The Best Ever Guide to Japan’s Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
One of the most unique travel experiences for me in Japan was traveling from Kanazawa to Matsumoto via the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. I could have taken a boring old train between these two cities, but by taking the Alpine Route, I was able to travel at over 2,000 meters through the Japan Alps using five modes of transportation: cable car, trolley, ropeway, bus, and train.
When I first read about the route in Lonely Planet, the trip sounded confusing. I got lots of vague or conflicting information from different websites and blogs, so I had lots of questions. Is it covered in my Japan Rail pass? Do I buy tickets for each leg of the journey or do I buy one ticket for all the steps? Can I buy the ticket on the same day as the journey or do I need to buy it in advance? How do I know where to go to take the different modes of transportation? How long do I get at each stop? Will I have enough time to hike around? Is it even worth it?
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Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route:
COST: ¥9,800 (US$89) to ¥12,090 (US$109) (adults) as of March 2019
COVERS: for tickets bought at JR stations, transport between Toyama (20 minutes by train from Kanazawa) and Shinano-Omachi (1-hour train to Matsumoto) or Nagano
HOW LONG: 8 – 9 hours to complete
OPEN: April 15 to November 30
TIP: Buy snacks before your trip; start your journey before 9:00 am
Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It?
I have a post that will show you whether a Japan Rail Pass is worth it. I break down the transportation price (based on 2020 August prices) for each of the destinations in this Japan itinerary of 3 weeks. Then I compare that to the price of a Japan Rail Pass. After that, I show where and how to purchase a Japan Rail Pass, how to activate the Pass when you get to Japan, and how to use the Pass. Just check out my article on getting a Japan Rail Pass here.
HOW TO PURCHASE the Alpine Route Ticket
After doing some research, these are the three ways that you can buy your Alpine Route ticket. Click on the link for each option to find out more details. I’ll then explain step-by-step how I bought my ticket below. Unfortunately, you can’t use your JR Pass on this route.
1. PURCHASE IN ADVANCE AT JR STATIONS: Foreigners on tourist visas can purchase the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Option Ticket from certain Japan Rail stations listed on JR’s website for ¥9,800 (US$89). You must buy them within 5 days from departure. You cannot buy them on the same day as your Alpine Route departure. This ticket is good for the section between Toyama and Shinano-Omachi or Nagano.
2. PURCHASE ONLINE: You can purchase the tickets online from the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route official website. This is a good idea when it’s the busy season such as in April to June when a lot of people want to see the snow corridor. When I checked on tickets in March, many of the days in April and parts of May were sold out. The ticket only covers the portion of the route from Tateyama to Ogizawa.
3. PURCHASE ON THE SAME DAY: You can purchase the Alpine Route tickets on the day of the start of your Alpine Route tour at Dentetsu Toyama Station, Tateyama Station, Shinano-Omachi Station, Nagano Station, and Ogizawa Station. For 2019, tickets cost ¥12,090 (US$110) one way. In addition, the ticket is only good for the section between Toyama and Ogizawa.
I did option 1. I bought the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Option Ticket the day before I was to go on the route at the Japan Rail’s office called midori-no-madoguchi at the JR Kanazawa train station. Look for a green sign. It’s the same office where you go to make seat reservations.
Only foreigners on tourist visas can purchase Option Tickets, so bring your passport. You can use your credit card to purchase the ticket. When I purchased mine, I needed to indicate the departure time for the Tateyama cable car. I was also given a receipt and not the actual ticket. I had to exchange the receipt for the actual ticket in Toyama, which is the beginning of the route.
Alpine Route Day Tour Itinerary
Below I’ll describe my tour to help you get an idea of what the tour is like and to help you know what to do for each step. You can do the tour in the opposite direction from Shinano-Omachi to Toyama or Kanazawa.
