Experience One of Japan’s Most Dramatic Landscapes
At its heart, Japan is a country of mountains. Over 70% of the country is considered mountainous, which to this day, remain largely undeveloped. Considered domains of gods and spirits, mountains have long been revered and even feared in Japanese culture – otherworldly places from where human souls flow down the rivers to the villages below.
Traversing Japan’s highest mountain range – the Hida Mountains or Kita/North Japan Alps – the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route employs a series of mountain transports to reach Murodo Station. At 2450 meters, Murodo is the highest station in Japan and sits below the summit of Mount Tate – also known as ‘Tateyama’ – at just over 3000 metres.
Located at the midpoint of the vast Chubu Sangaku National Park, the Alpine Route is a popular for day-trippers who head to Murodo to enjoy the spectacular alpine scenery before returning to the plaina below. Open from mid-April until mid-November, traversing the route is popular at all times but no more so than from mid-April until mid-June, when the iconic ‘Snow Walls of Tateyama-Kurobe’ are at their most grand.
Carved afresh through the snow and ice each spring, the walls tower to 20 meters in height in early spring before they gradually melt away.
By July, most snow has disappeared opening-up some of Japan’s best hiking trails and mountaineering. Trails are suitable for all levels of fitness and expertise, spanning from leisurely walks of less than an hour to multi-day trekking deep into the Chubu Sangaku National Park.
Most visitors stay within an hours walk of Murodo Station, enjoying the spectacular views and convenience of restaurants, hot springs and accommodation including Hotel Tateyama. Staying overnight allows visitors to enjoy the spectacular star-scape followed by the stunning sunrise and regular blanket or ‘Sea of Clouds’ which often sits below the mountain peaks.
Autumn is another spectacular time to visit as the alpine landscape turns deep shades of amber, brown, yellow and red – a truly stunning sight and one of the best times to experience the Alpine Route before it closes again in mid-November.
Always popular, avoid weekends and public holidays including Golden Week and school holidays in August when transports are at their busiest.
Want to visit the Alpine Route on our group tour or a private tour or charter? Contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!
Highlights of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route
Starting from the Nagano-side of the route – from Ogizawa Station – the following highlights await as you ascend toward Murodo and then back down to Tateyama Station:
From Ogizawa Station, the first transport of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route carries passengers to Kurobe Dam. Standing 186 metres tall and around 1450 metres above sea level, Kurobe is the tallest and highest dam in Japan.
Constructed between 1956 and 1963, the dam is said to have involved the combined labour of 10 million people, and sadly, cost the lives of 171. The scale and vision of such an engineering feat is a source of national pride, and in many ways, embodies the emergence of Japan as an industrial and economic power in the second-half of the 20th century.
From the dam, visitors have fantastic views back toward Mount Akazawadake (2678m) while the summit of Mount Tate remains hidden above.
Kurobe Ropeway & Daikanbo Station
From the Kurobe Dam, visitors ride a short cable car from Kurobeko Station to Kurobedaira, and from there, take the Tateyama Ropeway onto Daikanbo Station.
Covering 1.7km while rising 488 metres in 7-minutes, the ropeway provides outstanding views of the surrounding landscape if you are lucky enough to stand near the windows.
If that’s not possible, don’t worry! Upon arrival at Daikanbo Station an observation deck provides a panoramic view of the dam below and mountains rising behind.
Murodo Station & Mount Tate
The final transport to Murodo Station is another trolley bus. Upon arrival at Murodo, visitors can walk to the legendary Snow Walls – at their best from mid-April until June – and the surrounding plateau.
First covered in the deep snow, walking around the plateau is limited for the safety of visitors however as the weather warms and the snow retreats through May and June, visitors can access Mikurigaike (pond) and hiking trails.
From mid-June onward, hiking trails should be mostly free of snow allowing acces to Mikurigaike Hot Spring, the observation deck for Emmadai – a field of sulfuric and noxious volcanic vents – and Chinoike, a pond with iron-rich red water.
Leisurely trails – ranging from 30 minutes to around 2.5 hours – span-out across the plateau before ascending to the summit of Tateyama.
Visitors wanting to hike to the top of the mountain should ensure they are wearing suitable clothing and footwear, noting that Tateyama reaches just over 3000 metres. Altitude sickness can affect some people.
Tengudaira & Midagahara
From Murodo Station, large buses transport visitors down the last mountain station of Bijodaira. Before reaching the station, the bus will bus both Tengudaira and Midagahara, open alpine plains with wooden walkways.
Visitors who want to enjoy either or both areas, have the option of walking between bus stops or all the way from Murodo down to Bijodaira. Walking from Murodo to Tengudaira affords great views of Mount Tsurugidake and meadows of alpine flowers, with walkways heading down the mountain or in a loop back to where you began.
To walk from Murodo to the Tengudaira bus stop takes between 30 to 45 minutes.
From Tengudaira, visitors can continue onto Midagahara, another beautiful alpine area with abundant flowers and panoramic views. Raised boardwalks preserve the sensitive ecosystem including wetlands and ponds. Located at 1900 metres above sea level, this is the largest alpine wetlands in Japan.
To walk from Tengudaira to the Midogahara bus stop takes between 1 to 1.5 hours.
Between Midogahara and Bijodaira, visitors will have a view of Shomyo Falls – Japan’s highest waterfall – on clear days. Standing 350 metres tall, the falls are an impressive sight, particularly beautiful in autumn. Visitors wanting to reach the falls can do so via Tateyama Station – see below for details.
To walk from Migogahara to Bijodaira Station is a much longer and more intensive walk. It takes around 6 hours and should only be undertaken for visitors with adequate time and fitness, along with suitable alpine clothing, boots and supplies for an extended walk. Given the time take to traverse the Alpine Route, this walk is not suitable for most visitors and is best-suited to those staying overnight.
Whether you take the bus or walk, the final station you will arrive at before descending to the Toyama-side of the Alpine Route is Bijodaira. From there, a cable car descends to Tateyama Station – the end (or starting point for those coming from Toyama) of the route.
Before boarding the cable car, visitors can explore Bijodaira on-foot. This beautiful area is known for its immense virgin forest, blessed by the presence of large beech and cedar trees.
Some cedars stand between 20 to 30 metres in height and are estimated to be more than 1000 years old. Around 60 species of bird can be found in the forest, a real haven for nature-lovers! Trails through the area range from around 1 hour to 2.5 hours.
The base station on the Toyama-side of the Alpine Route, Tateyama is your last stop and finishing point. From here, visitors can head onto Toyama City, Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station (a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line), or onto any other destination.
A local bus also runs from the station to Shomyo Falls. Please refer to our ‘Tateyama Station’ page for details.
For further information about the journey up and down the route, please see our ‘Transports of the Alpine Route’ page.