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Carve your way through the Japanese Alps in Toyama!

Carve your way through the Japanese Alps in Toyama!

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルートTateyama-Kurobe-Arupenrūto) is the name of a unique route in the Chubu Region which connects Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture with Omachi Town in Nagano Prefecture. Passing through Mount Tateyama in the Japanese Alps, the scenery and vistas of the Alpine Route will make you feel like you’re on a trek through the mountains of Switzerland. 

 

During the Alpine Route, you will have to ride no less than eight unique modes of transportation—ranging from buses, cable cars, to mountain trolleys—and be able to see countless unique sights such as a 4-metre tall snow corridor, the sea of clouds, or the tallest dam in Japan.

 

The Tateyama Alpine Pass is perfect for travellers who’d like to dip their toes into a mountain adventure without any of the physical conditioning or large amount of prep usually required for such an undertaking. Going through the pass from Toyama to Nagano over the course of one or two days is very much like a small-scale, family-friendly adventure. I have personally travelled the Alpine Pass in summer 2019, and will recount my experience in this article.

 

(Image credit: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route)

 

Preparing for the Route

After doing some research on the Alpine Pass before my trip, I made the necessary preparations to start travelling from the Toyama-end over the course of two days as I wanted to have enough time to fully experience the route without haste. This involved a few things:

  • Getting to Toyama
  • Purchasing a Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket
  • Preparing a backpack with overnight clothes
  • Booking a hotel in the Alpine Pass

Toyama Prefecture can be reached from Osaka in a 3-hour train trip, including a transfer at Kanazawa City. Take the Limited Express Thunderbird (¥7,990/157 mins) to Kanazawa, and then a quick shinkansen ride (¥3,590/22 mins) to Toyama.

 

The Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket is an all-in-one ticket which covers the cost and rides of your trip starting from Dentetsu-Toyama Station to Nagano Station, or vice versa. At ¥9,800, it shaves a good ¥2,640 off the standard cost of travelling the route, and also saves you the inconvenience of having to purchase a ticket at every stop along the journey. This ticket can be bought at selected JR Ticket offices, including the ones at Osaka, Kanazawa, Nagano and Tokyo Stations. The redemption of the ticket itself is done at Dentetsu-Toyama Station, right before you begin on your journey.



Besides that, if you intend on staying overnight during this journey at either Midagahara or Murodo, I strongly recommend that you pack a separate backpack for one night’s supplies, and forward the remainder of your luggage to the next accomodation after the Alpine Route. It is both extremely cumbersome and not worth the effort for you to lug your heavy belongings through the mountains. Alternatively, there is also an option for you to forward your luggage from Dentetsu-Toyama Station to Ogazawa, Shimano Omachi, or Nagano Station starting from ¥1,500. Details on that can be found on the official website here.

 

Starting from Toyama

I had to take the Toyama Chiho Railway for the first leg of the trip—this cute train took me from Toyama Station to Dentetsu-Toyama Station, which is the start of the actual mountain pass. Toyama is known for Black Ramen and Firefly Squid, so I had a delicious Firefly Squid Tempura Bowl (which I bought from a restaurant next to the station at ¥1,200).

 

(Image credit: JR Times / Afiq)

 

From Dentetsu-Toyama Station, I immediately took a 7-minute cable car up to Bijodaira. Then, I got on the Highland Bus to reach the first major sight of the Alpine Route: the Midagahara Marshlands.

 

Midagahara

Top left: (Image credit: (Top left) JNTO & (Bottom left & Right) JR Times / Afiq)

 

Midagahara (弥陀ヶ原) is a beautiful alpine marshland that has multiple wooden trail circuits for hikers to trek and admire the amazing scenery. This area is so high above sea level that temperatures here are at least 10°C lower than the average temperature of the surrounding plains. This makes for a truly welcoming retreat from the blistering heat during summer, yet it gets completely covered in snow during spring and late autumn, so be sure to pack an extra layer than you normally would! It is also a spot where you can experience the Sea of Clouds phenomenon, where the clouds roll over the landscape in the evening!

 

(Image credit: JR Times / Afiq)

 

It is also the location of the Midagahara Hotel, one of the only buildings in the entirety of the Alpine Route where you can spend the night. This hotel is also where I stayed the night, and could participate in guided activities throughout the area such as group hiking, stargazing, and enjoying local Toyama cuisine.

 

Murodo

(Image credit: JR Times / Afiq & JNTO)

 

After Midagahara, I took a second bus up to the peak of Mount Tateyama, Murodo. At the peak is a beautiful lake with its own hiking trail. In spring, this is the highlight of the Alpine Route: the famous Snow Corridor. During that season, you will have the option to disembark from the bus as it enters the Snow Corridor to walk through and experience it on foot. There is also a pristine mountain lake here by the name of Mikuriga Pond (みくりが池 Mikurigaike), which also has multiple hiking trails with stunning views. Keep track of the time you spend here though, as it can be easy to get carried away and possibly miss your next bus!

 

Kurobe Dam

(Image credit: JR Times / Afiq & JNTO)

 

After enjoying the scenery at Murodo, I took the Tunnel Trolley Bus which cuts straight through the mountain to the other side at Daikanbo. Afterwhich, I took the cable car down to the last major attraction of the route – the Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム Kurobe-damu) – which is Japan's tallest dam at 186 meters. It is a hydroelectric dam which supplies power to the Kansai Region, and you get to walk across it to admire spectacular views of tons of water cascading into Kurobe Lake.



After my time was done at the dam, one last tunnel bus took me to the exit of the Alpine Pass at Ogizawa, where I waited for an express bus to take me straight to Nagano City. The buses from Ogizawa arrive quite infrequently, and the last one leaves at 17:55, so I highly recommend taking a look at their timetable here. This is the most important schedule of the entire trip which will determine your pace for the rest of the day! There are also buses that can take you to Shinano-Omachi, a small hot spring area with a few traditional ryokan inns. From Shinano-Omachi, you can also take a train out to either Hakuba or Matsumoto.

 

In 2020, the entire route is scheduled to be open from 15 April to 30 November.

 

Travelling the Alpine Pass in the spring, summer, and winter all make for incredibly unique experiences, and it is easily a destination that I would recommend to anyone. You can read more on the Tateyama Alpine Route at their official website. More information is readily available at the Travel Communicators' Desk, and several of our Travel Communicators have travelled this range personally, so don’t be shy to ask questions before planning your next trip there!

 

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Address: 5 Wallich St, #01-20, Singapore 078883
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(Temporarily closed during the post-Circuit Breaker period)

 

Header image credit: photoAC

 

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