1. Kanazawa ⇒ Toyama
TRANSPORT TO TOYAMA: train
DEPART: 7:23 am ARRIVE: 7:46
The first leg of the journey is traveling by train to Toyama. This leg is not covered under the Alpine Route ticket so you’ll need to either use your JR Pass or pay for an individual ticket.
I took the Hakuta 554 train from Kanazawa JR Station leaving at 7:23 am and getting into Toyama at 7:46 am.
2. Toyama ⇒ Tateyama
TRANSPORT TO TATEYAMA: train
DEPART: 8:13 am ARRIVE: 9:19 am
The next part of the Alpine Route involves several steps that are vitally important:
- Walk from JR (Japan Rail) Toyama Station to the Dentetsu Station in Toyama
- Exchange your receipt for the real Alpine Route train ticket at Dentetsu Station
- Arrange for your luggage to be transported to the end of the Alpine Route.
- Leave from the Dentetsu Station to Tateyama
2.1 Arrive at JR Station and Find Dentetsu Station:
Toyama has two train stations: JR Station and Dentetsu Station. You’ll arrive at the JR Station but leave from Dentetsu Station.
When I arrived at JR Station, I was immediately confused as I always am in Japanese train stations. The station is big and there were no signs pointing in the direction of Dentetsu station. Fortunately, I found a map outside the station that told me that if I turned left, I’d eventually get to the smaller and older Dentetsu Station, which I did in less than 5 minutes.
2.2 Exchange receipt for the ticket:
The first thing I did at Dentetsu Station was to exchange my receipt for the actual Alpine Route ticket. The information center pointed me to the appropriate window.
2.3 Arrange for the delivery of your luggage:
Even though the station was small, it took me (and some other travelers) forever to find the Luggage Delivery Service. I expected an actual office, but it turned out to be a very unofficial looking table to the right of the gate to get onto the train platform. A train station employee stood behind the table taking your money, giving you your receipt, tying a tag around your bag, and putting your bags to the side. The informality of the whole set up would have worried me if I had not been in Japan. The cost was ¥1500 (US$14) to Shinano-omachi. Go to the official Alpine Route website for specific instructions on how to deliver your luggage. If you’re going to Nagano, you’ll need to pick up your luggage in Ogizawa.
Given the steep steps going in and out of the cable cars and crowded conditions of the transportation, it was well worth the price to have it delivered. I think it would have been extremely uncomfortable to carry my bags the whole way and incredibly rude to the other travelers.
Because it took so long to find the luggage delivery service, I had to rush to get onto the train.
2.4. Train to Tateyama:
I got on this old train leaving for Tateyama. The train left at 8:13 am and got to Tateyama at 9:19.
3. Tateyama ⇒ Baijodaira
TRANSPORT TO BAIJODAIRA: cable car
DEPART: 9:40 am ARRIVE: 9:47 am
When I got to Tateyama, I followed the crowd going up a flight of stairs to a large room. This was the waiting room for the cable car to Bijodaira.
The line to get onto the cable car was already long when I got there even though it didn’t leave until 9:40 am.
The cable car was originally used to transport the people who were building the Kurobe damn, which you will see later.
The car was so crowded that it was impossible to see outside. I just stood and waited 7 minutes until it got to my destination.
4. Bijodaira ⇒ Midagahara
TRANSPORT TO MIDAGAHARA: bus
DEPART: 10:20 am ARRIVE: 10:50 am
When I arrived in Bijodaira, there were two lines at the gate for the next leg of the Alpine Route.
1. Murodo: One line was an express bus directly to Murodo, which is considered “the highlight of the Alpine Route” and where you probably want to spend most of your time.
2. Midagahara: The other line was for a stopover at a wetlands area called Midagahara before going on to Murodo.
I chose Midagahara, which unfortunately gave me less time at Murodo but allowed me to go for a walk in an area without tons of tourists.
My bus left at 10:20 am. In that time, several express buses to Murodo had already left. My bus arrived at Midagahara at 10:50 am.
