Written by: William Habington
The advent of August means almost constant heat and humidity in urban Japan. Even Matsumoto, with an average elevation of around 600m above sea level, has had a spate of hot and humid days with temperatures reaching an uncomfortable 36. It's no wonder that people everywhere are cranking their air conditioners, carrying uchiwa (small, hand-portable fans), and dressing as lightly as possible in a bid to stay cool.
Another popular option is to head for the hills. With their alpine panoramas, azure skies, and cool air, the Northern Alps offer a popular refuge from the August heat, and nowhere more so than in Kamikochi. Looking at these photographs, you can almost feel the coolness of the environment:
First of all, the tree-lined paths give visitors a lot of shade from the sun (remember that at high altitudes, the UV levels are also quite high!) Step into the shade and you will notice a dramatic difference in temperature. In places, it can feel about ten degrees cooler.
The same is true of the riverside. Simply walking along the 200m path by the Shimizu river is refreshing and the cool breeze coming off the water is reminiscent of cool springtime weather. The water itself, originating from the snow-capped peaks of Kamikochi's mountains, is cold to the touch.
For a real break from summer heat, caves emitting cold gusts of wind can be found throughout Kamikochi. Just outside the Konashi-daira campground, is the spot pictured here:
Called a fuuketsu or kazaana in Japanese, these windy caves are literally nature's own ventilators. The currents of air gusting out of them can be as cool as 3 degrees centigrade at this time of year. Try standing in front of one for a few minutes to appreciate the full effect. The word "cool" doesn't do it justice.
Even when you're not standing by a river or near a windy cave opening, the temperatures at Kamikochi are dramatically cooler that those experienced at lower altitudes, with the lows dropping to 9 degrees! And it's not just the temperature that refreshes you. The Japanese often use the expression oishii kuuki or "delicious air" to describe the clean, crisp quality of the alpine air. I must admit that, as a native speaker of English, I intially found this expression strange. Having experienced it, however, I now see that "delicious" is exactly the right word to use.
The dog days of summer aren't over yet. For your share of clean alpine air, visit Kamikochi this August.
Source of Information:
- Kamikōchi National Park Guide Website (http://npg-alps.net/)