After a great night of camping at the riverside nearby Matsumoto, initially I wanted to cycle straight to Takayama (Gifu Prefecture). The road led me all the way up into the Northern Japanese Alps, with breathtaking views to the mountains, the forests and the river underneath. A couple of tunnels scared me at first with the bike, however after the 10th I sort of got used to the narrow roads and the noise in there. At least, there was only little traffic. Taking a break on the way there with a wonderful free of charge foot onsen I came to talk to a Japanese couple coming from Kamikochi, which is sort of on the way from Matsumoto to Takayama (Route 149). They were delighted by the nature up there and the hiking paths up to the top of some of the tallest mountains of Japan. As well, there were campgrounds as they told me, and so I decided to go there as well. Actually, the only way getting to Kamikochi is by public bus, by taxi or by bike, since no private cars are allowed to enter the street going there. Yet another 1.2km long tunnel with 11% steepness to master, but then I ended up in a narrow valley with untouched wood, large ceder trees and knee high big leaved plants underneath. The mountain river Azusagawa is damed, creating beautiful ponds once on a while. Other than that, it is running in a wide bed of big stones, very similar to the European Alps. Kamikochi is about 1500 metres above sea level, and actually a rather touristic spot with its famous Kappa bridge, a number of hotels and restaurants and small hiking paths leading there from the main bus station, which is being visited by crowds of people during daytime. However, a few hundred meters behind the bridge, there are only the ones that are really going to climb up, and a neat campground close to the river, in the middle of the woods. A restaurant attached to the campground offers still reasonable priced food, and the things you'd need for BBQ.
I build up the tent, came to talk to a view people camping there as well and even met another cyclist, who's been traveling all over Japan since two months already. Next morning, the two of us intended to go for some hiking and went on our bikes further north. The street quickly turned into a sort of mountain bike trail with steep parts, big rocks and deeps sand every once in a while which caused quit some pain for my mate going there with her road racer. However, he managed very well! After 11 kilometers, we ended up at another mountain station with a little restaurant and shop, equipped ourselves with some food and decided to walk up to a place called Karazawa on 2300 metres altitude , being a another hill station close to the tallest peaks of the area. A great three hours walk through the native woods that turned from tall trees into small humbling ones, with small ponds and waterfalls of the Yokoo Dani river and even a snow field. Walking there, I felt like in the true heart of Japan. Few people on the trail, and always some friendly words. Reaching the station, me and my mate were invited for self cooked coffee and cheese by some other hikers, which greatly displays the kindness of the Japanese.