You can get out at Bijodaira and hike around the area as well. According to the Visitor’s Guide, there’s a primeval forest with trees as old as 1,000 years. There are three also hiking loops: 2 km (1 hour), 2.5 km (1 hour 50 minutes), and 4 km (2 hours 30 minutes). If you do get out and hike around, though, you’ll have much less time to spend at the main spots on the route.
5. Midagahara ⇒ Murodo
TRANSPORT TO MURODO: bus
DEPART: 12:10 pm ARRIVE: 12:30 pm
Midagahara is a wetlands area at 2,000 meters above sea level. In the fall, it’s filled with the colors of the foliage and in the spring with the colors of the blooming flowers. Ponds will also have formed from the melted snow. I didn’t see any of that when I was up there.
BEFORE I started looking around Midagahara, I went inside a small building where the bus dropped everyone off to reserve a seat on the next bus to Murodo. I chose to leave at 12:10 pm. Buses were leaving every 40 minutes. The guy who ran things at Midagahara was pretty adamant that you reserved a seat.
The building also had lockers and restrooms. There were two bland-looking hotels at Midigahara as well. I didn’t see a convenience store or any restaurants, but there could have been a restaurant in the hotels.
According to the Visitor’s Guide, there are three easy hiking options:
1. Boardwalk short loop: 1 kilometer (40 minutes) a boardwalk through the wetlands
2. Boardwalk long loop: 2 kilometers (1 hour 20 minutes) a boardwalk through the wetlands
3. Tateyama caldera viewpoint: a hike to an overlook of a caldera (20 minutes to the caldera and 15 minutes back).
I took the short 1-kilometer hike. It was a fairly easy hike along a boardwalk through the wetlands. In the spring, there is more water, but when I was there it was quite dry. The panoramic views of the valley and surrounding mountains were like being in a sea of green. Another nice thing was that there were very few other tourists around, so it was peaceful.
The bus that takes you to Mudoro leaves from the same place where you arrived.
The bus ride up to Murodo had probably the most stunning views of the whole Alpine Route, BUT you must be sitting on the left side of the bus to really be able to see the views clearly.
The bus arrived in Murodo 20 minutes later at 12:30 pm.
CHECK OUT THESE POSTS ON SOME HIDDEN GEMS IN JAPAN:
6. Murodo ⇒ Daikanbo
TRANSPORT TO DAIKANBO: trolley bus
DEPART: 2:15 pm ARRIVE: 2:25 pm
Murodo is the main attraction and the highest point of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. It’s situated at 2,450 meters and surrounded by several mountain peaks at over 3,000 meters. Without many trees, it felt quite barren.
Murodo doesn’t have a lot of trees, so it felt quite barren when I was up there. And it was incredibly windy.
The bus arrived at Murodo Terminal at 12:30. Inside the terminal, there were a couple of restaurants and a souvenir shop. There weren’t a lot of options for snack food, however. I bought some delicious steamed buns with meat inside for ¥500 (US$4.51) each from a food cart. Pricey, but as I said, my other option was to eat at a restaurant, and I didn’t really have time to do that.
Murodo also had a hotel and several “huts” as well as a hot spring that you could use during the day.
There was still snow in the mountains in August. In winter, this area gets some of the largest amounts of snow in Japan. However, everything was mostly green.
The central landmark of Murodo is a pond surrounded by the peaks of the tallest mountains on the Alpine Route. It’s quite beautiful albeit windy as heck. According to the Visitor’s Guide, there are five “hiking” trails that traverse the pond and mountains:
1. Mikurigaike pond – Easy – 600 meters in 30 minutes – This is a hike/walk along a boardwalk to the pond from the bus terminal and back.
2. Mikurigaike pond loop – Easy – 1.7 km in 1 hour – This is a hike around the pond.
3. Raichozawa return – Medium – 2.4 km in 2 hours 30 minutes – This is a hike along one side of the pond to the hot springs and to a lookout point over the Valley of Hell (Jigokudani).
