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Greetings, Internet Stranger! 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 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 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

Where Do I Stay?

Takayama is a pretty small town, so there aren’t a million hotels. But you are here to relax, so choose wisely! I loved the Spa Hotel Alpina when I stayed in Takayama. 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?

You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.

Japan is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.

Finally, if you’re not from Japan or the US, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. Japanese electrical outlets don’t work with UK or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary

Morning: Explore Historic Takayama

We have so many things to do in our 24 hours in Takayama that you’ll hardly believe it. But how can I send you to a historic mountain town and not give you time to explore? That would be cruel and unusual punishment. So without further ado…

Approximately top 5: 24 hours in takayama

takayama river
1) explore the morning market

The Morning Markets are an important part of life in Takayama, such an important part that there are two of them to satisfy everyone’s morning market addiction. I went to the smaller Jinya-mae first to check out the produce. I wanted to buy and eat everything, but I knew that almost nothing would 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. I felt really bad about not being able to get the 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 have never seen a river like this in my 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.

takayama ittobori
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 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).

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.

hida folk village
3) Take the bus to hida folk village

I then had 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.

hida folk village
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 to share my experience here with you.

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!

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 bus to get there. First you need to take 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.

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 Japanese strangers will greet you by saying, “Konnichiwa!” Do not be frightened! 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.

APPROXIMATELY TOP 5: 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 nice 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.

24 Hours: Japanese Alps Itinerary
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.

kamikochi sacred pond
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 made me wish that we kept the amazing natural resources in America better preserved. I’ve been to lots of national parks and I know that 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.

I had the vague and fantastical impression that I had stepped back into the forest primeval. I haven’t been camping since I was a teenager, but I had a sudden wish that I had brought a sleeping bag and could camp out there under the stars.

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

kamikochi mountain
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 I make it? Can I make it? Will I be forced to spend the rest of days roaming the Japanese hillsides and howling at the moon?

Fear not, though! For once in my life, I was punctual and got on the bus with five minutes to spare, but I think I left a piece of my heart back in Kamikochi.

Japanese monk 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.

If 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 after dinner was this large pool of warm water on the roof of my hotel.

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. Jingoro Ramen is a ramen shack down by the train tracks that doesn’t open for dinner until 8.

That evening I was perturbed to find that all the guests were male. Was this a ramen shack/fantasy football league? 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 ordered the basic ramen with pork for 600 yen–a complete steal and I paid totally with coins. The woman handed it over without any fuss or indeed any communication at all, and I noisily slurped down the noodles.

In Japan, slurping is considered polite because it shows that you enjoyed the food. I didn’t need to fake my slurping in this case because the ramen was perfectly flavorful and ramentic. It was precisely the kind of thing one would want to eat in a roadside shack: nothing fancy but cheap and delicious with no attention paid to the presentation. But sometimes you don’t want haute cuisine. Sometimes you want a big messy bowl of noodles and broth with haphazardly chopped up pieces of greasy meat on top.

Further Reading: Japanese Alps Itinerary!

Are you ready to start booking your hotel in the Japanese Alps now? Then let me give you some suggestions for further reading for your Japanese Alps itinerary. I like the Lonely Planet guide to Japan. It divides the country up clearly into different regions, which is very helpful.

If you want to understand why the kappa is so popular in Japan, read Kappa by Ryonusuke Akutagawa. It’s like Alice in Wonderland if Alice in Wonderland were about underground lizard people.

And if you prefer mysteries, settle in for a cozy evening in Takayama with Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Ranpo. (Ranpo was a Japanese writer, but he admired Edgar Allen Poe so much, he changed his name to sound more like his idol.)

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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