The Majesty and Menace of Winter in Shinshuu

Over the past two weeks, the whole of the Kanto Koshinetsu area has been battered by repeated snowstorms, delaying trains, planes, and automobiles and generally giving us all a lot of shovelling to catch up on.  Tokyo’s streets were covered first in snow and later slush and deep puddles.  In Kamikochi, the usually snowy mountains are snowier than usual.


People are calling this the heaviest snow in over ten years (maybe the heaviest ever in post-war Tokyo), and a shoe in for the top-five in recorded history.  So yes, it’s still being sorted out as I write.


Matsumoto, with its narrow streets and comparatively relaxed snow-removal routines has been especially hard to navigate.  Last weekend, the streets were a glut of stopped cars and the Azusa was out of comission for days on end.


Sure is pretty though…


The following pictures of Kamikochi were all taken before the heavy snowfall hit, so they don’t really reflect the conditions at the moment.  Basically, think of the snow as having multiplied several times over from what you see below:


本日の上高地 河童橋と穂高連峰

With heavy snowfall greatly increasing the amount of accumulated snow in the park, the danger of avanlanches and mishaps has increased dramatically, so it’s probably better that you delay any off-season hiking plans for a while.


While I don’t personally have access to current pictures of Kamikochi, I can show you how things looked in the cities within the past two weeks.  Here are some shots of the two places I spend most of my time: Matsumoto and Suwa:


Let’s begin with National Treasure, Matsumoto Castle.  Two weeks ago, an unexpectedly heavy blizzard turned it into a winter wonderland (albeit a very quiet one).  As you can see, the normally stony battlements were almost completely covered in snow:


The scene in front of Matsumoto Station was ever more surreal:



And, if you look closely, you can see the statue of Banryu in the center.  Anyone who knows Northern Alps history can tell you that Banryu is credited as the first person to climb Mount Yari back in 1828.  Here’s what he looked like earlier in the day:



And here’s what the view from my back door in Suwa looked like:



The day before, with the heaviest snowfall still fresh, it was like something out of a fairytale:



And, while people might have complained about all the hassle of snow-removal, I am continually struck by how pretty my town looks all covered in snow, especially when viewed from the hillside hamlet of Okamura, where I now live:



Remember, these are two places that seldom get heavy, sustained snowfall, so the current situation in Kamikochi is surely much more dramatic.  Hopefully, we’ll have some up to date pictures to show you soon.
Once again–if I haven’t already made this point abundantly clear–now is not a good time for off season hiking in Kamikochi.  Getting there would likely be more difficult than usual and moving around the park itself would be more dangerous.


On the bright side, there are now just two months left till the Kamikochi’s scheduled reopening in late April, as the snow gradually melts, we can expect the gateway to the Northern Alps to become more welcoming.  We’ll also be posting more updates and the new season approaches, so be sure to check us out here on the SHK homepage as well as on Facebook:


Sources of Information:


National Parks Foundation website:


Kamikochi Gosenjaku Hotel website: