Central Honshu Mountains Travel Guide
Discover the mighty peaks of the Central Honshu Mountains, collectively known as the Japanese Alps.
Resting in the center of the main island of Honshu, the Central Honshu Mountains, part of the Japanese Alps, boast outstanding beauty. These towering peaks dominate the landscape and provide the perfect terrain for outdoor pursuits such as skiing, hiking, and Japan’s favorite hobby – onsen.
Where is Honshu Island?
Honshu Island is located in the middle of Japan and is the largest of the four main islands of Japan, lying between the Pacific Ocean (east) and the Sea of Japan (west).
Honshu Island covers about 800 miles (1,287 km), while its coastline extends 6,266 miles (10,084 km). Honshu also contains almost three-fourths of the total number of prefectures in Japan and is often regarded as the Japanese mainland. Because of this, it tends to be one of the best-known regions of Japan, and it’s here you’ll find a wealth of fascinating cities to explore, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Hiroshima, and Osaka.
Honshu is also home to Japan’s highest mountain, Mount Fuji, as well as its largest lake, Lake Biwa. The area is easily accessed via Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city, which is worth a day of urban wandering in itself.
So where are the Japanese Alps?
The Japanese Alps lie in central Japan and are a series of mountain ranges comprising the Hida (northern), Kiso (central) and Akaishi (southern), making up part of the Central Honshu Mountains.
Best Time to Visit the Japanese Alps
The Japanese Alps are a spectacular place to visit no matter the time of year, but it’s good to know what to expect throughout the seasons so you can pack and prepare accordingly.
Spring: While most choose to visit Japan’s Alps during the summer or autumn, the spring is a lovely time to visit too - if you’re prepared for a little more unpredictability weather-wise.
The official start of spring is marked by the Kamikochi Opening Ceremony (Kaizan-sai), held at the end of April, and the season then continues on until the end of June. The mountain tops will be snow-covered and the air will be fresh and cool, however, the weather can change quickly and without warning, veering between rain and snow, or being very warm and sunny.
In fact, the sun can be pretty intense with the altitude, so don’t forget a hat and suncream. The wind in the mountains can also be quite strong, even on sunny days, so be sure to pack a windproof jacket if you’re planning on hiking during the spring.
Summer: The summer season is one of the best times of year to visit the Japanese Alps, with its warm, sunny days, blue skies and calm waters. The scenery is simply stunning at this time of year (July to September) and has been a source of inspiration for many Japanese artists. During these months, you’ll have good access to several mountain hotels and inns, hot springs and souvenir shops, allowing for a variety of different experiences.
Fall: The autumn season in Japan, particularly in the Japanese Alps, is easily one of the most beautiful times of the year, thanks to the ever-changing colors of the foliage.
Witness the leaves changing from green to red, yellow to orange and brown, while the backdrop of the mountains and glistening lakes make for a truly picturesque setting. Lasting from roughly mid-September through October and November, the autumnal weather remains relatively mild, too, making it an excellent time for hiking in the Japanese Alps.
As with spring though, be sure to bring suncream and a windproof jacket in case of any unexpected weather.
Winter: If you’re looking to ski in Honshu, winter is easily the best season to do so since the mountains are covered in thick, powder-soft snow.
But that’s not the only winter activity you can do here. Why not explore the Zen gardens of Kyoto, which are particularly enchanting during the winter? Or you could visit the snow monkeys in Nagano or experience deep relaxation at one of the area’s many onsens.
Where to Go in the Japanese Alps
There are plenty of places to explore in the Japanese Alps, each offering a different and unique experience. So if you’re looking for things to do in Honshu, we’d recommend a visit to some of the key destinations below:
Just an hour away from Tokyo by train, Karuizawa is a charming resort town best known for its outdoor recreational activities like golf, hiking, and cycling, as well as skiing and visiting onsen during the winter.
It also offers a quaint local shopping village with many elegant shops to explore, making it ideal for families of all ages.
Matsumoto is the second largest city in the Nagano prefecture, most famous for housing one of Japan’s most impressive original castles - the 16th century Matsumoto castle.
If you’re keen to find cultural things to do in Honshu, Matsumoto is also well-known for its unique art scene, while foodies too will find plenty of fantastic restaurants and cafes to explore.
Situated between Kyoto and Edo, the romantic Tsumago is known as one of the best-preserved old towns in Japan - a visit is like stepping back in time to the Edo period.
The town is one of the main resting stops along the famous Nakasendo walking trail, but aside from that, holds many treasures worth exploring, including temples, historic buildings and inns.
Nestled in the northern Nagano prefecture, Yudanaka is a wonderful winter destination in Japan, famous for its hot springs resort, and home to Japan’s legendary snow monkeys.
Here you can relax at the onsen, explore some of the town’s historic buildings, or perhaps go hiking or skiing through the area’s stunning mountain scenery.
Hoshino KAI Matsumoto
Offering exclusive and deluxe Japanese-style accommodation, the Hoshino KAI Matsumoto is a boutique hot spring ryokan, serving exquisite Japanese cuisine, where you can relax away any tension in the hot spring baths and enjoy nightly music concerts.
Just 90-minutes from Tokyo, the stunning hot spring resort village of Hoshinoya Karuizawa is a world away from city life. Located amid the beautiful forests and rivers of Karuizawa, this is a place to quiet the mind and relax the body.
Hotel Marunouchi Matsumoto
Hotel Marunouchi Matsumoto sits in the heart of the mountain city of Matsumoto, adjacent to the 16th century Matsumoto Castle, offering modern accommodation of an international standard, making this a comfortable base from which to explore.
Established in 1901, Jinpyokaku is a historic onsen ryokan loved by many writers and artists such as Yasunari Kawabata and Soseki Natsume. With only 6 rooms, this is a quiet and traditional option and a great base from which to explore the mountains.
Nakasendo Walking Trail
Step back in time as you make your way along the Nakasendo Way, a network of ancient highways used by people traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo. Along the four day walk you will trek along village paths and forested trails getting a unique taste of Japan.
Tokyo, Kiso Valley, Kyoto, Miyajimaguchi & Lake Kawaguchi (Mount Fuji)
Japan is most often praised for its incredibly rich culture and history with its natural beauty often being overlooked. This itinerary shows you a different side to Japan, taking in the best of country's most inspiring cities and combining them with the Nakasendo Walking Trail, an ancient postal route through wild forests, and the beautiful...