This post is written by Mr. Jonathan Ayre. He is one of the frequent visitors. He offered me some images, writing articles such as Managing baggage during trip, Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine. I would like to thank you again, Jonathan for sharing your experience.
The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is one of Japan’s famous sightseeing routes. It passes through the Japanese Alps to a height of 2450m above sea level, and often snows well into May and begins to snow in October. The Alpine Route includes famous places such as Kurobe Dam, Japan’s highest dam and Murodo, featuring the famous 20m high snow walls. There are also opportunities to experience natural surrounds, go skiing, and stay at resorts high in the mountains.
The Alpine Route only operates from mid-April to the end of November. Conditions are cold in spring and autumn and cool in summer. The area around Murodo is one of the the snowiest in Japan, and Kurobe Dam is equally spectacular in summer and autumn. As a destination, it is a great place to travel either through from Matsumoto to Toyama, or as a round trip from either city.
Orientation of Alpine Route
View Alpine Route in a larger map
The Alpine Route runs from Toyama Station, in Toyama Prefecture, through to Shinano-Omachi Station in Omachi, Nagano Prefecture, on the JR Oito Line. The route consists of eight individual transport components, and a 15 minute walk. The cost for a full one-way trip is just over 10,500 yen and can take anywhere from 6 to 9 hours, depending on your pace and how busy each transport mode is. You can do the Alpine Route from either direction or even loop from one side to the major points and back to the starting point again.
Unfortunately, the entire route is private and no section is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. The most convenient ticket is a combination ticket that saves a bit, and is valid from Toyama all the way through to Ogizawa (second last station), and gives you your cablecar reservation. If coming from Shinano-Omachi you need to take the bus to Ogizawa, where you can buy your combination ticket to Toyama.
There is a convenient baggage forwarding service if you are travelling in one direction, allowing you to drop your bags at Dentetsu-Toyama Station (the private line station) or select hotels in Toyama City, and pick them up at a kiosk attached to Shinano-Omachi Station at the other end. From Matsumoto, you will have to bring your bags to the same kiosk at Shinano-Omachi Station to get them transported to Toyama. The service is very affordable and the staff are happy to help with your luggage. (link for baggage forwarding)
Toyama Chiho Railway
From Toyama, you start by taking the private Toyama Chiho Tateyama Line (staff are happy to direct you) from Toyama to Tateyama Station (about one hour). The trains are generally local but there is the occasional rapid service. From Tateyama, head upstairs to the gates for the cable car. If you don’t have a combination ticket you will need to purchase a ticket for the cablecar. Tickets are reserved for a time so be sure not to miss it. The cablecar will take you to Bijoudira Station, and takes about 10 minutes.
Tateyama Cablecar and Highland Bus
When you arrive at Bijoudaira, you will have to change to a bus. The buses are relatively frequent, but often busy, and depart when filled. If it is busy, you may have to wait, but it will give you an opportunity to stretch your legs outside, and a good chance to relax if you are taking it slow. The bus from Bijoudaira to Murodo takes just under an hour, and if you’re in the right season, will drive straight through the famous snow walls, and pass through 1500m of elevation and a pleasant forest view along the way. When you arrive at Murodo, you have the chance to walk a small section of the snow walls yourself, and experience being surrounded by up to twenty metres of snow! Murodo is also the highest point of the Alpine Route, at about 2450m.
Tateyama Trolleybus, Tateyama Ropeway and Kurobe Cablecar
From Murodo, you walk into the mountain for the Tateyama Trolleybus, one of only two trolleybuses left in Japan. This electrified bus runs entirely inside Mount Tateyama through to Daikanbo Station, gateway to Kurobe Dam, in only 15 minutes. Exiting the trolleybus, you can change soon after to the Tateyama Ropeway to descend to the dam. Daikanbo Station is only small, and consists of only a waiting room and souvenir shop.
The ropeway is unique in not having a support tower in the middle, making for a panoramic experience as you descend almost 500m to Kurobedaira Station in only 7 minutes. Once you arrive at Kurobedaira Station, you change again to the Kurobe Cablecar, Japan’s only all underground cablecar, for another 400m descent to arrive finally at Kurobe Dam.
Kurobe Dam is another scenic spot on the Alpine Route. Japan’s highest dam at an elevation of 1500m, the damn walk reveals an amazing construction looking down over the river and valley and is famous for its autumn colours. A 15-minute walk across the dam leads to a rest house, access to an observatory, and a lower deck walk on the mountainside near the dam, as well as access to the Kanden Trolleybus for the descent to Ogizawa Station. With less frequent departures of the trolleybus, Kurobe Dam is the perfect place to enjoy a meal and take a walk around this amazing combination of nature and engineering.
Ogizawa to Shinano-Omachi and Matsumoto
After the 15 minute trip to Ogizawa, there is only one more change before arriving at Shinano-Omachi Station on the JR Oito Line. Exiting the trolleybus, simply go downstairs and exit to find the bus platform for the bus to Shinano-Omachi (some buses go to Nagano, too). Here is where the combination ticket ends, so you’ll have to get a new ticket (1,480 yen) from Ogizawa to Shinano-Omachi Station. The final trip takes 40 minutes, and at Shinano-Omachi Station you can get frequent connections to Matsumoto and Tokyo, or less frequent connections to Minami-Otari and Itoigawa.