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Japan Travel Blog April 2015: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

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Let’s start with a bit of honesty here: Exploring a snowy mountain has never been a part of any of my travel lists. I guess in a way this is why I highly appreciated the uniqueness of my time traversing the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. This route offers a tour of the Japanese Alps; of sights that stretch from Tateyama, Toyama, and then Omachi in Nagano. And of course it is also home to the famous Tateyama Snow Corridor, which looks a little something like this:

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Coming here makes me appreciate the Japanese’s capacity for making everything so organized. You can see that there has been plenty of meticulous thought put into creating this route. In efforts to preserve the natural resources found in this area, there are no outside cars allowed except for those operated directly by the company maintaining Kurobe Dam. Along the way to see the Tateyama Mountain Range in all its glory, you will have to switch modes of transportation a number of times.

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The diagram above is from the gigantic touch screen at the start of the Alpine route. The starting point of the route is Tateyama station, where you buy your tickets and receive a schedule as to when you will get to start your journey. We got here during the peak season so it was packed!

When finally it was our turn to ride the cable car, we reach our first stop in a few minutes and get on the Tateyama Highland Bus. The bus took us through the Bijodaira Forest and up to the initial corridor of snow. Before the forest breaks into the more snowy area there were plenty of views to enjoy.

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Though obviously all the trees are still pretty naked, I enjoyed looking past the trees and down towards what I could see of the mountain range. I caught glimpses of a lovely glittering lake. Must be nice to walk through this forest at summer’s end.

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Finally we arrive at the highest point of the route, Murodo, which stands at 2450 metres. There’s a hotel and a restaurant here which serves a bento meal, plus warm soup with veggies and rounds of mochi in it. (I think it’s called ozoni?) The line for “reserved” and walk-ins were equally long so I’m not so sure if it makes a difference to call beforehand.

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The restaurant is crazy packed with visitors. Even more packed than the first station! It seems to be the only restaurant around though you can go to the other floors for some smaller, quicker, and more practical snacks. There are stalls lining the hallways in the floor below this restaurant, if I remember correctly, and I probably would have enjoyed eating down there as well. The restaurant was so noisy, I just wanted to eat and get out of there as quickly as I could!

Finally, after warming our bellies we felt ready to step out and face the snow. And oh what a gloriously white white sight it was. I mentioned before about my icy hand syndrome so I had to put on my gloves to be on the safe side, and thankfully I didn’t feel too cold outside. However it did start drizzling AGAIN, which only brought about some fairly strong winds.

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After crossing this large expanse of snow you will arrive at the mouth of the Snow Wall Walk. The walk itself is 500 metres long but the walls on either side can go up as high as 20-metres. I think during this day it was something like 17 or 18.

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Told you the winds were strong. Look at my Dad’s hair! Haha!

This little museum was the farthest I dared to go after a little incident with a particularly angry gust of wind that almost knocked me off my feet. The wind was so strong that I lost my balance on the snow, and with nothing to hold on to I almost fell right in!

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At the last moment I managed to move my foot and ended up sinking into 6 inches of snow as I attempted to keep my balance. The wind kept trying to push me off for what seemed like an eternity, and I had to hold on to my beanie as it really wanted to fly off my head. It was slightly scary, but not enough to be traumatising. I told myself it was not bad for a first encounter with a snowy mountain. Very memorable indeed. 😀

With snow this high even in late April and winds this strong, it’s understandable why the whole Route is inaccessible from December to mid-April. It can be a scary place to be when the snow is falling! But when the snow is as manageable as it is now some people actually venture off to the hiking trails.

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I’d prefer to hike to the top of any mountain on a cool autumn day, but maybe I’ll try this too at least once in my lifetime. It’s hard to get a sense of direction when all you see around you is an expanse of white, though it can be oddly calming if you know where you are and just stand there.

Moving on to the next stop via an underground trolley bus, visitors get an option to climb up to the observation deck at Daikanbo.

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This is supposed to be a place that offers amazing views of the mountain, but the rain was intent on keeping it a secret. Look at that mist and fog. You can barely see anything!

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Once you’re done with attempting to look past all that white blur, you can run back down the steep metal stairs and buy some souvenirs or have a little snack. Steaming hot sweet potatoes are always wonderful companions on a cold snowy day.

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Now we board the ropeway for a little bit to arrive at our penultimate stop. The Kurobeko station is a tunnel that leads out to the Kurobe Dam, and you cross this whole area by foot. It’s a really short walk but very scenic.

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Kurobe Dam was my favourite stop on this route. Despite the fact that no water was coming out of the dam because it’s still fairly frozen in this area, I just looooooved the view on either side of the bridge.

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A closer look at the Kurobe Dam.

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Once the ice has melted, water actually freely flows from here and when it catches the light, rainbows form at the bottom. I’ve seen pictures of it. (And I’ve experienced something similar at the lovely Yosemite Falls.) I’m sure this area is stunning during the summer-autumn season. Since this is a mountainous area, I’m quite sure the summers aren’t all that hot.

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Soon enough it was time to go. I ran over to take a touristy photo from a nice spot. The darn hood of my raincoat was flapping all over the place!

