In order to build the Kurobe Dam, opened in 1963 and at 186 meters still the tallest in Japan, a tunnel 5.4 km long was dug under Mount Tate (Tateyama). Sensing an opportunity, the Tateyama Kurobe Kankō (TKK) company was set up to turn this into a tourist attraction, stringing together a series of cable cars, aerial lifts and buses into a 37-km path across and through the mountains.
Due to the high altitude (over 2,400 m at Murodō), it's cold up top: April lows are below freezing and even in midsummer you'll be lucky if the mercury cracks 15°C. It's also just high enough to potentially trigger altitude sickness, although this is unlikely to manifest as anything more severe than a headache and feeling out of breath easily.
The main cities near the termini are Toyama to the west and Matsumoto to the east. By train, Toyama can be reached from Tokyo in about two hours on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, while Matsumoto is about 2½ hours from Tokyo on the Super Azusa express. From Osaka, Toyama can be reached on the direct Thunderbird express (3½ hours), while Matsumoto can be reached after changing trains in Nagoya (total 4 hours).
Driving across the Alpine Route is not permitted. Tateyama Traffic can deliver your car to the other end, but they have to do it the long way around (~200 km) and this costs a stiff ¥26,000.
As private transportation is neither permitted nor possible, the only ways to cross from Tateyama to Ōgisawa are the official TKK route, or a lengthy and demanding multi-day trek. Open from mid-April to November (the exact dates vary yearly based on snow conditions), the official route consists of:
|Transfer station / terminus||Elevation||Transport mode||Line name||Distance||Time||Cost|
|Dentetsu-Toyama (電鉄富山)||7 m||Railway||Toyama Chiho Railway||34 km||50 min||¥1,200|
|Tateyama (立山)||475 m|
|Funicular||TKK: Tateyama Cable Car||1.3 km||7 min||¥720|
|Bijodaira (美女平)||977 m|
|Bus||TKK: Tateyama Highland Bus||23 km||50 min||¥1,710|
|Murodō (室堂)||2,450 m|
|Trolleybus||TKK: Tateyama Tunnel Trolley Bus||3.7 km||10 min||¥2,160|
|Daikanbō (大観峰)||2,316 m|
|Aerial tramway||TKK: Tateyama Ropeway||1.7 km||7 min||¥1,300|
|Kurobedaira (黒部平)||1,828 m|
|Funicular||TKK: Kurobe Cable Car||0.8 km||5 min||¥860|
|Kurobeko (黒部湖)||1,455 m|
|Walking||~0.5 km||~15 min||Free|
|Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム)||1,455 m|
|Trolleybus||Kanden Tunnel Trolley Bus||6.1 km||16 min||¥1,540|
|Ōgisawa (扇沢)||1,433 m|
|Bus||Ōmachi Alpine Line Bus||18 km||40 min||¥1,360|
|Shinano-Ōmachi (信濃大町)||713 m|
|total||89.1 km||200 min||¥10,850|
All modes of transport run every 20-40 minutes, roughly 07:00-17:00. However, at peak times, notably the April-May snow season and in particular during the Golden Week holidays (April 29-May 5), waiting times of over an hour are not uncommon.
Tickets are sold based on the number of stages traveled, and once purchased are valid for up to five days. As an indication, Toyama to Murodō is ¥3,630 one-way, while the full whack from Toyama to Shinano-Omachi is a steep ¥9,140 one-way.
Due to the amount of walking involved and the number of transfers, carting about heavy bags is not recommended, but fortunately all accommodations on route will be happy to arrange next-day takkyubin pick up and delivery at around ¥2000 to/from Tokyo/Osaka for a suitcase under 25 kg.
- Yuki no Ōtani (雪の大谷), Murodo. The "Valley of Snow" is one of the Alpine Route's top sights: a bus route carved into a veritable mountain of compacted snow, reaching up to 14 meters at its highest point. It's in full form from April to late May, and melts away during the summer.
- Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム). The route's raison d'être, and still an awe-inspiring sight. Behind the dam lies Kurobe-ko (黒部湖), the lake it created.
There are plenty of hiking opportunities in the summer and fall, including an ascent of Mount Tate itself.
There are several hotels along the route itself, but these are all 1970s-era concrete behemoths and they're pricy due to the complicated logistics needed to supply them. Most visitors opt to day-trip or stay in the towns at either end.
- [formerly dead link] Hotel Keisui, Oomachi Onsen-kyo, Oomachi-shi, Nagano-ken, 398-0001, ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. Located at the entrance of Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route.