As I never tire of saying, mid-to-late spring is one of my favorite times to get out and enjoy Kamikochi. The combination of warm temperatures in the daytime, freshly-blooming spring flowers, and snowy mountain vistas is a perfect example of what the Japanese call “sawayaka” (爽やか)： that “fresh,” “bracing,” “invigorating” feeling that you get from this time of year.
The plant and animal life which was only starting to appear when the park opened in April is now bursting out everywhere. If you manage a trip in the near future, you might even get to see some late-season cherry blossoms!
Along the Azusa River, the spring green of the trees provides a frame for the always picturesque Hotaka Mountain Range, home to Japan’s third highest peak, Oku-Hotaka.
Before when proceed to the main event of seasonal plant life, let’s take a look at some of the birds that have been sighted around the park:
Here we see a Narcissus flycatcher (L), resplendent in full breeding plumage and also a great spotted woodpecker (R).
Here’s what the woodpecker sounds like “drumming” on a tree: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Woodpeckerdrum.ogg For a better impression, you should really come out for a live performance.
Now, as promised, here’s a look at some of what’s blooming around Kamikochi:
Here we see some rhododendron, blooming in mid-morning:
And here, the Pyrola asarifolia, better known to English speakers as the Bog Wintergreen, Liverleaf Wintergreen or Pink Wintergreen. Long used by the indigenous peoples of North America for its aromatic and medicinal qualities, the wintergreen is potentially toxic if ingested. (of course, you shouldn’t be picking or eating any of the plants at Kamikochi as they are protected by strict conservation laws!):
Most excitingly of all, Kamikochi is now home to a small number of late-blooming cherry blossoms. For the sake of comparison, cherry blossoms had all but disappeared from nearby Matsumoto by mid-April. So seeing them in Kamikochi might well be your last chance this year!
These ones were photographed outside of the Kamikochi Lemeiesta Hotel about a week ago, so there may not be much left of them by now. Nevertheless, anyone lucky enough to find some cherry blossoms can enjoy some late-season viewing with a backdrop of such famous peaks as Roppyaku-san. Add a hot coffee (or cold beer) to the mix and you’ve got the perfect way to pass a well deserved rest.
And here are some “takanezakura,” or Japanese Alpine Cherry Blossoms, blooming somewhat sparsely among the spring greens:
Whether your lucky enough to see cheery blossoms or not, you are sure to be greeted by many vibrant and colorful sights on your next visit to Kamikochi. And with the rainy season just around the corner, now is the perfect time to sneak in a mid-spring visit. So pack appropriately, check the weather forecast and pay us a visit at the Gateway to the Northern Alps!
Sources of Information:
National Park Guide website: http://npg-alps.net
Kamikochi Hotel Shirakabaso website: http://shirakabaso.com
Kamikochi Hotel Lemeiesta website: http://www.lemeiesta.com