The Japan Alps

There is not one of the twelve National Parks but has a strong element of mountainous scenery. Even the Lake Park, Towada, or the Inland Sea Park has mountains close at hand or in the background, to heighten its general pictorial effect. The Japanese term for scenery is often written with two characters meaning "mountains" and "waters," and the Japanese idea of a garden or park is incomplete without a mountain either in the foreground or as a backscreen. Moreover, one of the necessary accessories of the miniature mountain in artificial gardens is the stone lantern, preferably moss-covered and oldlooking. The idea of it is to lend a sacred air to the mountain, the stone lantern being an indispensable feature of any temple of god or Buddha. Thus, the mountain, an integral part of a perfect Japanese park, is emblematic of religious piety. Great saints of Buddhist and Shinto religions have at all times sought refuge in the fastness of mountains for prayer and contemplation, as Abraham, Moses and even Christ Himself did. Hardly a mountain in Japan which is not sacred in one sense or another, and mountain-climbing in old days was almost exclusively the sacrament of priests and devout folk.

Bearing such a fact in mind, we can best appreciate the modern character of the Japan Alps Park, both in name and character. Most other mountains are chiefly linked with temples and shrines, surrounding landscapes of historical and legendary memories. Not that the Japan Alps are not without attractions of scenery, hot springs, etc., but the Alps differ from other mountains in this, that the Alps' principal boast is the scope they give to mountain-climbling under most propitious conditions. Their very name is exotic to the Japanese ear, with a secular and alluring appeal. The name "Japan Alps Park" contains "sacred" mountains, to be sure, which, however, the exotic word "Alps" seems to kill. They add a "new" flavor, illustrating the national craze for mountaineering among the youth of the nation. In short, the Japan Alps Park has been chosen as an ideal mountaineering resort which both its great size and variety of scenery, and its wealth of characteristic mountain grandeur justify. Fine gradient slopes, steep precipices, gorges, lakes, hot springs, noble panoramas, etc., are all there perfectly represented in the Japan Alps Park.

The Japan or Japanese Alps is a generic term, coined, it is said, by the Englishman, Mr. William Gowland, half a century ago, to which Rev. Walter Weston gave the sign and seal of authority, so to speak, by writing Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps in 1896. The Japan Alps then covered only some portions of what has since become generally known as such. Today it includes the three great ranges--Southern, Central and Northern Alps --extending through the central and the widest part of the main island to the very edge of the Pacific Ocean and the Japan Sea. Of these three the Northern Alps alone have been designated as a National Park.

The Park covers an area of 427,770 acres, extending over 98 miles with a width of 37 miles. It contains more than 100 peaks, of which about forty have altitudes of over 8,000 feet. Of these the most popular climbing peaks are Yarigatake (10,430 feet), Hotakadake (10,332), Ontake (9,801), Tateyama (9,632), Shirouma (9,385), etc.

The Park abounds in good hot springs -- evidence of the volcanic nature of the mountains -generally located on the slopes and in the valleys. Of such by far the most popular is Kamikōchi--a plateau of nearly 5,000 feet above sea level. It is a delightful long belt of 10 miles from east to west with a maximum width of a mile, screened with towering peaks, double its own height. It possesses all the best features of a mountain resort--some comfortable hotels with radio-active hot springs, beautiful lakes, crystal-clear rivers, lovely alpine flowers, as well as wild mountain scenery. Its cool climate, seldom above 60 degrees F. in midsummer, and its bracing mountain air make it an ideal summer resort, as well as a comfortable starting and arriving stage for more ambitious Alpine climbers. This beautiful oasis in the Japan Alps Park is only 28 miles from Matsumoto, where Alpine-bound visitors generally alight, the distance being covered by motorbus in 2 hours. Seeing that Matsumoto is only 156 miles from Tokyo, Kamikōchi is within ten hours' easy journey of the capital. It is a triumph of quick and comfortable traveling never dreamed of by our forefathers.

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