Japanese Alps Itinerary: A Perfect 24 Hours


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Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to a 24 hours in the Japanese Alps itinerary! I’m impressed that you are looking for a Japanese Alps itinerary. That is because most people outside of Japan have never heard of the place.

The term Japanese Alps itinerary is something of a misnomer, as the Alps are obviously a mountain range in Europe on which everyone drinks hot chocolate and wears silly braids in their hair. The Japanese Alps are a similarly impressive mountain range, only located in Japan and silly-braid-free.

Now, it is almost impossible to NOT have a perfect Japanese Alps itinerary because the mountains are simply exquisite. So unless you insist on wandering about the area with your eyes firmly shut, you are likely to at the very least have an extremely good day.

But I stand by my following Japanese Alps itinerary as the best way to see all the major sights in one day. In order to follow this itinerary correctly, you need to be staying in the mountain village of Takayama.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

How Do I Get There?

Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a beautiful bottle of sake. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you how to get from your home to the Japanese Alps itinerary.

But I can tell you that I used a lovely airplane to get from my hometown NYC to Japan, and I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight to Tokyo at the best time of day. It’s really easy to see all your options for flights by using their website.

Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight, so you can head out to your Japanese Alps itinerary.

Once I arrived in Japan, I used the train to go from Tokyo to the Japanese Alps. It was a fast and easy train ride; I only had to switch trains in Nagoya. It was even easier because I used the Japan Rail Pass. This pass, which is available for visitors to Japan only, lets you pay one price and then you can get an unlimited number of tickets in a specified time period. The pass works on some buses and ferries too!

Just be sure to get your JR Train Pass before you actually enter Japan. I think it’s easiest to buy it online here.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Where Do I Stay?

Takayama is a pretty small town, so there aren’t a million hotels. But you are here to relax on your Japanese Alps itinerary, so choose wisely! I strongly recommend that you choose the Spa Hotel Alpina when you stay in Takayama. The best amenity is that there is a hot spring on the roof, so you can relax and enjoy the view.

They also have a full breakfast included, with both Japanese and Western options. Finally, the staff was really friendly and though they spoke English, they let me practice my terrible Japanese as much as I wanted. Arigato gozaimasu! 

If you’re interested in a great deal on this hotel, just click here. And if you’d rather check out other amazing hotels in Takayama, click here.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

What to Pack?

  • Stylish and comfy sandals that are just perfect for a beautiful day hiking in the Japanese Alps.
  • Cute boots in case it happens to rain during your Japanese Alps itinerary. As a bonus, you can use them to kick wayward kappas in the face.
  • A cell charger so you can take as many pictures of the stunning scenery as you want
  • A rain jacket with a hood so the weather won’t be able to stop your hiking.
  • My favorite guidebook to Japan
  • If you want to learn more about the wily kappa who lived in the Japanese Alps, read Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s wonderful and disturbing satire Kappa.
  • I am contractually obligated to recommend Case Closed, the world’s best manga series about a high school detective who is transformed into a small child named Conan Edogawa. In this volume, he confronts a wily kappa who may be a murderer.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded in a foreign country without help. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you get lost during your Japanese Alps itinerary. I just don’t think they’ll pay for Conan Edogawa to take your case if you get into any criminal trouble, but you never know.
24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Morning: Explore Historic Takayama

We have so many things to do in our Japanese Alps itinerary that you’ll hardly believe it. And our day starts in the adorable town of Takayama. This itinerary is so jam-packed that it is in fact literally packed with jam.

Approximately top 5: Exploring Takayama

japanese alps itinerary
1) Explore the morning market

The Morning Markets are an important part of life in Takayama. In fact, they are such an important part of Takayama that there are two of them to satisfy everyone’s morning market addiction. First, head to the smaller Jinya-mae first to check out the produce. You’ll want to buy and eat everything, even knowing that almost nothing will get approved by TSA’s restrictions on bringing liquids onto the plane.

Fortunately for me, I got to experience some of the goods because one little old lady shoved a scoop of peach jam into my hands before I could really say anything, and I was forced to eat it with my face. I totally don’t recommend standing in the middle of a farmer’s market licking your palms, but in this case I had no choice. The jam was going to get all over my clothes if I didn’t lick it up like a kitty cat. I felt really bad about not being able to buy some jam, so I bought a juicy peach from the LOL instead.

