Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route 2020: Japan’s Snow Corridor

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SNOW CORRIDOR!! Of all mind-blowing things that Japan has to offer, did you ever imagine that there is something called a Snow Corridor in Japan?? In fact, let’s start this with an honest confession – I never had any item in my bucket list which says ‘walk through a snow corridor’. Actually, like most of you, I never knew that there is something called a Snow-Corridor! But Japan never fails to surprise you. And hiking through the picturesque Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route was no different. It was here that I got a chance to walk between 40 feet of Snow Walls – Japan’s Snow Corridor!

Between the mind-blowing Snow Walls! [1]

During the 4 years that I stayed in the beautiful country of Japan, I did innumerable exciting trips. I used to frequently roam across Japan with my travel-buddies – Mayank, Juhi, and Saswata. And most of these were not the ‘touristy’ ones. For instance – hiking 10 hours along an abandoned rail-track near Osaka, Sand-boarding through Japan’s only sand dunes in Tottori, walking between 40 feet tall snow-walls, and many more. Oh, I forgot, trekking up the iconic Mt. FUJI !! (yes.. you read it correct.. we did trek up a volcano).

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Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route 2020 – the Roof of Japan!

A quick introduction to the Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps (中部山岳国立公園), or the “Chuubu Sangaku National Park”, is a series of mountain ranges in Japan which bisect the main island of Honshu. The Alps encompasses 4 prefectures – Niigata, Toyama, Nagano, and Gifu. Nestled at the bases of the majestic peaks of the Japanese Alps are seven fascinating cities, such as Nagano (which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998) and Toyama. Each city is blessed with its own top-class sightseeing spots, making for a truly memorable vacation in the magnificent natural surroundings of Central Japan. It surely is a hiker’s delight!

japanese alps
Mt. Tsurugi (2,998 m) in the Northern Japanese Alps

The Alpine Route

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート) is a unique and spectacular route through the Northern Japanese Alps. This route is traversed by various means of transportation including cable-cars, trolley-buses, and a ropeway. Completed in 1971, the route connects Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture with Omachi Town in Nagano Prefecture. It is completely inaccessible from December to mid-April.

In 2015 (that’s the year in which we went), the entire route was open from April 15 to November 30.

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Main Attractions

The main attractions of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route are:

  1. The scenically spectacular Kurobe dam
  2. The unique snow corridor (whose snow walls reach up to 20 m high)

How to reach

Now that is one of the most easy-to-understand and self-explanatory illustrations you will ever see. I found this in the pamphlet we took from the tourist information center.

So, to start exploring the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, you need to reach either Tateyama Station or Shinano Omachi station. Both of these are very easily accessible from Osaka and the details can be found here.

There are two ways of traveling along the route: (1) Tateyama to Ogisawa; and (2) Ogisawa to Tateyama. We took the latter, majorly due to the following reasons:

  1. There are more “attractions” in this direction (from Ogisawa to Mt. Tateyama) which we wanted to enjoy while being fresh and energetic,
  2. Toyama city (endpoint of the route) has more hotel options, and hence we had booked our stay there.

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Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route 2020 – Let the Hike Begin!

So, here is how we went through the hike – step by step.

PRO TIP: Please keep in mind that weather is unpredictable, and hence I would suggest you to keep checking the LIVE route status on the official website (especially for timings)

1st Step: Ogizawa

We had reached Shinano Omachi station from Osaka and then had taken a bus to Ogizawa. The bus leaves from right outside the station and the ride from Shinano-Omachi to Ogizawa takes 40–45 minutes. At the Ogizawa station, we headed over to the ticket office and bought the Alpine Route tickets, which was 9490 JPY (per person). It’s from here the Alpine route begins with a cute trolley-bus ride!! The trolley-bus ride was pretty cool and took us through a 6 km tunnel up to the giant Kurobe-dam in roughly 15 minutes.

trolley bus tateyama

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2nd Step: the majestic Kurobe dam

The Kurobe Dam is Japan’s tallest (186 m) as well as the highest dam, and a pretty impressive sight. Trust me, ‘huge’ is an understatement…!

From the trolley-bus station, we climbed the 220 steps up to the Observation Deck. Once on top, we were rewarded with some absolutely spectacular views over the dam and its surroundings. All the steps were totally worth it! But, we weren’t able to see the water discharge. As ‘legends say’, it is possible to see a large rainbow on clear days when the plumes of mist created by a powerful discharge of 10 tons of water per second, making it one of the dam’s principal attractions.

EPIC view of Kurobe dam and the surrounding mountains from the observation deck.

After having spent a good time there (taking 100s of photos), we slowly walked across the dam, while enjoying the view. On the other end of the dam was Kurobeko. From here we took another mode of transport – ‘underground cable car’.

