Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Road is one of the most attractive sites in Toyama Prefecture and the whole of Japan. It is a touristic mountain road that crosses the Northern Alps, with mountains of a 3000-meter altitude, connecting Tateyama City (Toyama Prefecture) and Omachi city (Nagano Prefecture). We can cross these mountains by 5 modes of transportation: bus, cable car, funicular, trolleybus, and on foot. The climbing road of a 1975-meter altitude is only about 25km long. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Road is open to tourists from mid-April to the end of November.
History of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Road
The road was opened in 1971. Eight years earlier, the highest dam in Japan had been built on this mountain range. It is called the Kurobe Dam (or Kurobe Fourth Dam). The reason for building the dam was a shortage of electricity; Japan had to build power plants to meet the demand caused by strong economic growth after WW2. They built the dam in the mountains so they could use the abundant meltwater streaming from the high mountains to generate energy.
The construction started on the side of Nagano Prefecture, Omachi, in 1956, and several problems such as groundwater and sediment runoff had to be solved first. More than 10 million people were mobilized and it was only 7 years later, in 1963, that the work was completed. This great post-war construction project went down in history as the “greatest project of the century”. Unfortunately, during these 7 years of work, 171 people lost their lives because of the dangerous working conditions.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Road Stations
Most of the road is located in the Chubu National Park-Sangaku (中部山岳国立公園), and visiting by private car is prohibited. So in order to cross the road, you have to use a different mode of transportation. These sites are not to be missed on the way from Ogisawa station (Nagano side):
Ogisawa (扇沢) ～ Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム): The starting point on the side of Nagano Prefecture is Ogisawa Station, located at a 1433m altitude. The first means of transportation is the electric bus which passes under the Kanden tunnel and after 16 min, we reach the Kurobe Dam station. Kurobe Dam is located at 1470 m above sea level. This dam has several records such as having the world’s largest water storage capacity at 200 million m3, and being the highest arch dam in Japan with a height of 186m. There are several terraces from which you can make beautiful pictures with the Japanese Alps in the background, and you can also make a short boat cruise of 30 min in the lake. On the dam itself, you can walk and feel the power of the water and continue to the funicular station.
Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム) ～ Kurobe Daira (黒部平): From Kurobe Dam station to Kurobe Daira, you have to take the funicular for about 5 min. The funicular ascends a steep slope with an altitude difference of about 400 meters and a maximum slope of 31 degrees. For the protection of the environment and the snow, the funicular is built underground. Kurobe Daira station is located at 1828m above sea level. Right next to the station building there is a small garden from which you can enjoy an impressive view of the mountain range of Tateyama (立山連峰).
Kurobe Daira (黒部平) ～ Daikanbo (大観峰): After enjoying the Tateyama mountain range from Kurobe Daira, you continue on and take the cable car for about 7 min from Kurobe Daira station to Daikanbo. It is like an aerial walk with a magnificent view of the Kurobe valley and the Kurobe lake. The difference in altitude is 488m and the cable car covers a distance of 1.7km.
Daikanbo (大観峰) ～ Murodo (室堂): You continue on to Murodo, the station located at the highest altitude on the Alpine road of Tateyama Kurobe, by taking the trolleybus for about 10 minutes. By the way, the trolleybus is powered by electricity so it is considered as a ‘train’, making it the train that rides at the highest altitude in Japan at 2450m. The tunnel of this trolleybus pierces the Tateyama mountain of 3015m high.
At the terminal of Murodo, a hotel and also several inns welcome the visitors. As there are several hiking trails around Murodo, it is a great spot to enjoy the great nature of the Japanese Alps by staying in one of the hostels. The Murodo terminal is located at 2450m above sea level, on Honshu Island (the main island of Japan), this is where autumn arrives the earliest and the change of leaf colors starts as early as September.
At a 5-minute walk from Murodo terminal, there is a pond called Mikuri-ga-ike (みくりが池). It was formed about 10,000 years ago by volcanic activity. Many tourists visit the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Road to see the snow walls. The snow starts to fall in Murodo from mid-October and it is known as a region of heavy snowfall. Between mid-April and the end of June, about 500 m from the terminal of Murodo, the bus road is reserved for pedestrians to observe the snow walls which can be more than 20m high!
Murodo (室堂) ～ Bijo Daira (美女平): To not take the same road from Murodo, you can go down to Tateyama. From the terminal of Murodo, you can take the bus for about 50 minutes. As the bus travels outside, you can enjoy the landscape and the great mountainous nature. Between Murodo and Bijo Daira, there are several hiking routes, so you can get off the bus halfway (it is advised to pay attention to the leaving time of the last bus). The bus travels on a road with an altitude difference of 1500m, and Bijo Daira station is located at 977 m of altitude.
Bijo Daira (美女平) ～ Tateyama (立山): You will then reach the last station, Tateyama station. Here you can take the funicular that runs on a path with a difference in altitude of 500 meters. This funicular was used to transport the materials necessary for the construction of the Kurobe Dam, so at the end of the wagon there is a dedicated place for the materials.
My Experience on the Route
I had the opportunity to visit the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Road on October 22, 2020. I always had an image of the Alpine road including the snow walls, but last summer I saw a poster of the road during autumn. So I decided to go see the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Road in autumn for its wonderful colors. Unfortunately, it turned out that this year autumn arrived a little early compared to the previous years: at the Kurobe dam, it was the right time but in Daikanbo and especially Murodo, it was a little late.
During normal times, because many Japanese and also foreign tourists visit this area, the wait is pretty long for each change of means of transportation. But this year there were no foreign tourists and very few Japanese tourists, so we had no waiting time at all and we were able to visit every stop within half a day.
I had already visited many places in Japan thanks to my work as a tour guide, but I was really surprised by the nature and the beauty of the mountains in this region. I would definitely like to come back here to see another season!
Your Japan Tour
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Access to Toyama Station (JR): Take Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. It takes about 2 hours by the fastest shinkansen Kagayaki.
Ticket price: from Toyama to Nagano: 21,210 yen for adults / 10,620 yen for elementary school students
Operation period: From mid-April to late November