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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route - Your ultimate guide to the journey crossing the Japanese Alps

Updated: Apr 23

A journey on various modes of transportation through incredible landscapes amidst some of Japan's highest mountains.


Rota Alpina Tateyama Kurobe, vista de Daikanbo, Japão

When I came across a small note in the Lonely Planet guidebook, talking about this route that crosses the northern region of the Japanese Alps, where various modes of transportation take you through snowy peaks and stunning landscapes, starting at an altitude of 475 meters and reaching 2,450 meters, known as "the roof of Japan", I simply made up my mind that I HAD to go there.


The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route crosses a part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, passing by Mount Tateyama, better known as Mount Tate, which, along with Mount Fuji and Mount Hakusan, is one of Japan's three sacred mountains.


Garota em capa de chuva andando pela Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route- Murodo - Japão

"In the 17th-19th centuries, Tateyama became one of Japan’s three holy mountains along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Hakusan. Many pilgrims visited the mountain. People seeing hot water coming from the ground at Jigokudani imagined that they were seeing into the underworld. The high point of Mt. Tateyama overlooking the valley of hell came to represent heaven. People who climbed Mt. Tateyama during their life hoped that their souls would go to heaven after their death." (https://www.alpen-route.com/en/info/history.html)




I didn't find much information about the Alpen Route (as it's also called) on the internet - the little I could gather was on the route's official website and a few blogs. But even without knowing exactly what to expect, I decided to take on the challenge and explore these landscapes.


It was an awesome adventure, with stunning landscapes that fit perfectly into our 4-week itinerary in Japan, as it was a day when we escaped the traditional tourist attractions of Japan (= big cities, temples and shrines) and got to know a very different Japan from what resides in our imagination.


Rota Alpina Tateyama Kurobe - Alpen Route - vista em Murodo, Japão


 

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WHERE IS THE TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE


Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route connects Nagano Prefecture (to the east) with Toyama Prefecture (to the west), in the central-western region of Honshu Island (the largest and main of the Japanese islands).


The route is approximately 90 kilometers long, with an elevation difference of 1,975 meters.


You can travel the route from east to west (from Nagano to Toyama) or from west to east (from Toyama to Nagano). It's common to do it only one way, but you can go halfway along the route and return the same way you came.



WHEN TO DO THE TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE


The Alpine Route operates from mid-spring to late autumn, but the specific opening and closing dates vary from year to year. In 2023, it was open from April 15th to November 30th. Check the official website for the opening dates for each year.


Each season of the year has its own attraction on the Alpine Route:


In spring, one of the main attractions is the snow corridor that forms along the highest part of the route connecting Murodo to Midagahara. This road is lined with snow walls that can reach up to 20 meters in height! Alongside the cherry blossoms, visiting this snow corridor is one of the best things to do in Japan during springtime. While the snow gradually melts over time, it's said that there's still snow on the sides of the road until the end of June, depending on the year. We visited in mid-July, and as expected, the snow corridor had already completely melted.


Summer is the best time to enjoy the hiking trails: there are many trails for all tastes and levels of physical fitness, including one that leads to the summit of Mount Tate (3,015 meters above sea level).


Autumn is marked by the beauty of the foliage, and you can still do most of the trails.


We did the Alpen Route on July 16th (peak of Japanese summer) - the trip was also a relief from the scorching heat we experienced throughout our entire month-long Japan trip - if you go to Japan in the summer, be prepared for very hot weather!


We found the route to be quite crowded; practically everyone was Japanese tourists, which we were told might have been because July 17th was a national holiday in Japan that year (Ocean Day - Umi no Hi, celebrated on the third Monday of July each year).




WHERE TO STAY ON THE TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE


The main accommodations along the route are:


  • Hotel Tateyama: the only one that still had availability when we searched, but it was out of our budget. It is located at the Murodo station, the highest part of the Alpine Route, and the stay includes a walk through the snow corridor and stargazing activities. As it is right on top of the station, it can get quite busy during the day.


