After some days in the big a hustling city and capital of Japan, Tokyo, we were ready to dig deeper into the country and discover it`s wild side. So, as a Swedish couple we met on the train in Kyoto said: “What do Norwegians do when they get to a country with mountains?!” Yep, you guessed it, since we love mountains we headed inland to the Japan Alps. 🙂
The Japan Alps is a fairly big area inland of mid-Japan, with a few big cities such as Nagano (which by the way had the Winter Olympics in 1998) and Toyama. This area is packed with high mountain and awesome peaks and wilderness. It surely is a hiker`s delight!
We decided to travel/ hike along the spectacular Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route. This is a popular 90 km route, which is open from April to November and connects Shinano-Omachi with Tateyama. It is an incredible journey through sacred mountains, wilderness, forests, impressive tunnels, high peaks, hot springs and Japan`s highest dam. Plus a ton of fresh mountain air! Ah, it was so refreshing after weeks in big cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo!
From Tokyo, we took the train to Matsumoto (a 4 hour train trip), a relatively small valley city in Japan standard (243 000 inhabitants) embraced by seven tall peaks all above 3000 m as well as three smaller ones. The valley where the city is situated is no more than 20 km across at its widest. We only stayed here one night, on our way to our Alpine Route adventure.
We stayed at Richmond Hotel, nice and central location within walking distance from Matsumoto train station. The rooms are not the biggest, but most hotels in Japan have small rooms.
Click here for the latest prices on Richmond Hotel, Matsumoto
We woke up at the crack of dawn at Richmond Hotel in Matsumoto, checked out of the hotel, and took the 8 a.m. train to Shinano-Omachi station (1 hour), where the Alpine Route starts. The whole route is divided into nine sections, each with different transport modes and walking distances.
1. Shinano-Omachi – 712 m
When we arrived at the Shinano-Omachi Station, we went over to the “Baggage Delivery Service” office to drop off our backpacks. It`s on your right when you get out of the train station. We paid 1540 JPY (15 us$) for one bag to get it delivered directly to the Toyama train station (where the Alpine Route ends). It might be a little expensive, but it is really a must-do, as travelling with big backpacks on the Alpine Route would be really uncomfortable. The Alpine Route Baggage Office has open 8:00 a.m. to 11:10 a.m for drop-off.
After we got rid of our bags, we bought bus ticket to Ogizawa (just in front of the train station), and jumped on the bus.
2. Ogizawa – 1433 m
The bus ride from Shinano-Omachi to Ogizawa took 40 minutes, and during that time the weather unfortunately turned really bad! It was raining cats and dogs! 🙁 Ah, how unlucky! Our mood sank and we started to think that we had not picked the right day for our Alpine Route adventure, and regretted the whole thing. We actually even though about skipping it, but we had already handed in our luggage and paid for the bus ride, so there was really no turning back at this point.
We headed over to the ticket office and bought the Alpine Route tickets, which was 9490 JPY (91 us$) per person to Toyama train station.
We made the 10:00 trolley-bus departure. The trolley-bus ride was pretty cool, and took us through a 5,8 km tunnel up to the giant Kurobe-dam. The trolley-bus ride took 16 minutes.
3. Kurobe Dam – 1470 m
When we got out of the trolley-bus and the tunnel, the weather had improved and it had stopped raining! Yay! 🙂
The Kurobe Dam is Japan`s highest dam (186 m) and a pretty impressive sight!
From the trolley-bus station, we climbed the 220 steps up to the Observation Desk.
Once on top, we were rewarded with amazing views over the dam and it`s surroundings! All the steps were totally worth it! 🙂
Incredibly 10 tons of water shoot out of the dam every second! EVERY SECOND! Oh my god, that is a LOT of water! 🙂
After World War II, Japan had a sudden economic boom and faced a severe energy shortage. To generate additional electricity the government invested in hydroelectric power, and decided to build the Kurobe Dam.
Unbelievably 10 million people worked on the dam during it’s construction! The hardest part was apparently digging the tunnel that the Kanden Tunnel Trolley bus now runs through.
After the construction of the dam, a movie entitled “Sun over Kurobe” was released starring famous Japanese actors. This film gave the Kurobe Dam a legendary status similar to the Hoover Dam in the USA.
Inside the mountain there is also a museum, where you can read and see a movie from when the dam was built. Unfortunately not much of it is in English. Here is also a monument over the 171 workers who sadly lost their lives during the construction of the dam.