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The funny story about these transparent raincoats of ours is that everyone in the tour group all bought a raincoat each because we were expecting to be rained upon while we were walking across the dam. It was raining when we got here all right, but as soon as we stepped out of the cable car tunnel, the rain stopped. We were all already dressed and too lazy to take off the coats so everybody’s tourist shots had a new fashion statement!

To exit the dam you climb a long flight of stairs to the final station. It’s important to keep track of time while you’re here because the Trolley Buses that will take you to the exit follow a tight schedule. It would be terrible if you got left behind! I think visiting the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route would be a rather difficult one for the elderly because it keeps on moving and rushing to catch up with the schedule.

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Admittedly, after seeing photos of this Alpine Route during another season from this blog, I have to say that I find the snow walls less striking than when the mountain range is alive and swaying with greenery. I would have to come back here to see it right before or at the very start of autumn because it looks so much more spectacular then! I guess what this little excursion proved to me is that snow isn’t all that I’ve been expecting it to be, and now I am certain I prefer seeing nature in green rather than in white.

20 Comments on “Japan Travel Blog April 2015: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

  1. Hi Clarisse, We are doing this end of this month – October. Considering the changes in transport mode, how do we deal with luggage? If we enter on one end and depart on the other end… Family of 2 elderly but mobile parents with a 35 year old daugther from the Philippines.

    1. Hi Roselle, I don’t think you should bring your luggage around as it will be very very difficult. I suggest having your luggage forwarded to your next hotel instead. I’ve heard that the luggage forwarding services in Japan are quite effective. I found a blog post where someone went to the Alpine Route and had their luggage transported to their next hotel. Maybe this can– help: http://microseism.blogspot.com/2013/08/day-7-tateyama-kurobe-alpine-route.html?m=1

  2. Hi Clarisse, can I ask when is the exact date you did this trip? As I noted in the pictures, there’s quite some crowd, is it the end of April during Golden Week? Seems like the weather is still fairly unstable with those wind description you mentioned while doing the Snow Wall Walk in Murodo…

    1. Hi! My trip was before Golden Week, April 17 to 24, and it was PACKED! I was actually surprised since we went on an off-season period. Actually we got “lucky” with the weather this day though it was kind of scary to be up there with the wind roaring and all. The day before we went, Murodo was closed to visitors because the weather was bad and it was pouring rain.

  3. Hi Clarisse,

    Did you do the full traverse or the round trip journey from Tateyama to Murodo? We’re travelling there on the same date as yours April next year and we’d really like to know how long it took you to finish the route.

    1. Hi there! We traveled the whole of it starting from 11am and ending at around 5pm, if I remember correctly. That time they had a lot of visitors and when we arrived at the station at 9am the tickets released to us on the first stop was already for a later time. We mostly spent time at the Snow Corridor itself and the Kurobe Dam. The other stops we just sped through but you can actually manage your time depending on the schedules of the transportation that will take you to the next stop. Each day there is a fixed time you have to follow to be able to ride from Kurobe Dam to the bus stop/exit and end the tour. Hope this is helpful!

      1. Hi Clarisse,

        I am planning to travel there this April (between 16-21) with Kids (9&7 years old).
        Please suggest if its good to travel with kids there between this dates?
        Plan is to start from Ogizawa till Tateyam Sta(heard this is the best route with beautiful views?).
        Also say in case the advance reservations for the above dates are full then we cannot travel at all?

        Your suggestions will be really appreciated.

        Thanks.

        1. Hi Umar, I think between 16-21 would be okay as it doesn’t seem like a peak period. The thing about the Tateyama Route is you cannot walk on the snow corridor itself if the weather is too windy or rainy, so you will have to check the weather reports again when the date is nearer. Other than that I think it’ll be a fun place for the kids to play in the snow. We actually did it the other way around, starting at Toyama and ending at Ogizawa, then we went straight to Matsumoto from there. Here’s a really good guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e7551.html

  4. Hi clarisse,

    Im planning to do this trip this April but will start instead at the spot near nagano. Just have a few questions,
    1. Can you book this trip in advance? Or tickets are sold on the same day. If so, any chances if tix be sold out

    2. How much does this route cost? Excluding hotel at either end.

    3. Is jr pass any good here?

    4. The ticket sold for this route, is it a package for all forms of transpotation mode between starting point and end point?

    5. Traveling on April 16 or 17th, chances of it being packed?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Will, as far as I know tickets for the route can be bought only on the spot. Tickets are released by batch according to a schedule. Once you buy the ticket, you will have paid to travel through the whole route from start to end. In general, this place does have a lot of visitors, but the crowd is manageable.

      I’m not quite sure about the other details but perhaps a tour operator will be better qualified to answer your questions– http://www.japanorientaltours.com

      1. Thanks for the reply… It was indeed beautiful, I’m heading to nagano area on september but i get the feeling much of the time spent here will be on transportation. Like for example if its 8 hours, it will be 4 hours on transportation getting from one end to another.

        Given a chance would you spend an entire day here on autumn or kamikochi? πŸ™‚

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