  • Midagahara Hotel: located at the station of the same name, at 1,930 meters altitude, it tends to be slightly more affordable than the previous one and is also highly rated. Since it is not one of the main stations on the route, it tends to be quieter than Hotel Tateyama.


  • Tateyama Kogen Hotel: located at the Tengudaira station, at 2,300 meters in altitude, it seems like an excellent option, in a quieter location than Tateyama.


  • Tengudaira Mountain Lodge: also in the Tengudaira area, one of the highest parts of the route, with easy access to various hiking trails.


If you plan to do the route in a single day, as we did, it is ideal to stay in Toyama or Shinano-Omachi. You can stay in Nagano, but that adds about 25 minutes to the journey.


Check availability and rates here:



Por do sol em Toyama, Japão
Toyama - sunset in front of our hotel

We did the route in a single day, from Shinano-Omachi to Toyama. We stayed in Shinano-Omachi at the Hotel Route-Inn Shinano Omachi Ekimae, a comfortable hotel with a decent breakfast, but its main attraction is being right in front of the train station and the bus stop at the start of the Alpine Route. There are some restaurants near the hotel; we had sushi at Sushi Matsubá (松葉鮨), simply delicious!


In Toyama, we stayed at the Toyama Chitetsu Hotel, which is right on top of the final station of the Alpine Route and the JR station. There are various restaurants, shops, and malls near the hotel. We had dinner at Viva La Vita, an Italian restaurant; the food was delicious and the chef was very friendly. However, the only menu at the place was a blackboard written in Japanese (which Google Translate couldn't handle), and the waiter didn't speak any English (not at all!). It got to the point where a restaurant customer helped us with translation! It was an adventure to place the order, but we all ate very well and left with another story to tell.



BAGAGE FORWARDING SERVICE


I've read on the internet that it's not allowed to bring luggage on the Alpine Route, but I saw several people with luggage, and I wondered if you're staying at some of the hotels on the route, don't you need to bring your luggage?


In any case, even if it were possible, we chose to follow the rules and not bring luggage - because carrying bulky bags throughout the journey would turn it into a nightmare, right?


Between Shinano-Omachi and Toyama, there is a baggage forwarding service. You can drop off your luggage between 7:40 AM and 10:30 AM at the location - in Shinano-Omachi, it's right in front of the train station (practically next to the hotel where we stayed), and in Toyama, it's near the station's ticket gates. You can pick up your luggage between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM at the other end of the route. It costs ¥2,500 per piece of luggage. The service doesn't take your luggage to Nagano, so if you're staying in Nagano, you'll have to take it with you to Shinano-Omachi and check it in (or pick it up) there. The official website has more information about this service.




HOW TO DO THE TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE


The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route can be done from east to west or in the opposite direction, and there's no better or worse option; it depends on what fits into your itinerary. You can also do it up to Murodo (the highest point) and return the same way.


We did it in a single day, starting in Shinano-Omachi with the bus at 8:00 AM and arriving in Toyama at 5:30 PM.


Mapa da Rota Alpina Tateyama Kurobe, com todos os meios de tranposte, pontos de conexão e tempos de viagem
Take a look at the itinerary! (Image from the official Alpen Route website)

This chart shows the means of transportation, the travel time for each, and the "connection" points. But please note that in practice, each leg takes much longer than indicated because of waiting and queue times.


In Shinano-Omachi, we took the bus in front of the train station, we just showed the QR Code generated when buying the ticket online. The official Alpen Route website has the bus schedules - pay attention because the departure time from the Alpine Route mentioned on the ticket purchased online is from Ogizawa onwards.


Arriving at Ogizawa, there's a large station with a shop and restaurant. There, we exchanged the ticket we had bought online for a physical ticket at a kiosk, which would be used for the entire journey. We got in line and took the electric bus, which covers a distance of 6.1 km inside a tunnel, and it drops you off at Kurobe Dam. This tunnel was built to facilitate the construction of the dam and is still used today for its operation.