After we had admired the view from the Observation Deck and been to the museum, we walked on the pathway across the dam (took about 15 minutes) to the Kurobeko cable car station on the other side of the dam.
Here we jumped on the underground cable car, which took us to Kurobedaira (5 minutes).
4. Kurobedaira – 1828 m
When we stepped out of the cable car, we were hit by the cool, fresh and clear mountain air. It was so refreshing to breath in the air and take in the breathtaking mountain scenery all around us.
By this time the sun had decided to peak out from the clouds and say hi to us. Very nice! 🙂
After taking in the mountain view, we took the Tateyama Ropeway, which brought us 488 m further up to Daikanbo. The Ropeway took 7 minutes, and the views were spectacular!
5. Daikanbo – 2316 m
From Daikanbo the views were even better than at Kurobe dam. The view over the valley below with it`s small greenish lake was absolutely stunning!
After a short break and a sit-down at the Daikanbo observation deck, taking in the sun and the views, we boarded another trolley bus. This time it was a tunneling one through Mt Tateyama for 3,7 km to Murodo. This trolley bus took 10 minutes.
6. Murodo – 2450 m
And “wosh“, after 10 minutes on the trolley bus we were all of a sudden on the other side of the 3015 m high mountain Tateyama.
Murodo is the highest point on the Alpine Route, unless you want to climb the Mt Tateyama by foot. In the 17th-19th centuries, Mt Tateyama became one of Japan’s three holy mountains along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Hakusan, and became very popular among pilgrims. Mt. Tateyama overlooking the valley of hell came to represent heaven. People were climbing Mt. Tateyama hoping that their souls would go to heaven after their death. Unfortunately, due to the fog and cloudy weather, we did not even see Mt Tateyama.
From Murodo you can take several short and long hikes to the neighboring mountains and mountain huts, cafes and onsens (hot springs).
Here you really feel that you are in the nature and in the mountains. We decided to do a short hike to Mikurigaike Pond.
Even at 2450 m we found some beautiful mountain flowers. In comparison, the highest mountain back home in Norway, actually the highest mountain in Scandinavia, is Galdhøpiggen at 2469 m. We have climbed it, and it is only rocks and snow and no grass, flowers or anything. So it is a bit strange but very nice to be at this latitude with so much vegetation around.
Finally we reached the Mikurigaike Pound.
At Mukurigaike Inn there is a restaurant/ cafe, and even Japans highest onsen (hot spring)!
From Mikurigaike Inn there are several hiking options, like the Jigokudani Onsen (Hell Valley Hot Springs) which is about 20 minutes hike. But this is not a bathing onsen, as the water is boiling hot!
You can also hike to the east, for about two hours, to the peak Oyama (3003 m), which apparently has a very steep final section. It is also possible to hike for several days/ a week further south to Kamikochi. This area is packed with inns and mountain huts where it is possible to spend the night and have something to eat.
7. The way down – Bijodaira 927 m and Tateyama 475 m
After our hike to Mikurigaike Pond, we continued the trek down with a bus to Bijodaira. The bus ride took about 50 minutes, through green and lush forest with huge cedar trees.
It is possible to break the trip from Murodo to Bijodaira, and stop for walks along the way, but we did unfortunately not have the time.
The last stage of the Alpine Route is with the cable car down from Bijodaira to Tateyama, which takes 7 minutes.
8. The End – Tateyama and Toyama
From Tateyama we took the train to Toyama (1 hour). At Toyama train station we picked up our backpacks. It was however a bit tricky to find the office where the Baggage Delivery Center is! It turned out there is no real office, you just have to talk to the ticket officer at the train platform, and he will give you your luggage. 🙂
We reached Toyama at approximately 5 p.m. We started out in Matsumoto at around 8 a.m, so all together the whole Alpine Route took us nine hours (from Matsumoto to Toyama). When we handed in our luggage at Shinano-Omachi train station, they told us we had to pick up our bags by 6 p.m., so be aware of that if you want to do this trip.
From Toyama, we took the train to Kanazawa (35 min) where we had booked a room at Hotel Trusty. The hotel was fantastic! Very good location in the middle of everything, and brand new. Will highly recommend it! It was the nicest hotel we stayed at in Japan.
Click here for the latest prices on Hotel Trusty, Kanazawa
The Alpine Route Japan was a very nice trip! We really enjoyed it, and were pleased that the weather turned out OK in the end. It was lovely to breathe in some fresh mountain air again and get to see some breathtaking mountain scenery.
