The Roof of Japan: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route! (Travel Guide)

The Roof of Japan: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route! (Travel Guide)

If you’re up for incredible and unique nature activities in Japan, it’s a MUST to visit the stunning mountain sightseeing route called as Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (Arupen Ruto). This 90km route that’s commonly referred to as the “Roof of Japan” goes through the lush scenery of Mt. Tateyama in the Northern Japan Alps as it spans from Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture, up to Omachi Town in Nagano Prefecture.

Since its opening in 1971, the path comprises of several stops or stations — with Murodo Station as the highest at 2,450 meters high — and they can be traversed on various different vehicles such as buses, cable cars, and ropeways.

Alpine Route Map

A lot of people actually go throughTateyama Kurobe Alpine Route for days during its opening season (mid-April to November) as they enjoy the spectacular vistas of the Tateyama Mountain Range which is a part of the Chubu Sanguku National Park in Japan.

In fact, all throughout the year’s seasons, there are various hiking and sightseeing activities that can be done; however… when I made a grand tour of the Chubu region earlier this year, I only had a day left to explore the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route so I ended up going on a quick adventure.

Basically, I started from Tateyama Station and then up to Shinano-Omachi Station in just 5 hours as I made sure to see the route’s following top 3 highlights!

» READ: An Ideal 5-Day Itinerary for Exploring Some of Chubu or Central Japan’s Best!

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Video / Vlog Coverage

If you’re more into videos, come and take a peek into the vlog I made below which showcases my visit to Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route!

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Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

» Snow Wall / Corridor (Yuki-no-Otani)

Snow Corridor Murodo Snow Wall

As the highest point on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Murodo Station features a lot of fantastic activities and views. One of the most-known attraction that is has would be the Snow Wall or Yuki-no-Otani which opens from mid-April to mid-June after months of heavy snowfall.

TRIVIA: Tateyama experiences one of the heaviest snowfalls worldwide! On average, there is about 7 meters (or 23 feet) of snow that accumulates every year, but in the area near the wall, there are times that up to 20 meters (65.6 feet) would accumulate because of snowdrifts! To expel this heavy snow, this famous ‘Snow Wall’ was then born.

Running from Bijodaira to Murodo, you will you first witness the 1km passage of the Snow Wall in the bus. Once you get off at the Murodo Bus Terminal, there is approximately a 500-meter-long section of the road where you can walk along the walls of snow and take wondrous photos!

I visited here during the last day when the Snow Wall corridor walk was still open (June 22 in 2017) and the walls were about 12-meters high. At that height, I was already in utter awe of its beauty; so you could just imagine, if you were to visit earlier in April, you will get to witness it in its full glory! (Though, if you visit late in June, the crowd is a lot less).

•• OPENING TIME: Mid-April to mid or late June (for accurate opening and closing times of the Snow Wall, check this website.)
•• OTHER THINGS TO DO AT MURODO STATION: During late autumn and spring, aside from the Snow Wall, you can enjoy sledding around some areas near the station, as well as visit Mikurigaike which is a crate lake of the Tateyama volcano. In summer and early winter, you can enjoy the surrounding network of hiking trails that have varying levels of difficulty. (In winter, Murodo is not accessible due to heavy snow). For a complete list of things to do in Murodo, see website.
•• DIRECTIONSFrom Dentetsu Toyama Station, it takes 2.5hours to get to Murodo via a train, a cable car, and a bus (total of ¥3,500). Alternatively, if coming from the other side’s Shinano-Omachi Station, it takes 2.5hours too but with a total cost of ¥7,000 via several buses, a cable car and a ropeway.  To get the best deal on transportation costs, I highly suggest that you just buy the Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass (more info on this below).
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» Tateyama Ropeway

Tateyama RopewayTateyama Ropeway in Autumn

Tateyama Ropeway is a cable car that connects the stations of Daikanbo and Kurobedaira for ¥1,300 one way. It is said that this one of the most unique cable cars because it is the only one in Japan that operates without any support towers for a span of 1.7 kilometers.

Riding this ropeway will only take 7 minutes but the grand panoramic sights that you will see around you as you go down will (not to mention the slight thrill!) will make you feel as if you’ve been treated to a long show filled with majestic views.

