The Roof of Japan: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route & Snow Wall (Travel Guide)

by Japan, Natural Sights36 comments

If you’re up for incredible and unique nature activities in Japan, it’s a MUST to visit the stunning mountain sightseeing route called 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 through Tateyama 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:
Japan Itinerary
Chubu Itinerary

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Want to join a guided tour to Tateyama?

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

Snow Corridor
Snow Wall (Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route)
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 attractions that it has would be the Snow Wall or Yuki-no-Otani which opens from mid-April to mid-June after months of heavy snowfall. (Doesn’t it remind you of ‘The Wall’ from Game of Thrones…?)

TRIVIA: Tateyama experiences one of the heaviest snowfalls worldwide! On average, there are 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 on 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 crater 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.
  • DIRECTIONS: From 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 at the latter part of this article).

– – –

» Tateyama Ropeway

Tateyama Ropeway
Tateyama 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 at the latter part of this article).

– – –

» 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.st 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 (for a 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 at the latter part of this article).

– – –

» 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 around Mikurigaike pond).

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.

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.)

Winter Schedule

.
“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 (December to Mid-April)

The whole of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is closed during wintertime.
To know more info about the whole alpine route, go to https://www.alpen-route.com/en/

– – –

» Side Trips & 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 villages: protected historic villages that are famous for their gassho-zukuri style farmhouses.
  • Takayama City: lauded as the ‘Little Kyoto of Hida’, this charming old town will delight you at every turn.
  • Matsumoto City: the 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!

• • •

Tateyama 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. You’ll get to ride this train for FREE if you have a JR pass.

Personally, 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).

If you need further help, just use the directions feature in Google Maps — I find this as a very helpful tool if I want to reach a certain place from a particular location. However, Google Maps doesn’t work offline if you want routes or transportation schedules, so I recommend that you get a pocket WiFi or a SIM Card to stay connected online.

– – –

» Where to Stay (Toyama Accommodations)

BudgetToyoko Inn Toyama Ekimae / Mid-RangeToyama Excel Hotel Tokyu / LuxuryRiver Retreat Garaku

To search for other hotel accommodation options at the best prices, I suggest cross-checking hotel prices between Agoda and Booking.com. But if you’re rather interested in renting comfortable houses or apartments, you should search through AirBnB.

– – –

» Safety in Japan

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world with very low crime rates. I have been traveling solo to this country many times now and I have never felt unsafe even in the late hours of the night — however, this is NO excuse to get too complacent. ‘Little crime’ does not mean ‘no crime’, so stay vigilant and be “street smart” by using your common sense at all times.

Nevertheless, the Japanese people are one of the kindest and most respectful people I have ever met, so solo travelers don’t have much to worry in this amazing country.

– – –

» Visa for 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.)

  • Check full visa requirements here as per your nationality.

– – –

» Helpful Japanese Phrases

Japan may be one of the most developed countries in the world, but a lot of the locals don’t speak English. However, this should not discourage you from traveling to this country because apart from the fact that there are a lot of translation apps that will help you understand and speak Japanese, a lot of the locals are also making the effort to learn and use the English language.

Anyhow, below are some helpful Japanese phrases that will help you along the way! And even if you do encounter a Japanese who can speak English, it doesn’t hurt to say a word or two in their language.

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)

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!)

• • •

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Overall

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! I would love to visit this route every season because of how it offers various unique sights and activities at 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!

• • •

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36 Comments

  1. Gece Hayatı

    Vav.. Very great view. İ wonder Japan. Maybe one day, I can go this country. Thanks a lot.

    Reply
    • Aileen

      I bet you will and Japan will welcome you for sure! ;)

      Reply
  2. Vidyut Rautela

    Wow! A winter wonderland in Japan, never knew it. Seems perfect for a skiing vacay!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      For sure! There are tons to do here :D Hope you could come visit!

      Reply
  3. Tami

    I really hadn’t considered Japan as a travel destination. Yet, when I look at the stunning mountain sightseeing route, I can’t help but add it to the top of my list. I just hope hubby is on board.

    Reply
    • Aileen

      I’m glad you changed your mind and that you guys get to go finally :D

      Reply
  4. Censie Sawyer

    The snow is incredible in these pictures. We have a road in Colorado called Trail Ridge Road and once it opens for the summer it looks liek this as well! So beautiful. I would love to visit this route as well.

    Reply
    • Aileen

      Oh! I’ve heard of that, but the height of the Snow Wall in this alpine route is higher I believe :D Come visit for sure!

      Reply
  5. Melanie

    Wow, this is a lot of information! I am going to have to bookmark the page so that I can reference it. This would be a dream trip for our family. Maybe one day we will get there!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      I hope you do!

      Reply

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