The Alpine Route is a unique attraction where nature and man’s ingenuity meet. Tateyama, one of Japan’s most sacred mountains, receives some of the highest snowfall in the world, reaching up to 20 metres in a year. Special GPS-powered snow plows carve out the snow compacted by the wet climate, resulting in towering canyons in an area called Murodo.
Aside from the marvel that is the snow wall, another highlight of the Alpine Route is Kurobe Dam, an engineering marvel in its own right. The dam helped Japan recover after World War II by supplying the electricity it needed to power industry. In spring, though the ice on the lake is just starting to melt, the frozen panorama of the surrounding mountains is spectacular.
The Alpine Route opens in mid-April, when the snow walls are at their full height. This is also its busiest time, making it necessary to plan in advance and add an allowance of an extra hour or two for the route. Here are some tips and practical information for a more comfortable visit.
GET AN EARLY START
There are two entry points into the route—Toyama/Tateyama and Ogizawa—and you may start and end your journey either way. However way you do it, it will be a long day—the route takes 6 to 8 hours one-way. Roundtrip may be even longer: the return trip from Ogizawa takes 5 to 7 hours, while the return trip from Tateyama takes 8 to 9 hours. However, Ogizawa is not as not as well-connected transport-wise as the Toyama/Tateyama side, so you have to finish the journey earlier if you need to take the local bus back to a train station. We recommend spending the nights before and after your day at the Alpine Route close to your start and end points so that you won’t be in a rush to get back to the major cities (Osaka, Nagoya or Tokyo). If you have the budget for it, another alternative is to stay over at one of the hotels on the route itself.
MASTER THE ART OF THE QUEUE
Private vehicles are not allowed on the route, so you will need to change transport at least six times from one end of the route to another, taking two cable cars (funiculars), a highland bus, two trolley buses, and a ropeway (aerial tramway). If you’re planning to return to the station you arrived from, it will be more cost-effective to buy return tickets in advance.
BUNDLE UP AND LAYER RIGHT
Check the weather forecast beforehand and be prepared for changes in the weather up in the mountains, which may include some rain, sun and fog in the space of an hour. In spring, the temperature is likely to be in the single digits. Wear warm clothes and non-slip shoes. Bring wool or fleece for your head and neck, and gloves for your hands in case it gets windy. Note that because the altitude goes up to 2450m at Murodo, you may experience mild altitude sickness in the form of a headache or dizzy spell. Keep breathing shallow, avoid overexertion and stay hydrated.
KEEP IT LIGHT
Only bring what you need for the day (or overnight, if you are staying at the mountain hotels). Food is available along the route. If you are not retracing your route and need to move luggage, a baggage forwarding service can deliver your luggage to a pick-up point or your hotel after you traverse the Alpine Route, for a fee.
CONSIDER VISITING DURING ANOTHER SEASON
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is not only a springtime destination. Summer and autumn are beautiful, too. Shomyo Falls and Kurobe Dam are flowing then, while the landscapes at Mikurigaike pond, Bijodaira cedar and beech forest, and Midagahara wetlands are vibrant with alpine greenery in summer and colourful foliage in autumn.
LOOK OUT FOR DEALS
Depending on your trip itinerary and the city you’re staying at before and after, it may be worth availing of rail passes and combo tickets.
The official Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route website includes timetables and suggested sightseeing courses. Make sure to study it carefully if you are planning to visit it independently. Numerous tour operators offer the Alpine Route as a group tour.
DID YOU KNOW? Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is home to six Japanese Number Ones: the only trolley bus, the highest train station (Murodo Station, 2450m), the longest unsupported ropeway, the highest waterfall (Shomyo Falls, 350m), tallest dam (Kurobe Dam, 186m), and highest hot spring (Mikuriga-ike Onsen, 2410m).
GETTING THERE Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (Toyama station) is connected by JR train to Osaka (3.5hrs) and shinkansen to Tokyo (2hrs). AirAsia X flies to Osaka-Kansai and Tokyo from Kuala Lumpur. For flight schedules and fare info, visit airasia.com.