoy them. If you stay in Matsumoto, for example, you can visit Matsumoto Castle (TIP: If you’re in Japan in spring, this is a great spot to enjoy sakura viewing) in the morning and hike through Kamikochi Japan during the afternoon, taking in scenic mountain views and a crystalline stream.

Other Japan Alps cities include Takayama, which is famous for its heritage architecture, and Toyama, which experiences some of the world’s heaviest snowfall in winter and boasts resplendent tulip fields in spring. In the outskirts of Nagano, meanwhile, you’ll find Jigokudani (aka Hell Valley), which is home to Japan’s famous snow monkeys.

The Bottom Line

There are almost countless things to do in the Japanese Alps, whether you walk the Nakasendo Way, trek around the cities of Nagano and Matsumoto or even summit the highest peaks in the mountain range. Japan’s Alps are beautiful in every season, though they look particularly stunning as autumn’s leaves reach peak color. Alternatively, visit the Japan Alps in winter to take advantage of world-class skiing.