Mountain photography in Japan’s spectacular Kamikochi

Mount Hotaka and River Azusa in Kamikōchi (the Upper Highlands) in the Hida Mountains, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.

Mount Hotaka and River Azusa in Kamikōchi (the Upper Highlands) in the Hida Mountains, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.

I’ll be honest: when I visited Japan on a travel journalism assignment back in September, I was expecting to get more out of street photography than I did. Perhaps it’s just that the hyper-charged sprawls of Tokyo and Osaka are just too absorbing for me to even want to raise my camera; maybe I’m just out of practice. What I know is that I came away with landscape, wildlife and and mountain photography that far better tells the story of my trip to the country. And few places had quite the photogenic beauty of Kamikochi.

Kamikochi sits at the heart of Japan’s Chūbu-Sangaku National Park, high in the Hida Mountain’s – the country’s ‘Northern Alps’. I always feel at home in mountains, whether they’re the towering spikes of the Himalayas or the rolling, bleak fells of the Lake District and Pennine Way – and Kamikochi quickly lulled me into that familiar feeling. This was where I was meant to be – resting in a woodland cabin, taking walks alongside the startling blue water of the Azusa River, and making mountain photography – day and night – of the incredible scenery.

During an all-too-short visit to the area with my husband, we took a day walk to the summit of Mount Yake, an active volcano boasting spectacular views of the densely wooded valley floor – and a perfect setting for a spot of mountain photography. This wasn’t a technical walk, by any standards – but certainly one that offered challenges to even seasoned walkers. Steep climbs up and across towering cliffside ladders brought a touch of vertigo to the trail, and as the route reached the lower reaches of the volcano cone the ground became crumbly and treacherous.

Sadly when we reached the summit we were completely whited out – the cloud base had been falling all day, and we’d set off a little too late – and I’d taken perhaps a few too many stops to make mountain photographs to make the most of the views. Still, we found ourselves immersed in an alien landscape of hissing fissures and rocks stained bright yellow with elemental sulphur. That made the long walk, the tiring ladders, the bitter breeze and the final climb more than worthwhile.

For the time being I’ll have to settle with the South Downs when I’m itching for a long walk (it’s no sacrifice, really). I suspect I’ll be longing for Japan’s spectacular landscapes for quite some time.

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