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The several volcanic mountain ranges that lie in central Honshu together comprise Japan Alps National Park (Chubu Sangaku Kokuritsu Koen). With the exception of Japan's tallest mountain, Mount Fuji, all of Japan's loftiest mountains are in these ranges, making the Japan Alps a popular destination for hikers in summer and skiers in winter (Nagano, near Matsumoto, hosted the XVIII Winter Olympics in 1998). In addition, because some of the villages nestled in these mountains retain much of their traditional architecture, the Japan Alps provide a unique look at mountain life both past and present.

A Good Strategy for Seeing the Japan Alps -- Because towns and villages in this region are spread out -- with lots of mountains in between -- traveling isn't as fast in this part of the country as on Honshu's broad plains. Your best strategy for visiting all the destinations covered in this chapter is to start from Nagoya Station by taking the JR Shinano train in the morning to Nakatsugawa, where you can then board a bus for Magome and spend the day hiking to Tsumago. From Tsumago, it's only a short bus ride to Nagiso, where you can then reboard the Shinano train bound for Matsumoto. From Matsumoto, you'll travel by bus onward to Takayama and then on to Ogimachi (in Shirakawa-go). From there you can return to Takayama to catch the train to Nagoya, or take a bus onward to Kanazawa.