Kamikawa (上川町, Kamikawa-cho) is a small town located in the Kamikawa-gun sub-prefecture of Hokkaido. Located roughly in the centre of Hokkaido, the physically very large town has a population of under 4000 people. It is about 2 hours northeast from Sapporo and one hour east of the city of Asahikawa. Located within the town's borders is the Sounkyou Gorge and a section of Daisetsuzan National Park, which it assists in operating.
Since Kamikawa is located in rural Japan, and due to the position of the Daisetsuzan mountain range, having a car is the best way to get around. That being said, Kamikawa is quite small and can easily be walked around, making a car a convenience for speedy travel, running errands, or for travel outside of town.
The town is, however, located along the JR Sekihoku Main Line, which connects the town to Engaru and Abashiri in the east and Aibetsu, Toma, and Asahikawa to the west, and connecting with lines to Sapporo and other destinations. Kamikawa also has bus service to the Sounkyou from Kamikawa Station (上川駅).
It should be noted through, that Kamikawa Station is a manned station, meaning that tickets can only be bought from an attendant, or via fare adjustment using on-train ticket machines. When travelling, plan accordingly.
There is no regional airport in Kamikawa. The closest regional airport is in Asahikawa, though travellers are just as or more likely to use New Chitose Airport near Sapporo (which you should visit at least once, since it is something of a spectacle).
JETs in Kamikawa work for the Kamikawa Board of Education (上川町教育委員会). The BoE is located in Coming Hall (かみんぐホール), a short walk from Sakaemechi, the neighbourhood where the JET will likely be living. The Kamikawa BoE employs one ALT through JET, though it isn't unheard of for predecessors to stay a few months to help transition new JETs. ALTs are really only at the BoE during school holidays, breaks, or during cancellations, and will likely be working at that day's school during visits, though there is not hard rule about this. The JET does have his or her own desk at the BoE, though, so they may work from it during these times and leave materials at the BoE.
It should be noted that, at this time, few of the BoE or Town Hall staff speak any English. Transitional predecessors can help a little here at first, as can a paper trail, but you are otherwise on your own. The same is true with many of the school staff, so at least basic Japanese is going to be ultimately necessary for work.
JET ALTs work at all levels of schooling within the town. They work at Kamikawa High School and Kamikawa Elementary school usually once per week each, Kamikawa Junior High three days a week, and visit two kindergartens (Kamikawa and Nozomi Kindergartens) and a daycare/nursery school (Hoikusho) in a regular rotation. JETs also help with some activities, like private lessons for students who are travelling and in support of but not directly related to the Rocky Mountain House sistering. The ALT has a desk at the Elementary and Junior High, and has a space to work at when at the High School.
As a rural community with one JET, there really isn't an English-speaking foreign community. JETs are however welcome and invited to various events throughout town, including dinner meetings with the local Rotary Club.
It should be noted that, due to the connection with Rocky Mountain House, nearly every JET ALT to work in Kamikawa has been from Alberta, Canada.
There are a variety of other small attractions, including the Bell of Espoir, the Hokkaido Ice Pavilion, and Mori-no-Garden.
There is also a small museum inside Coming Hall to Masahiko Harada, a former olympic ski jumper from the town, and to the town's history and the Kamikawa-Rocky Mountain House sistering.
Kamikawa is located in the mountains, so there is a wealth of mountain scenery and greenery surrounding the town. There is surely no shortage of hiking and outdoors opportunities to experience.
Sounkyou is a resort town located southeast of Kamikawa. It's about a 30 minute drive, or you can catch a bus from Kamikawa Station for around 800 yen each way. It's Kamikawa's most notable attraction.
Sounkyou is home to several hotels, large and small. All of the hotels are resort-style hotels with public of private onsens, as well as differing amenities like karaoke and arcade/skill game rooms.
In addition to the many public hotel onsens, you can also visit Kurodake no Yu, a public onsen located on the second and third floors of the Beer Grill Canyon Italian Restaurant.
There are a number restaurants and gift shops along the center street.
The Kurodake Ropeway is a gondola that climbs the Kurodake mountain. There is an observation deck at the top of the Ropeway as well as a ski lift, which takes you to a skiing area. The building at the top also has a restaurant, as well as a gift shop that that turns into a ski shop during the winter.
The Sounkyou Daisetsuzan Photo Museum is located in the now closed Sounkyou Elementary School. The museum is a photo gallery of the work of Ichinei Kouetsu, a mountaineer who photographs the Daisetsuzan mountain range at various times of the year.
The Ryuusei and Ginga Waterfalls are located just southeast of Sounkyou, as are some hiking trails and other outdoors activities.
