Kamishiro, nr. Hakuba, Japan

Kamishiro Travel Blog

 › entry 54 of 111 › view all entries
Kamishiro is a tiny village near the small town of Hakuba. Hakuba is famous for its skiing, particularly as it was host to the 1998 Winter Olmpics. We had decided to visit Kamishiro for an unconventional reason.

One of our reasons for coming to Japan was not only to experience the culture, see the sights and taste the great food, but to visit the countryside, the raw beauty which, I would say, is an often overlooked gem of Japan. People (quite understandably) get so caught up in the glizt and glamour of Tokyo I think it is easy to forget that the rural Japan is home to some of the most stunning scenery imaginable. Fabien watches a lot of anime, and I am particularly enamoured by Hayao Miyazaki's animated movies; and for me, I wanted to see the magical places that feature so prominently in his animations, and to understand where he got his inspiration from.

We definitely wanted to see some of this rural Japan, but the difficulty was choosing where to go. To be honest, our decision came quite easily. While looking for hostel accommodation for Tokyo, we came across the Backpacker K's House website and one of the hostels in the chain was located in the Japanese Alps. Having already stayed in one of these hostels we knew they were of good quality and figured that we could stay in a good hostel in the countryside! Perfect!

We woke up early and checked out from our Kyoto hostel and hopped on the bus to the train station (it was just too hot and humid to walk that far with our rucksacks). At the booking office, we organised our seat reservations and found our platform, which is much more difficult than you would think. From our experience, the train stations in Japan which also feature the Shinkansen trains are the most confusing places in the world. Your ticket might say Platform 10, but if you are taking a Shinkansen you have to follow the signs for Shinkansen, not the numbered platforms, as this will take you to the normal train platform. I think, although I could be wrong (this is how confusing it is), that there are often two platforms with the same number - one for the normal train and one for the Shinkansen.

Anyway, we found our platform and boarded our train. As we were using the Japan Rail Pass, we didn't necessarily have to book a seat on the train, but it's always nice to be guaranteed a seat in a non-smoking section (yes, there are smoking sections on the Shinkansen!), and to have our train connection times written down for us.

The journey from Kyoto to Kamishiro was to take about 5 hours, with 3 changes, over a total distance of 390km. We took the Hikari Shinkansen from Kyoto to Nagoya. The Shinano Wide View from Nagoya to Matsumoto (a stunningly beautiful train journey). The JR Oito Line from Matsumoto to Shinano-Omachi and finally the Oito line from Shinano-Omachi to Kamishiro on a rickety old train full of character.

After a short walk to our hostel we checked in and found out that Fabien had lost his wallet somewhere on the journey. Fortunately we had two spare debit cards so we could still pay for our stay, but his driving licence and his trusty favourite wallet was gone. It was just lucky that there was only around 5 JPY in there so we didn't lose money. Megumi, who ran the hostel with her partner Toshiro called a few train stations to check if we'd dropped it there somewhere, but to no avail. Meg showed us around the hostel which was absolutely gorgeous - like a Swiss chalet or something, and then asked us if we were planning on going into town that day, as she was driving in and would give us a ride and then meet us once she had finished her jobs and drive us back. We agreed and headed down to the local 7-Eleven store to get some cash from the ATM and to meet the friendly 7-Eleven staff.

While we drove into Hakuba, it was pouring with rain. We were dressed in rain gear and had umbrellas but trust me, this was just not enough. We thanked Megumi and hopped out of the car. The rain was so heavy it was bouncing up from the ground and getting everything up to our knees wet! With the rain dripping off the umbrella and our rain jackets, that was our thighs soaked and after a while we were absolutely drenched! But, by this point we figured we couldn't get any wetter so may as well enjoy the surroundings.

Well, where to start. Hakuba is a beautiful quaint town, with a stunning snowcapped mountain backdrop, azure blue rivers and parrot green rice fields. As the rain eased up we noticed bunches of garlic and onions drying under people's porches, delicate wild flowers and tiny green frogs. We took a short walk through the narrow streets, admiring the houses and found gardens filled with flowers and vegetables, a beautiful old mill house and a gorgous bridge over the river.

Other people who had braved the rain smiled and said hello politely and we quickly forgot how soaked we were. After a while we grabbed a bite to eat in the only open eating establishment in the entire town - McDonalds. After a spot of lunch we continued on to the supermarket where we were meeting Megumi. We picked up some bits and pieces for dinner and Megumi arrived moments later. Just as we were about to drive away, a bright rainbow appeared over the valley in front of us. It was the perfect end to a great first day in Japan's countryside.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!