Which should you choose? A paid tour or a self-planned guided walking tour?
To answer that, we tailored a Kamikochi self-guided walking tour to match that of a paid tour at Viator.com.
We matched the places of interest, the mode of transportation, and compared the both.
Between both the Kamikochi tours, what we found was astonishing!!
Kamikochi Tour from Tokyo
We will take a famous Kamikochi tour from Viator.com as benchmark.
This tour cost $83 (JPY 9000) from Tokyo to Kamikochi. It includes:
Basically, the tour will take you from Shinjuku in the morning.
Upon arriving, guide and show you around for 4 hours with an English-speaking staff, and then bring you back at the end of the day.
Lunch is optional at extra cost.
The tour includes:
Now, let’s analyze if this is possibly done by self-guided. That means, you book your own ticket, you research the routes to take and you study each place.
Tokyo to Kamikochi: Self Guided Walking Tour
Book Your Bus Ticket
Take the Alpico Express Bus from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to Kamikochi.
There are 2 trips per day.
Morning 7:15 depart.
Reach at 12 noon.
Cost JPY 7900.
Night 22:25 depart.
Reach at 5:20 morning.
Cost JPY 9700.
The night bus is a 3-seats per row.
It is more spacious and comfortable.
You save a night on hotel, and you get a full next day at Kamikochi for a mere JPY 1200.
Alternatively, take the Alpico Express Bus from Tokyo Station to Kamikochi.
Only 1 nightbus per day.
Night 22:40 depart.
Arrive 5:20 morning the next day.
Cost JPY 10,100.
This is 3-seats per row bus. And the distance is slightly longer. Thus the higher cost.
Kamikochi Nature Fivesense: Route Map
The Viator.com tour had 4 hours at the Kamikochi mountain.
With that timeframe as a benchmark, we have planned a ideal self-guided walking route that takes you to the scenic spots that you should never miss.
The ideal route is to start at Taisho Pond. You can request to the bus driver in advance that you are dropping off at the pond. Alternatively, you can also take a local route bus to the Pond.
This recommended trail takes about 3 to 4 hours.
Start your adventure from Taisho Pond
Try to catch the early morning fog covering the lake.
It is a wonderful sight!
A plateau of wetland opening up an unblocked view of the mountain
Observe the small islands floating in the pond
Hotaka Taishiro Bridge
Enjoy the sound of water gushing downstream
Walk along the river embankment
Take a photo on the bridge with the mountains on the background
Water as clear as crystal.
You can even see fish swimming within the river grass
Take another photo at the bridge with the mountain backdrop
Stop for a rest and pray for the safety of travel
Enjoy the beauty of the serene mirror lake
Calm and peaceful place to cool off
Back to the Kappa Bridge for another photo of your victorious adventure
Back to Kamikochi Bus Terminal for your way home
If you go back to what was promised by the tour, our recommended course would cover all the items promised to you by the tour.
If you zoom into the map, you will notice the river along the pinned location is actually the Azusa River.
If you zoom out you will find you are at the valley between two mountain ranges.
On the west you have Mount Warudaniyama and Mount Yake sitting on the Hotaka Mountain Range.
On the east you have Mount Roppyakusan, which literally means Mount Six Hundred.
You are surrounded by mountains on both sides. There is no way you could miss a Picturesque Mountain Scenery.
Following our recommended trail route, you will cross the Kappa Suspension Bridge, not once but twice. If you zoom into Kappa Bridge you will notice that the the Kamikochi Visitor Center and Kamikochi Bus Terminal are nearby.
Only thing that you don’t have is the English speaking tour guide, and some staffs to snap photo for you.
So, let me help you with the tour guide commentary on some of the Kamikochi attractions.
Kamikochi Key Attractions: What would the tour guide say?
Let us try to be the tour guide here.
You will have to recall what we say here when you are at the attraction.