4. Mount Murodo viewpoint – Medium – 2 km in 2 hrs 30 min. – This is a hike to a viewpoint and what looks to be up part of a mountain.
5. Climbing Mount Tateyama- Difficult – 2.5 km in 4 hours – This is a hike to Mount Oyama at 3,003 meters.
I did part of the Raichozawa return hike. The views were nice, but there were lots of other tourists. The hike ended at the building (it could have been the hot springs) on the left-hand side in the above photo. The building had a shop that served ice cream.
While on the hike, I could see into the Valley of Hell, a valley containing noxious volcanic gases.
Take into consideration the time it will take you to do these hikes. If you really want to spend more time at Murodo and/or do the Mount Murodo viewpoint hike or visit the hot springs, then you’ll need to skip Midigahara. When I was there, the last trolley bus out of Murodo left at 4:30 pm.
To find out how to get to the next leg of the Alpine Route, Daikonbo, look for a green sign with a departure time on it and saying “for Daikonbo.” Stand in the line. The line I was in for the 2:15 bus wasn’t very long. The next trolley would have left at 2:45.
The trolley bus took 10 minutes to go through Mount Tateyama. We popped out on the other side of the mountain at Daikonbo at 2:25 pm.
7. Daikonbo ⇒ Kurobedaira
TRANSPORT TO KUROBEDAIRA: ropeway
DEPART: 2:40 pm ARRIVE: 2:47 pm
Daikonbo is pretty much just a transfer point for the ropeway down to Kurobedaira. There’s a viewing platform where you can look out over the valley, but that’s about it.
When you get out at Daikonbo, just follow the green signs to the ropeway. The green signs go toward Shinano-Omachi and the blue signs go toward Toyama. The signage on the Alpine Route is so great that it makes it super easy to travel on even for someone who’s always getting lost.
You can stop at Daikonbo and take photos of the Japan Alps, a lake formed by the Kurobe Dam, and the Ropeway.
I took the ropeway at 2:40 and it arrived at Kurobedaira at 2:47.
The views from the ropeway were some of the best of the Alpine Route day tour.
8. Kurobedaira ⇒ Kurobeko (Kurobe Dam)
TRANSPORT TO KUROBEKO: cable car
DEPART: 3:00 pm ARRIVE: 3:05 pm
Kurobedaira is really just the place where you transfer from the ropeway to the cable car that will take you down to Kurobeko. There’s a viewing platform and a place to eat.
The cable car to Kurobeko took 5 minutes, leaving at 3:00 and arriving at 3:05. Like the cable car that I took earlier, I couldn’t see anything outside, and it was terribly crowded.
9. Kurobeko ⇒ Kurobe Dam ⇒ Ogizawa
TRANSPORT TO OGIZAWA: by foot and trolley bus
DEPART: 3:35 pm ARRIVE: 3:51 pm
The Kurobe Dam is similar in importance to the Japanese as the Hoover Dam is to Americans. It’s Japan’s tallest arch dam.
When I got off the cable car, I walked through a tunnel.
Upon exiting the tunnel, I found myself outside on a pedestrian bridge that crossed over the dam and the same lake I had seen from the ropeway.
Kurobe Lake was created by the dam. Even though the clouds looked ominous, it never rained until after I had finished the route.
The lake was to my right side, while mountains and a valley covered in trees were to my left side.
When I arrived on the other side of the dam, I entered a tunnel that took me to the trolley bus.
After going through the tunnel, I had to get in line and wait over 10 ten minutes for the trolley bus to Ogizawa. You can see that the space is small and there are lots of people waiting. Don’t worry! There are tons of buses, so if one bus fills up, there are others to take.
The trolley bus took a little over 15 minutes to go through a tunnel to the other side of the mountain at Ogizawa.
