Mountainous Nagano Prefecture is known as the “Roof of Japan”. If that roof had a peak, it could very well be considered to be the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. A variety of transport methods take you from Omachi (elevation 700 m) over the engineering wonder of the massive Kurobe Dam to Murodo (elevation 2450 m) which is famous for its access corridor having walls of snow up to 20 meters tall! The Alpine Route is also popular in the fall for the spectacular high-alpine autumn foliage
Multitude of Transport Modes
Part of the excitement of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is the wide variety of transport modes, including tunnel trolley busses, a cable car and a ropeway. From Shinano Omachi Station on the JR Oito Line, visitors go by bus to Ogizawa (1433 m), the Nagano-side entrance to the Alpine Route. (Private cars can go as far as Ogizawa, too.) From Ogizawa, a trolley bus crawls through the 6.1 km long Kanden Tunnel to Kurobe Dam (1470 m). Walk across the dam to take the underground cable car that lumbers up to Kurobedaira (1828 m) for an overhead view of Lake Kurobe. Next a ropeway whisks people up to a lookout out at Daikanbo (2316 m), featuring a panoramic view of the Japanese Alps and the lake behind the dam. From there, another trolley bus cuts through Mt. Tateyama to Murodo (2450 m) and its famous snow corridor. The intrepid and duly prepared can also use Murodo as a starting point to climb Mt. Tateyama (3015 m), considered to be one of Japan’s most sacred mountains.
From Murodo the route continues on to Toyama Station, the center of Nagano Prefecture’s neighbor, Toyama Prefecture and a Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train stop. The entire route from Shinshu Omachi Station to Toyama Station takes a minimum of 6 hrs and costs 10,850 yen. Round trip from Ogizawa to Murodo and back is 5-7 hrs and 9,050 yen. The route is normally open from mid-April through late November and is closed in the winter due to the heavy snow. For 2016, the scheduled dates are April 16 through November 30.
Massive Kurobe Dam
Kurobe Dam is massive engineering achievement. Its sheer scale (at 186 meters in height, it is Japan’s tallest dam) imparts a feeling of insignificance to onlookers. That man can build such a behemoth is awe-inspiring, a poignant point considering the 171 people that lost their lives during the 7-year construction. Finished in 1963, it helped power Japan’s post-WWII growth. It is 492 m long and contains over 1.5 million cubic meters of concrete. Each second, 10 cubic meters of water pass through the 4 generators, creating one billion kWh of electricity per year. Between late June and mid-October, water is released from the spillway creating a gigantic rainbow for visitors to see.
The lake behind the dam can be toured via the Cruise Ship “Garube” (30 min. tours offered early June through mid-November). And the Dam Rest House serves the area’s iconic dish, Kurobe Dam Curry featuring a lake of delicious curry behind a dam of rice.
Towering Snow / Autumn Colors
It’s hard to fathom a wall of snow 20-meters tall. When the bus corridor to Murodo is first carved out in the spring, its walls can reach that high. The snow at the top of the Kurobe-Tateyama Alpine Route is so deep that it usually doesn’t melt away until the end of summer. Imagine a snowball fight in late August!
Autumn starts early at this high altitude – leaves start turning color in late September at Murodo – and continues for 6 weeks with fall colors in Ogizawa and central Omachi through early November. Kurobe Lake looks especially resplendent when the surrounding Alps are in their spectacular autumn colors.
Travelling the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route can be an exhausting affair. What better to better way to rejuvenate than soak in an onsen? In between Ogizawa and central Omachi City is the Omachi Hot Springs Area. The Yakushi-no-yu bath house has a lovely outdoor bath in a woodland setting. Attached to the bath house is the Alps Onsen Museum for those curious about how onsens are created.
By Public Transportation
From Matsumoto (transit hub for express trains from Nagoya and Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station), take the JR Oito Line to Shinano-Omachi (55 min. by local, 36min. by express). From Nagano (Hokuriku Shinkansen stop), take Alpico’s express bus to Ogizawa (1 hr 45 min.).
From Azumino IC on the Nagano Expressway, take Route 306 and Route 45 to Ogizawa (41km, approx. 50 min.)
Detailed information available at the Ogizawa terminal.
A variety of onsen inns are located at the Omachi Hot Springs Area. An even wider variety of accommodation available in nearby Hakuba Village.