Kurobe Dam - Rota Alpina Tateyama Kurobe, Alpes Japoneses, Japão
Kurobe Dam (1,470 meters above sea level)

Kurobe Dam, at 1,470 meters above sea level, is nearly 500 meters long and 186 meters tall, making it the tallest dam in Japan. With the economic boom that Japan experienced after the end of World War II, the construction of the dam was a way to meet the country's energy demand. Ten million people worked on its construction in the 1950s, and it represented a significant engineering challenge for Japan, with a cost of 171 lives.


After that, you need to walk across the dam (about 800 meters), and you'll be in Kurobeko, where you take the funicular (cable car) to the next stop.


This funicular is entirely inside a tunnel, covers about 800 meters, and has a vertical drop of 373 meters. At the end, you arrive at Korobedaira, at 1,828 meters above sea level.


At this stop, there's a viewpoint, a shop, and a restaurant, but we didn't spend much time there. We immediately got in line for the aerial tramway, which takes you over 1.7 km to Daikanbo, at an altitude of 2,316 meters (the first photo in this post!).


From there, you take a trolleybus (through a tunnel) to Murodo, the highest point of the route, at 2,450 meters in altitude.


Murodo - Rota Alpina Tateyama Kurobe, Alpes Japoneses, Japão
In the midst of the clouds is Mount Tate!





Murodo is the highlight of the journey, where you can see (and climb!) Mount Tate and where you'll find the most beautiful hikes in the area. There are also geysers, lakes, and a variety of stunning landscapes. We had a quite cloudy day, so the view of Mount Tate had to wait for another time, but it was still beautiful!


I don't need to tell you, but be prepared for MUCH lower temperatures than at the start of the route. On the day we went, the difference was about 20°C (from 32°C in Toyama to 12°C in Murodo).


There are some hotels in the region (as I've mentioned here), campgrounds, shops, restaurants and cafes.


One of the trails leads to Hell Valley, an area where vapor with a strong sulfur smell emerges from 136 holes in the ground. There's a boardwalk through the area, but it was closed when we went due to the risk of accidents.


From Murodo, a bus goes to the famous snow corridor in spring. When we went - on July 15th - the snow around the road had already completely melted.





If you want to stop at Tengudaira or Midagahara, take the bus that makes those stops. Otherwise, the bus goes directly to Bijodaira (at 977 meters in altitude) with a photo stop (without getting off the bus) at Shomyo Falls, the tallest waterfall in Japan.


From Bijodaira, you continue on the funicular (cable car) to Tateyama station, which is at 475 meters in altitude.


A local train takes you from Tateyama to Toyama (Toyama Chiho Railroad), arriving at the central station in the city, with easy access to the JR station if you still have the energy to go somewhere else 😉. In Tateyama, you can also take an express train to Toyama (paid separatly), which I didn't know when I planned the trip.



Daikanbo - Rota Alpina Tateyama Kurobe, Alpes Japoneses, Japão
Daikanbo, at 2.316 meters above sea level


HOW MUCH DOES THE ALPINE ROUTE COST (AND HOW TO BUY TICKETS)


The Alpine Route is not covered by the JR Pass.


Tickets for the route can be purchased directly on the Alpen Route website. You need to create a profile and follow the website's instructions, choosing the direction in which you will take the route and the date. In the next step, you select the section you want to travel, the departure time from Ogizawa, and the number of people. You need to buy the bus ticket between Ogizawa and Shinano-Omachi/Nagano separately, as the regular Route ticket starts from Ogizawa.


It's also possible to purchase the route only up to Tateyama, from where you can buy the express train to Toyama or take a train to other places in Japan.


The cost per adult for the Ogizawa-Toyama section is ¥12,170 (approximately US$82.33) or ¥10,940 (approximately US$74.00) for the Ogizawa-Tateyama section. The bus between Ogizawa and Nagano is ¥3,100, and between Ogizawa and Shinano-Omachi, it's ¥1,650 (prices researched in September 2023).


After the purchase, you receive a receipt with a QR code that you exchange for a specific ticket in Ogizawa (or in Toyama/Tateyama).


So, are you excited about this unique journey in Japan?





Check our other posts about JAPAN:



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Tateyma Kurobe Alpine Route - Japan - danae-explore.com


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