Kamikochi: A Sacred Mountain Paradise *RERUN
The Japan Alps run down the middle of Japan's main island of Honshu, reaching heights of 3,000 meters. Kamikochi is in the north part of the Alps, in the city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. Surrounded by mountains, the valley lies at a height of around 1,500 meters. The name Kamikochi originally meant "The Place where the Gods Descend to Earth." Kamikochi is the gateway to the Northern Alps, which is very popular with climbers in Japan. Every year, more than 1 million tourists visit Kamikochi.

A Gated Paradise

Kamikochi is said to be "The Place where the Gods Descend to Earth." The valley is only open from April through to November. Access is strictly controlled to protect the environment. Kama Tunnel is the only entrance to Kamikochi. Its gate is only open from 5 in the morning until 8 o'clock at night. Outside those times no-one can travel in or out. Only vehicles with a pass are allowed to drive through the 1.3km long tunnel which leads to Kamikochi, the mountain paradise.

Kamonji Mountain Hut

One way to enjoy Kamikochi is by spending time at the unique mountain huts. One of the most well-known mountain huts is the Kamonji Hut, named for its owner. Around 120 years ago, Kamonji Kamijo, a hunter who worked in the surrounding mountains, and Walter Weston, a British missionary and alpinist known as the "Father of the Japan Alps" met here. They went on to make many first ascents together in the Northern Alps. Weston wrote in his book that they had a dozen trout for dinner at the hut. The hut still serves the fish to climbers.

Guardians of Northern Alps

The appeal of climbing in the Northern Alps is walking along narrow ridges between peaks. Routes can be more than 20km long. The Japan Alps are mesmerizing, but can also be quite relentless. During summer, for 50 days, local people protect climbers with their own mountain rescue service. This is the only non-governmental organization in Japan responsible for mountain safety. To prevent accidents, climbers are given advice according to their skill level.