Summary Prices & Schedule
Altogether we spent approximately this amount of time on the transport and walking around at each place of the route:
1. Train from Matsumoto (where we slept) to Shinano-Omachi – 1 hour
This train is NOT included in the Alpine Route ticket, so you have to buy this train ticket in addition.
I recommend that you buy a Japan Rail Pass. This pass is only for tourists however, and you have to buy this outside of Japan before you go there. We bought the 14 days pass (441 us$) and saved a lot of money compared to buying single tickets on the train. You can order a JR Pass online from official JR Pass agents such as JRailPass.com.
Click here for prices & information on how to order the JR Pass online.
Shinano-Omachi Train Station is where the baggage delivery service is, so you hand in your luggage here. 1540 JPY = 15 us$ per bag to get it delivered to Toyama Train Station.
2. Bus from Shinano-Omachi to Ogizawa – 40 min
This is NOT included in the Alpine Route ticket. This bus ticket cost 1360 JPY = 13 us$ per person.
3. Trolley bus from Ogizawa to Kurobe Dam – 16 min
At Kurobe Dam we spent some time, maybe about 1,5 hour. We walked around, took pictures, looked at the small museum and so on. Can probably spend less time there, or more time. There is also a small ferry cruise on the dam (takes 2,5 hours), but we did not take this. Don`t know how much that cost.
4. Cable car from Kurobe Dam to Kurobedaira – 5 min
Did not spend much time at Kurobedaira, but had lunch at a cafe there (maybe 30 min).
5. Ropeway from Kurobedaira to Daikanbo – 7 min
Did not spend much time at Daikanbo. It is not a big area to walk on there, just a platform/viewpoint.
6. Trolley bus from Daikanbo to Murodo – 10 min
This is the highest point of the route. Now you are really in the mountains and can go for long or short walks. We spent maybe 1,5 hours here altogether. We hiked the Mukurigaike Pond Loop (1 hour). But we did not take bath in the Onsen at Mukurigaike Inn.
From Murodo you can also climb Mt. Tateyama (takes about 4 hours).
7. Bus from Murodo to Bijodaira – 50 min
Spent no time in Bijodaira, only waited for the cable car. But you can do walks from Bijodaira too, or jump off the bus on its way from Murodo to Bijodaira to do walks along the way. We did not do this.
8. Cable car from Bijodaira to Tateyama – 7 min
Spent no time in Tateyama, only waited for the train. You can choose to end your Alpine Route journey here, if you want to sleep in Tateyama. But there is not much to see in Tateyama.
9. Train from Tateyama to Toyama – 1 hour
Toyama is the end of the Alpine Route, and the end of the Alpine Route ticket. Here we picked up our bags.
10. Train from Toyama to Kanazawa – 35 min
We chose to go to Kanazawa straight away, and not sleep in Toyama as we had heard that Kanazawa is a nicer city with much more to see. But you can of course sleep in Toyama. It is a quite big city. We reached Kanazawa around 6 pm.
Total time spent:
- Transport: 4,5 hours from Matsumoto to Toyama. 35 min more to Kanazawa.
- Walking/ waiting for transport: 4,5 hours (but can be done shorter, or longer)
- Conclusion: We spent the exact same amount of time on the transport and on walking/ waiting for transport.
- Total: 9 hours
Money spent on transport:
- Local train from Matsumoto to Shinano-Omachi – 650 JPY = 7 us$ per person
(unless you have the Japan Rail Pass which we did. We paid 46 390 JPY = 441 us$ for a 14 days ordinary pass)
- Bus from Shinano-Omachi to Ogizawa – 1360 JPY = 13 us$ per person
- Japan Alpine Route ticket from Ogizawa to Toyama – 9490 JPY = 91 us$ per person
- Total: 11 500 JPY = 111 us$ per person
- For the baggage delivery service: 1540 JPY = 15 us$ per bag
- Total including baggage delivery: 126 us$ per person
It is possible to only do parts of this trip, and also do it the other way around. You can get more information about this trip on the Alpine Route webpage: http://www.alpen-route.com/en/
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Guide BooksWe used Lonely Planet`s Japan guide book on our trip. It was very good! You can buy that and some other great books about Japan from Amazon by clicking on the book covers below:
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Is the Alpine Route something you can picture yourself doing? Have you done similar routes somewhere else? Please leave a comment in the comment area below! Thank you! 🙂