Parts of the markets are set up along the gorgeous Miya-gawa River which actually, literally sparkles because it is so clean. I promise you have never seen a river like this in your whole life. When I compare my hometown’s Hudson River to the Miya-gawa, I want to hang my head in shame because my hometown pride and joy is so filthsome and foul in comparison.

japanese alps itinerary
2) Buy an ittobori

Takayama is known for its traditional wooden carvings, known as ittobori. These are smooth and intricately carved pieces made from local yew trees. There is even a local association of woodcarvers who verify the authenticity of the works. All authentic ittobori purchases will come with an INCREDIBLE ITTOBORI IDENTIFICATION card (probably not the real name of the card).

Of course the morning markets sell ittobori just like they sell everything else on the planet. I perused the morning market until I found an plumpish, adorable owl made of yew. Even his little individual feathers had been carved out of the wood. I forked over my 2000 yen (about 18 dollars) and Mr. Owl, he was my very own. And one just like it can be yours too, if you follow this Japanese Alps itinerary.

Japanese Alps itinerary
3) Take the bus to hida folk village

In order to have time for everything in our Japanese Alps itinerary, you’ll have to sprint to the Takayama bus station, which is conveniently right next to the train station, to catch the 9:30 AM bus to the Hida Folk Village.

A round trip ticket on the bus complete with admission to the village is only 900 yen, about 9 dollars, which I think is a pretty sweet deal. The bus trip is short, only 10 minutes. And if you want to skip the line and save even more time, you can buy a ticket in advance here.

japanese alps itinerary
4) Marvel at the architecture in hida folk village

Hida Folk Village reminded me of the Cloisters in Manhattan. The buildings in the village are not indigenous to the region, rather they are traditional Japanese cottages that have all been moved to the same region so that they can be explored and preserved.

Like the Cloisters, it is a beautiful place for contemplation and reflection. Allow my photos and my haiku encourage you to visit Hida Folk Village for yourself!

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Thatched roof on old house

I am thinking to myself

Thatched is an odd word

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Koi fish swim, they swish

their tails, I smile. In this poem

Each word has one beat

Once you are done exploring the architecture and composing mediocre haiku, head back to the main part of Takayama. It’s time for us to catch yet another bus! Our Japanese Alps itinerary continues apace!

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Afternoon: Hiking in Kamikochi

Kamikochi is a popular hiking destination in the Japanese Alps, and you need to take a plethora of buses to get there. First, get the bus from Hida Folk Village back to Takayama, and then you just take the bus from Takayama to Kamikochi. If you follow this itinerary to the letter, you should take a bus that will get you to Kamikochi around 1:30 in the afternoon.

If you are only spending a half-day in Kamikochi, like I was, your choices of hiking routes are limited. I suggest that you walk to Myojin-ike, which is a pond and also the location of a shrine called Hotaka-jinja. Three hours gives you enough time to walk there, have lunch, stroll the pond, and then return in time to make The Last Bus to Takayama that leaves at 4:30.

As you walk along the path, get used to the fact that many strangers will greet you by saying, “Konnichiwa!” Do not be frightened! You do not have amnesia, and they are not close friends whom you have forgotten. They’re just being polite. Say “Konnichiwa” back and all will be well. The important part is to focus on the scenery.

Also, be on the look out for the famous kappa, a water demon that lives in the area. You’ll definitely see his picture on the sign for Kappabashi Bridge. If you see a real kappa, don’t worry. Just trick him into bowing and all the water that slushes around in his head will fall out, leaving him incapacitated. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

APPROXIMATELY TOP 5: JAPANESE ALPS ITINERARY

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary
1) ADMIRE THE SPARKLING WATER

I know that I use hyperbole a lot on this blog. I often say that if it weren’t for sarcasm and hyperbole, I would literally never speak or write a word. However, it’s no hyperbole to say that Kamikochi is the prettiest place I have ever seen.