••• OPENING: Closed from December to mid-April. It’s best to come here either during autumn or when the snow covers the alpine route to enjoy the best views possible.
•• DIRECTIONS: If you don’t plan to go through the whole alpine route and opt to just visit this ropeway, you need to go to Shinano-Omachi Station on JR East Oito Line. Next, take the bus from Oigazawa Station to Kurobe Dam Station where you can walk to Kurobeko Station and head to Kurobedaira Station. Alternatively, if you want to explore all of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, get the best deal on transportation costs by buying the Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass (more info on this below).
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» Kurobe Dam

Kurobe Dam Kurobe Dam Water

This place is near the end of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and it’s quite a sight to be seen given that it is the tallest dam in Japan at 186 meters. And if you visit from late June to mid-October, you can get to witness the dam discharging a spectacular amount of water (about 10 tons every second)!

According to history, the Kurobe Dam was built across Kurobe Lake for over 7 years; by the time it was completed in 1963, over 171 people have lost their loves due to some problems along the way. Today, it supports a hydropower plant that supplies electricity to the Kansai Region in Japan. Some of the other attractions around the dam are:

  • Dam Observation Deck: located at the eastern end of the dam is a steep long flight of stairs (about 220 steps) wherein you can reach a concrete slope that offers the best view of the dam and its surrounding terrain.
  • Monument to Workers: this is a monument by the side of the dam which is dedicated to the 171 workers who lost their lives during the construction of the dam.
  • Kurobe Cruise Ship (Garube): from early June to early November, you can ride this boat for about 30 minutes as you enjoy the scenery of the Alps and of the Lake Kurobe. Due to its location, this is the highest sailing boat in Japan (at 1,448m above sea level).

••• OPENING: Closed from December to mid-April. It’s best to come here either during autumn or when the snow covers the alpine route to enjoy the best views possible.
•• DIRECTIONS: If you don’t plan to go through the whole alpine route and opt to just visit this dam, you need to go to Shinano-Omachi Station on JR East Oito Line. Next, take the bus from Oigazawa Station to Kurobe Dam Station. This whole trip will cost about ¥3,000 (total of about 1.5hours). Alternatively, if you want to explore all of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, get the best deal on transportation costs by buying the Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass (more info on this below).
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OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO PER SEASON

» Spring (May to June)

Spring

During Spring, the whole of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is covered in snow. Aside from the Snow Wall that I already mentioned above, one of the things you could do here is to walk on the snow fields especially around Murodo.

I’ve been told that around this time, you might be able to catch sight of a white Alpine ptarmigan, a kind of bird that is referred to as “messengers of God” — because the Japanese believe that if you see a ptarmigan, it will bring you happiness. (Best time to spot them is from late May to June especially in the area aorund Mikurigaike pond).
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» Summer (July to mid-September)

Summer in Tateyama Kurobe

If you’re looking to do hiking, walks, climbing, and sightseeing, summer would be the best time to visit the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route! Aside from witnessing the water discharge on Kurobe Dam, you could also witness beautiful carpets of alpine flowers in the surrounding landscapes.

Up in Murodo, there can still be some snow up until July; after that, you can enjoy easy trails (such as going around the Mikurigaike pond) and challenging hikes (such as climbing the summit of Mount Tateyama) around the area.
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» Autumn (late-September to November)

Autumn Schedule

The leaves slowly turn into warmer tones at the end of September and this beautiful change first starts at the higher areas. This will take about 6 weeks until the color changes reach the end of the mountain slopes (around late October to early November).

If you’re lucky, you can witness greener leaves at the foot of the mountain, autumn leaves in the middle of the route, and then white plains of snow at the top! (Like I mentioned before, the Tateyama Ropeway is a great place for watching the season’s foliage.)

“New Snow”: Most of the time, the first snow of the year already falls in Murodo by September, but then it will melt straight away. It is only around early or mid-November that the snow stays and where you can enjoy a blinding white wonderland! To see this, it’s best to go into the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route from the side of Shinano-Omachi station because due to the weather, service is often suspended from Bijodaira Station to Murodo Station.
Winter Schedule .

» Winter (December to mid-April)

The whole of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is closed during winter time.

