Kamikochi is a popular sight-seeing destination for its good views of the nearby Northern Alps, and its walking trails along the crystal clear Azusa River (梓川). For the hard-core mountain climbers it is also the starting point to several of the main Northern Alps peaks.
Kamikochi can be reached either by direct express bus from Tokyo, or travelling to Matsumoto (松本) first, then change to the Kamikochi railway line, and at the Shinshimashima (新島々駅) terminal change to bus.
For our trip, direct bus was already sold out; and the second option requires getting to Matsumoto early – but the earliest possible time of arrival would still be nearly 10 am (requiring taking the Shinkansen – expensive!).
Instead, I came up with another plan – taking night bus on the previous night to Matsumoto, arriving after midnight, and stay in a cheap hotel. With that, we were able to make the 8 am train on the Kamikochi rail, and also cheaper overall.
Norikurakogen Onsen (乗鞍高原温泉)
We took the last bus of the day bound for the Norikurakogen Onsen area, where we would be staying for the night. It’s an over one hour ride through winding mountain roads. Most people got off at Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉) (literally “white bone onsen”, what an intriguing name!), which is about half way. It is more famous (and accommodation more expensive), but without being too particular, Norikurakogen also has similar kind of milky-coloured onsens, though it is somewhat further away.