The water is so clean; it shimmers with health and love. The weather is soothing and cool, compared to the sweltering heat of Japan’s cities during August, because the trees provide a sheltering canopy from the sun’s rays.

Spend the next couple of hours turning off your brain, turning off your cell phone, and basking in these natural beauties.

japanese alps hiking
kamikochi
2) HAVE LUNCH AT  KAMONJI-GOYA

There is a restaurant called Kamonji-goya, right outside the sacred pond, which is perfect for lunch. It is famous for serving iwana (river trout) so you should order the iwana lunch set. When the waiter brought me my lunch, he told me, “zenbu o tabemasu”, which means that you eat the whole thing, head to fin.

Well, I did, and it was salty, crisp, and delicious. As always, I am grateful for being able to eat anything yummy that I have never eaten before, including grilled trout heads. And I’m sure you’ll love chowing down on crispy fish heads as much as I did.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary
3) REST AT THE SACRED POND

You can then spend about half an hour of your Japanese Alps itinerary at the pond. Spending time in Japan really makes you wish that we kept the amazing natural resources in America better preserved. I’ve been to lots of national parks, and the park rangers work hard to keep them clean, but I have never seen anything in the U.S. of A. that was as clean as this sacred lake.

When you arrive, you might have the vague and fantastical impression that you have stepped back into the forest primeval. Even if you haven’t been camping in ages, you just may be struck by a sudden wish that you had brought a sleeping bag and could camp out there under the stars.

Can’t, though! For one thing, you can’t camp at a sacred pond, and for another we need to make the Last Bus to Takayama!

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary
4) DON’T MISS THE LAST BUS TO TAKAYAMA

If this were a movie, I’d start playing “Carmina Burana” and running in slow motion, but I don’t think I can replicate that experience on a blog. Just try to picture it in your mind’s eye instead. Will we make it? Can we make it? Will we be forced to spend the rest of days roaming the Japanese hillsides and howling at the moon?

SUCCESS! We got on the bus with five minutes to spare, but I think we left a piece of our hearts back in Kamikochi.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary
Public Domain

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Late Afternoon: Stroll Around Takayama

I say this because you need to kill time before your dinner destination opens, and because you never know what you will find when wandering around a strange city. When walking past one group of old houses, I saw a young man sporting a shaved head and monk’s garb run out of one of the houses on silent tiptoes, jump onto a motorcycle, and drive off into the night.

Who could this man be? Where was he going? Is there a monk-only chapter of Hell’s Angels in the Japanese mountains? This mystery will surely haunt me until the end of my days.

f your feet hurt from all the wanderings from your Japanese Alps itinerary, take a load of by relaxing at the onsen in the Spa Hotel Alpina. This hotel was my favorite place I stayed in Japan because it was the only hotel that had its own hot spring. Because the nightlife in Takayama isn’t exactly hopping, it seemed like the hottest club in town.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Evening: Dinner at Jingoro Ramen

We’re coming to the end of our Japanese Alps itinerary, so it’s time for some dinner at Jingoro Ramen, a ramen shack down by the train tracks that doesn’t open for dinner until 8. That was strange enough, but what we will find when we step inside is even more surprising.

That evening I was perturbed to find that all the guests were male. Was this a ramen shack/fantasy football league/Chuck Palahniuk Book Club? The only ladies inside the establishment were a giant woman behind the counter ladling out the broth and myself. However, if anyone thought it was weird that I was there, he kept that thought to himself.

I recommend getting the basic ramen with pork for 600 yen–a complete steal. The woman handed the steaming bowl of ramen over without any fuss or indeed any communication at all, and I noisily slurped down the noodles. Go and do likewise!

That’s a Perfect Japanese Alps Itinerary!

What would you do on a perfect Japanese Alps itinerary? Are you glad we didn’t miss the last bus to Takayama? And should I quit my day job and attempt to earn a living as a haiku stylist or kappa hunter? Please leave your thoughts below!

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours on your Japanese Alps itinerary.

And if you want to add on other destinations in Japan to your trip, like Tokyo, Kyoto, or Hiroshima, I’ve got you covered here. If you’d rather try another place famous for natural beauty, check out my itinerary for Cape Town, South Africa here!

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