To know more info about the whole alpine route, go to: http://www.alpen-route.com/en/
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SIDE TRIPS OR ATTRACTIONS

The following is a list of attractions that are near Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in Chubu region:

  • Kurobe Gorge: this is a sightseeing train that will take you through Japan’s steepest gorge.
  • Shirakawa-go and Gokayama UNESCO villagesprotected historic villages that are famous for their gassho-zukuri style farmhouses.
  • Takayama Citylauded as the ‘Little Kyoto of Hida’, this charming old town will delight you at every turn.
  • Matsumoto Citythe city where one of Japan’s most beautiful castles is found.
  • Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park: a unique place where you can find wild “Snow Moneys” bathing in an onsen (hot springs).
  • …and more!

» READ: An Ideal 5-Day Itinerary for Exploring Some of Chubu or Central Japan’s Best!

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Pre-Travel Guide

How to get to Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route?
From Toyama city, go to Dentetsu-Toyama Station. Ride the Chitetsu Line and get off at Tateyama Station (which is the start of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route).

To get to Toyama city from Tokyo, ride the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen which takes about 2 hours.

Personally though, I would highly recommend that you buy the Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass for ¥17,500 which gives you unlimited rides on JR express trains between Nagoya to Toyama, as well as unlimited use on all transportation within the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route for 5 days — which then makes it the PERFECT pass for exploring the region that the alpine route is in which is Chubu. If you want a detailed itinerary for exploring the area, see here.

Where to best stay (for accommodations) in Toyama?
BudgetToyoko Inn Toyama Ekimae / Mid-RangeToyama Excel Hotel Tokyu or AirBnB / Luxury:  River Retreat Garaku

To search for other accommodation options at the best prices, I suggest checking out Agoda and Booking.com. (If you’re rather interested in renting affordable yet comfortable houses or apartments, always check AirBnB).

Should I get a visa to visit Japan?
If you’re NOT a citizen of any of Japan’s exempted countries, you are then required to avail a visa beforehand. If you’re from the Philippines, you can read my guide on how to get a Japan visa in Manila here.

Helpful Japanese phrases
Hello: Konnichiwa (Kohn-nee-chee-wah)
Thank you (normal): Arigatō. (Ah-REE-gah-tohh)
Thank you (less formal): Arigatō gozaimas (Ah-REE-gah-tohh goh-zahy-mahs)
Thank you (informal): Dōmo (DOHH-moh)
Yes: Hai (Hai)
No: Iie (E-eh)
Goodbye (long term): Sayōnara (Sah-yohh-nah-rah)
Goodbye (informal): Ja ne (Jahh neh)
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Excuse me: Sumimasen (Soo-mee-mah-SEN)
I’m sorry: Gomen nasai (Goh-men-nah-sahy)
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Dareka eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (Dah-reh-kah ey-goh gah hah-nah-seh-mahs kah?)
Help!: Tasukete! (Tahs-keh-teh!)
Cheers!: Kanpai! (Kan-pie!)

Overall

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Going up to Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route was a spectacular journey — after all, every station led me to a different natural wonder that surely took my breath away! If I could (and I would!) I would love to visit this route in every season because of how how it offer various unique sights and activities on different times of the year.

All in all, from its majestic Snow Wall up to the grand Kurobe Dam, venturing out to this mountain scenery is an absolute MUST when you’re in Japan’s Chubu region!

How about you?

  • What do you think of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route?
  • Would you like to visit it? Why or why not?
  • Or have you sailed been here before? How was it?

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29 comments

  1. Is it possible to go to tateyama in mid march?

    Reply
    1. As it is winter, the whole of the Tateyama route is closed off for safety reasons. It opens up after mid April :)

      Reply
  2. Sorry, I haven't read the article yet but I love the pictures! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  3. My oh my. I had no idea that Japan had so much snow. Looks like New Zealand's epic mountain ranges.

    Reply
    1. Haha, I'm glad to have made you realize that Japan can be a snow wonderland ;)

      Reply
  4. Living in Iowa, we're certainly no strangers to snow .. but my goodness! It's hard to believe the photos! What was it like to be surrounded by all of that glowing white? Did you have to wear your best sunglasses? xx

    Reply
    1. It was definitely surreal! I loved it — hope you could experience it too! I did pack sunglasses since the sun was brighter/harsher that high up ;) haha

      Reply
  5. These photos are amazing and giving me major FOMO. Rock climbing and hiking are two of my favorite nature activities but since I live in FL I never get to do them. This looks so intense and the snow wall is so cool. This is definitely an adventure of a life time.

    Reply
    1. And I hope you get to try it, Jenny! You'll love it for sure!

      Reply

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