Bell of Espoir
The Bell of Espoir is a bell tower that overlooks the town. Located inside Kamikawa Park, it includes a time capsule from 1984 a plaque commemorating the twinning of Kamikawa with Rocky Mountain House. Also commemorated here is a twinning with Kamikawa-mura, a village of the same name that has since been annexed by Aga, Niigata. The Bell of Espoir was previously used as the "icon" of Kamikawa, prior to the creation of the mascot Kamikki, who wears the bell on his head.
Kamikawa has a michi-no-eki rest stop called Kita-no-Mori Garden. Kita-no-Mori Garden has a large gift shop and two restaurants/banquet facilities, as well as a number of small seasonal shops outside.
The Hokkaido Ice Pavilion is an indoor attraction located next to Kita-no-Mori Garden. The Ice Pavilion is an indoor ice cave, including a cold room, where you can experience a -40 degree Celsius windstorm. Winter coats and gloves are available for use by visitors and there are warm rooms throughout the facility that are less cold. There is a small gift shop and cafeteria at the end of the experience.
Behind the Ice Pavilion is the Kuma Bokujou Bear Center, a small zoo where guests can feed the bears (not unlike feeding the deer in Nara, though thy aren't free range). The zoo is only open seasonally.
Not to be confused with the michi-no-eki, Mori-no Garden is a botanical garden and art display located outside of town. This was the site of the Hokkaido Garden Show, a summer event with displays many large art pieces throughout the garden.
Daikamikawa Jinja is a relatively small Shinto shrine that backs onto the mountains to the north of town. It is a shrine to Amenominakanushi, Amaterasu, Kamuyaimimi-no-mikoto, and has a small secondary shrine to Inari.
There are also several Buddhist temples, mostly of Pure Land denomination. There is also a Soto Zen temple next to Kamikawa Kindergarten, and a Nichiren hall on the far east of town. All of these are minor temples, so you aren't likely to visit them unless you are really keen.
Early August - Sounkyou Fire Festival. A festival of Ainu origin, this is a re-enactment of the Owl Ritual. You may not catch this in your first year, due to the timing of the festival.
End of August - Obon Festival. This is the classic festival that you've probably seen in movies, with food vendors, games, and performances. The festival is two days long, and has a Bon Odori dance.
February to March - Sounkyou Icefall Festival. The over 2 month festival includes ice sculptures, caves, downhill tubing, performances, fireworks, and a light display.
June - Kamikawa Shrine Festival. This is the classic local festival you've probably seen pictures of, which involves carrying a mikoshi through town.
Kamikawa is located about 1 hour from Asahikawa and the attractions there.
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Groceries can be bought from Da Maruche or Super Iroha. Da Maruche is a larger super market with larger selection, and has a section at the front of the store for local produce. Super Iroha (which belongs to something called the Zennisshoku Chain, a chain of small grocery stores) is smaller, but has well regarded bentos and has a points program for customers. Additional groceries can be bought at convenience stores like Seico Mart and 7-11. There are also a few bakeries in town
Many daily items can also be bought at the above stores, such as laundry soap, shampoo, garbage bags, and such, with some additional items like tools, kitchen and household appliances, and furniture available at Morimoto Hardware, Tateiwa Furnature, and K&M Electronics.
However, due to Kamikawa's size, selection in these stores is limited, as are other shopping opportunities. There are, for example, only a small book store, no places to buy music or video games, or and few other such shopping options that are common in larger centres. Selection of electronics is limited to day-to-day items and small applicances, and the town has no cell phone retailers or similar services. Thus, any major purchases will likely need to be made in nearby Asahikawa. But do try and shop locally first, as you'd be surprised at what you can find locally.
Kamikawa is know for its ramen, and there are several bars and eateries throughout the town's streets. That being said, selection isn't that broad. You'll find the usual affair of ramen, donburi, teishoku sets, and the like, but more unique items like okonomiyaki and street food vendors are absent. There are also no international offerings.
Kamikawa has all the normal amenities, such as a barber shops (several actually), JP Post, and a hospital.
The town is served by three banks: Asahikawa Shinkin, JP Post, and the JA Credit Union. JP and Asahikawa Shinkin are going to be your banks of choice (yes, the post office is a bank too) since they are the most wide spread, with Asahikawa Shinkin perhaps offering more services than JP (which only has a small customer front).
There is a small library in Coming Hall with a selection of books and movies available, and gives away old books during the summer. Coming Hall is also one of the town's community centres, with a hall/performance theatre, meeting rooms and classrooms, and a small museum.
As far as English is concerned, ALTs are largely on their own. There is no English community outside of schools, few residents speak the language, and what information exists in English seems limited to tourism. There are a large number of foreign residents in Kamikawa, though almost all live and work in Sounkyou and originate from south and central Asia (so no English). This is simply a reality in rural Japan. That being said, everyone is quite welcoming, and a few greetings here and there go a long way.
This page is current as of Jan 2016. Please updated and date this section as the Wiki is updated.