10. Ogizawa ⇒ Shinano-Omachi
TRANSPORT TO SHINANO-OMACHI: bus
DEPART: 4:00 pm ARRIVE: 4:35 pm
There’s not a lot to do at Ogizawa. There’s a huge parking lot and a place to get some food and drink.
In Ogizawa, I got on a bus going to Shinano-Omachi at 4:00 pm. Because I bought the OPTION TICKET the day before, the ride to Shinano-Omachi was free. If I had bought a same-day ticket, I would have had to pay extra for the bus ride.
The bus made one stop at Omachi-Onsen before reaching Shinano-Omachi at 4:35 pm. Some buses go on to Nagano.
11. Shinano-Omachi ⇒ Matsumoto
TRANSPORT TO MATSUMOTO: train
DEPART: 5:15 pm ARRIVE: 6:15 pm
Shinano-Omachi is only the transfer point for other destinations in Japan. You can take a train to Hakuba or Matsumoto. Hakuba is supposed to be a good place for hiking.
The bus dropped me off a little bit to the right of the train station. The luggage pick-up spot is to the left of the station. There’s a sign in English outside a building indicating it’s where you deliver and pickup luggage, so it’s easy to spot. Also, the building is more formal than what I experienced in Toyama.
The train station in Shinano-Omachi is very small. There were only 4 tracks. The Alpine Route ticket ends here. You’ll nee to use your JR Pass or buy individual tickets.
I waited about 45 minutes for the train to Matsumoto, which left from track 3. When I first got on the train, it was pretty much empty. But the train stopped at every single station and gradually filled up until it was packed with commuters going home from work. The view from the train window was some of the most beautiful rural scenery I saw in Japan. Mountains upon mountains with bright green rice fields and traditional Japanese homes and shops.
When to go
Spring (April – June) – This is the time when people flock to see the snow corridor. If you don’t know what I mean, check out these pictures of the snow corridor here or search for Alpine Route snow corridor. The Japan Alps gets a lot of snow. In the spring, it’s possible to plow a pathway through the snow turning the roads into a corridor with snow piled on each side as high as 18 meters. It’s possible that the route is closed due to bad weather, which means you’re out of luck. The Alpine Route website recommends going in June because the snow corridor is still at 10 meters high, there are fewer tourists, and the weather is more predictable.
Summer – (July – August) – In the summer, you can still see a little bit of snow. But generally, everything is very green. It’s a good time to go hiking.
Fall – (September – November) – the Alpine Route is a great time to see the fall foliage. The leaves start turning color first at the top of the mountain in September and then the further down you go, the leaves start turning later in the season in October. It makes for an interesting site when you look down from the top to see the upper half red and yellow and the lower part still green.
Winter (Dec – April) – The route is closed from December 1 to April 9.
What to Wear
When I was there in August, I wore my fleece and a windbreaker over a short-sleeved shirt and pants. I took it off and put it on again continuously as the temperature changed throughout the day. It was extremely windy.
At other times of the year, visit the Alpine Route’s official website to find out what to wear for each season on the Alpine Route.
Where to stay
Hotel/Hostel: The Share Hotels Hatchi
Hotel: Hotel M Matsumoto
Where to get more information
- Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Official website
- Japan Rail website has excellent information on how to purchase the cheaper Options tickets
- Information on how to purchase tickets online and one the day of departure
- Information about baggage delivery service on the Alpine Route
- Hyperdia– Information about train schedules
- Navitime App – app for subway, train, and bus schedules
I hope you have found this Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route day tour itinerary useful. It’s a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed!
Just make sure to leave Toyama before 9:00 am to give you enough time to do some hiking around Murodo. Bring are current snacks with you to save time and money.
The prices, exchange rates, and times listed here are ones as of March 2019. They are meant to give you an idea of approximately how much you will need to spend and how long it will take you to do something. Since things change, please double-check the information on the websites I have provided.
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