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3rd Step: Kurobe-daira and Daikanbo

Stepping out of the cable car, we were hit by the cool, fresh and snowy mountain air. It was extremely refreshing to breathe in the air while enjoying the breathtaking mountain scenery all around us. From there we took a rope-way ride (Tateyama Ropeway), which took us 1500 feet further up, to the Daikanbo. (“daikanbo” in Japanese means the peak from where you have the best view). The rope-way took 7 minutes, and the view was stunning!

After a short break at the Daikanbo observation deck, mainly for posing & photos 😉 , we headed to the next ride. It was time for another trolley bus which took us tunneling through Mt. Tateyama for 4 km till Murodo.

tateyama ropeway
I took this one while going to the rope-way… isn’t the view spectacular?

4th Step: Murodo

I would say that Murodo is the main highlight of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Majority of the unique experiences of the entire route you will find here.

Murodo is the highest point on the Alpine Route unless you are climbing Mt. Tateyama by foot. Standing at 2450 meters above sea level, Murodo is completely inaccessible in winter due to the heavy snowfall.

There are many places that you can take a walk to, such as Mikurigaike pond. You can try to spot a “Raicho” (kind of ptarmigan – snowbird), drink delicious spring water or can even take a bath in a hot spring. Around Mikurigaike pond is a stunning hiking route – Mikurigaike pond course.

Although the pond was in a frozen condition when we had gone, it had slowly started to melt, in pockets. Apparently, in autumn, the reflection of Mt. Tateyama on the pond looks stunning. I believe, a frozen lake is no less stunning a view either ? !!

Murodo Lake

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Snow Corridor – walking between 40 feet tall snow walls

We completed the full hiking route and at the end was – the SNOW CORRIDOR. We had been waiting for the entire day to be here and it was AWESOME !!

TRIVIA: Tateyama has some of the heaviest snowfalls in the world. An average of 7 m accumulates every year. In heavy years up to 20 m can accumulate! This snow is cleared out along the roads – forming the Snow Walls!!

But we had made a small goof up about the timings. A section of the snow-corridor or “Yuki-no-Otani” is open to pedestrians, but only between 10 am and 3 pm. And by the time we had reached it was almost 3 pm. We requested the security officer to give us a few more minutes and they obliged. (We Indians are always good with negotiations – everywhere!) 😉

THE SNOW CORRIDOR!

Initially, although we were a little sad because we got only 20–30 mins to enjoy this majestic thing, but then one of the security personnel informed that there is another snow wall: “the mini snow corridor” where we can go and “play” without any time limitations!! YAY!

Last Step: Toyama

After having enjoyed in the snow to our heart’s content, we headed to do the last lap. We took a bus down to Bijodaira. The bus ride took about 50 minutes, through green and lush forest with huge cedar trees. The last stage of the Alpine Route is with the cable car down from Bijodaira to Tateyama, which takes 7 minutes. We didn’t spend any time in Tateyama, only waited for the train to Toyama city. You can choose to end your Alpine Route journey here and sleep in Tateyama (but there are not many options here). From Tateyama we took the train to Toyama (1 hour) and reach the city around 8 p.m.

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In the end…

Traveling to this part of the Japanese Alps, made me appreciate Japan’s ability to make everything so organized, once again. You will easily able to notice that there has been plenty of meticulous thought put into creating this route, especially the Snow Corridor. In the efforts to preserve the species of flora and fauna found in this area, no outside cars allowed there except for those operated directly by the company maintaining Kurobe Dam. In addition, the coordination between the various modes of transportation in this route is just awesome. Hats off to the Japanese discipline!

If this article was able to excite you to visit Japan overall, and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route 2020 in particular, then please share it with your friends & family and inspire them too.

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42 thoughts on “Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route 2020: Japan’s Snow Corridor”

  1. Pingback: 35+ Japan Bucket List Experiences – Travelgal Nicole Travel Blog

  2. Japan is a fantastic destination! We’ve done a couple of mountain excursions. I’m sure the norm with tourists to Mt Fuji, etc. These you have listed we have not been to. I am going to bookmark this so I remember on our next visit. Thank you for posting this.

    1. Yes, as you correctly pointed out – Fuji gets a lot of visitors and so does places to visit around Fuji. This is a rather off-beat location!
      I am so glad you liked it and added to your bucket-list. Thank you! 🙂

  3. I have always wanted to visit this place sadly it was closed when we visited last time so we just pushed for Kamikochi instead.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hello there, You have done an incredible job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am sure they’ll be benefited from this website.

  5. Woaah! I never knew something like this even existed. I have planned to visit Japan next year and will try our best to visit this place.

  6. This is so exciting. Never knew a place like this exists!!!
    I have to be there!!!
    Just cant stop going through the pics.

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