The Kamikochi key attractions are:
Taisho Pond was created by Mount Yake.
It appeared when the landscape was completely changed by the eruption by the volcanic Mount Yake hundreds of years ago.
In fact, the Taisho Pond was way bigger than what it used to, submerging forests way back to the Taishiro Bridge.
But as years go by, the water receded, giving to way from a huge lake to a pond.
The Taisho Pond is also threaten by the nearby river during the raining seasons.
Sediments flow into the pond, filling up the pond.
You may not see the pond anymore in a few more decades later.
Take the trip to Kamikochi and enjoy the view while it last.
Kappa Suspension Bridge
The Kappa Bridge was not a suspension bridge at first.
It was a drawbridge.
Throughout, it went through a few reconstructions where it became a suspension bridge in 1910.
It went through a few replacements and the last replacement was in 1997, which lasted to what you see today.
There is a mysterious calmness to this pond. The water are so still that it is called “Kagami Ike” which stands for the Mirror Lake.
The ponds sits right under the Mount Myojin, where the Guardians of the Northern Alps are.
It is a sacred worship place where there is a shrine at the end of the pier.
On 8th of October yearly, is the Myojin Pond Ship Festival. A festival to thank the Guardians of the Northern Alps.
Cost to Kamikochi Day Trip: Viator Tour vs Self-Guided Walking Tour
This is astonishing!!!
We were all under the impression that Self-Guided Walking Tour will be much cheaper.
After all the effort of reserving your own bus ticket, making all the researches, it has to amount to lesser dollar amount spent, right?
The self-reservation for bus ticket for return tickets are very costly.
You will then have to take the trouble to make sure you drop off at Taisho Pond by requesting the driver.
That is anxiety cost.
If you miss the drop-off, you will end up at the Kamikochi Bus Terminal.
You will then have to take the local route bus to the Taisho Pond to begin your journey.
That is time cost and money cost.
The one thing you thought you are saving is the tour guide.
If you take a self-guided walk, you won’t need a tour guide, and you should save more.
That is not the case.
So now, you have to do your own research to appreciate all the Kamikochi attractions.
That is cost of effort.
Comparing both the options, it is an easy win and decision to make if you are planning a day trip to Kamikochi from Tokyo. If you are planning your trip from Nagano, you can book it from here, which cost even lesser at $65 (approx JPY 7100).
Should I Avoid the Self Guided Tour At All?
No. You should understand that the main reason we are recommending the paid tour is due to the cost of the day trip.
If you are not for the day trip, it would make perfect sense for you plan your self guided tour.
In fact, there are much more than just Kamikochi. In the surrounding areas, traveling for an hour+ radius, there are still many interesting places to go to.
And here is how I would plan it. Start by buying the 4-day pass. This allows unlimited access to the local buses in Kamikochi, Norikura Highlands, Matsumoto, Shirakawa-go and Hida. Cost $93 (JPY 10290).
If you are on a day trip, TAKE THE TOUR!
It is an easy decision.
From monetary aspect, you save up to $60 (JPY 6800) by taking the tour.
From non-monetary aspect, you save on cost of anxiety, cost of time, and cost of effort.
We are not, i repeat, not affiliated to Viator.com.
We merely want to ensure you choose what’s best and have an enjoyable trip in Japan.
Overall Review Score
Kamikochi scores an overall of 4 stars.
It scored a perfect scored for easy to hike.
As there are really not much hiking required, there is no high requirement for physical fitness.
Anyone can take one of the trails and experience the fresh air and beauty of its nature.
Kamikochi National Park has much untouched nature to offer.
The clear water of its lake drawing a reflection of the mountains on the surface was simply an amazing sight.
This alone deserves the 5 stars. Not to mention that it has not one but multiple lakes that does the same.
The only score that drags down its score is the accessibility.
Being a reserved national park, there could not be any excessive development to the area.
Thus there is no access by train.
The options are only with buses or rental cars.