While Japan is often better known for its urban tourist opportunities, don’t forget to schedule a visit to the Japanese Alps!

The Japanese Alps are the name used for the towering mountain ranges of the Hida Mountains, the Kiso Mountains, and Akaishi Mountains.  Many of the peaks are over 3000 meters tall. The Japanese Alps bisect the Japanese mainland of Honshu.

Takayama’s Old Town. Photo Credit: Big Ben in Japan at Flickr.

There are a lot of culture and history to be found in these spectacular mountains, as well as some beautiful views of nature, and you should not miss out on it during your trip to Japan.

Of course, with such a big geographical area to cover, what should you focus on? Here are some of the best places to visit in the Japanese Alps.

1) Shirakawa-go

The village looks very gorgeous during the winter months. Photo Credit: tsuda at Flickr.

This amazing destination sits at the base of Mt. Haku-san. It’s a quiet little village, surrounded by ice fields, with a river running through it. The Gassho-zukuri Minka-en outdoor museum near the village features 27 thatched roof houses that have been relocated from within the village itself in order to preserve them.

There are many live performances of traditional arts and industry. If you’re visiting in the autumn, you can attend the Doburoku Festival, named after a kind of white sake served to visitors during the festival.

In order to see Shirakwago’s four seasons beauty, visit this page.

2) Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle is a must-see place in Nagano Prefecture. Photo Credit: m-louis .® at Flickr.

This castle is considered one of the most complete castles in Japan and one of the few that has not be destroyed over the centuries. Many consider it one of the most beautiful of them, as well.

The main structures are all original and have been lovingly tended to. In spring around mid-April, this is an excellent place to view cherry blossoms, as there are hundreds of the trees planted along the castle’s moat.

3) Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Kurobe Dam in Tateyama. Photo Credit: Kabacchi at Flickr.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is an amazing path through the mountains. You’ll see vast mountainsides, feats of human engineering, and if you’re there in the spring – great walls of snow. You can’t drive this route and it must be navigated by a series of buses, trams, and other modes of public transportation.

It’s a great way to see Japan’s spectacular autumn foliage and also provides many wonderful hiking trails for those looking for a bit of outdoor adventure.

4) Kamikochi National Park

Picturesque scenery of Kamikochi National Park. Photo Credit: Kamikochi Resort Hotel Association.

Japan is an industrial nation, but they have managed to carve out areas like Kamikochi National Park to preserve some of the country’s spectacular natural beauty. You can take lovely hikes through the park many designated trails.

There are numerous animals living here, including Japanese monkeys, the Japanese serow, and even some very shy black bears. There are many events throughout the park that celebrate the rich cultural history of the area. The Hotaka Shrine Boat Festival held in October at Myojin Pond is one of the most distinctive.

5) Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen in winter. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This area has become very popular as a destination for skiers. There are over 50 kilometers of trails for you to enjoy. After you hit the snowy slopes, take a soak in the hot springs found throughout the area at one of the traditional inns.

In January, there is also the amazing Dosojiin Fire Festival which is one of the most exciting fire festivals in Japan. With plenty of lodging options in the area, you can easily find something that works for you.

6) Takayama City

Floats parade of the Takayama Festival. Photo Credit: Robert Young at Flickr.

In Takayama City, there is plenty to see. The Takayama Festival is held once in the spring and once in the autumn every year. It is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful festivals. Amazing floats parade down the street and you can see a number of traditional performances.

If you aren’t around for the festival, however, don’t worry, there’s still plenty to see. Old Town is a beautifully preserved area that has whole streets dating back to the Edo Period. There are many shops and restraints for you to visit. You can also take a trip to Hide Folk Village to see over 30 traditional houses from the region as well as demonstrations of traditional crafts. No matter what time of year you go to Takayama City, there is something wonderful to see.

7) Kenroku-en Garden

Kenrokurn garden in the autumn. Photo Credit: bryan at Flickr.

Kenroku-en garden is spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources, and beautiful view from the garden. In the spring, you can see cherry blossoms. In the summer, numerous other flowers come into bloom. In autumn, many leaves turn lovely shades of red and yellow.

In the winter, you can see the landscape covered with white and branches of the pine trees covered in a traditional “snow hanging” for protection.

8) Jigokudani Monkey Park

Japanese macaques in the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This park offers a unique experience. There is a man-made hot spring where Japanese Macaques gather to enjoy soaking in the warm water.

While you are not allowed to touch or feed the monkeys, they are quite used to humans and will stroll quite close by as they go about their day. This park provides a unique experience sure to be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

9) Norikura Kogen

Ski resort of Norikura Kogen. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This area is full of hiking trails that lead right up to many waterfalls and vistas unlike any found anywhere else in the world. There is a resort town nearby at the base of Mount Norikuradake.

Enjoy a stroll through the wooded area or visit the nature center to learn more about the local environment.

10) Kiso Valley

A beautiful view of Kiso Valley in the fall, Nagano Prefecture. Photo Credit: Yūgen at Flickr.

Kiso Valley is closely linked to the history of Japan. It was a vital route for travel, especially for merchants. The laws of the shogunate government restricted travelers to moving on foot, so there are numerous well-preserved “post towns” through the valley.

Much as they did centuries ago, these towns provide food, lodging, and rest for travelers.  They offer many unique cultural experiences and also are a great place to pick up traditional Japanese souvenirs.