How to Get to Tateyama Alpine Route from Tokyo – A DIY Itinerary

How to Get to Tateyama Alpine Route from Tokyo – A DIY Itinerary

A DIY guide to Japan's most scenic mountain routes, featuring snow walls and majestic vistas: the Tateyama Alpine Route.

The Tateyama Alpine Route is breathtakingly beautiful, but also has the notorious reputation of being difficult to navigate. There are over 10 modes of transport to take, a large part of which will traverse you through the Japanese Alps. For convenience sake, most people opt for a group tour, such as this Snow Wall & Tokyo package from H.I.S. where all you’d have to do is to follow a guide throughout the route.

Joining a tour was incredibly tempting, I admit, but I decided to brave it on my own and attempt to complete the Tateyama Alpine Route on a day trip from Tokyo. And what do you know, it’s actually a lot easier than I envisioned! So for all you intrepid travellers who wish to do the same, here’s a breakdown of the entire journey – step by step.

Step 1: Tokyo to Nagano via shinkansen (83 minutes)

There are two ways to approach the Tateyama Alpine Route – one is to start from Nagano, the other is to start from Toyama. It’s a one-way route, meaning that if you start from one, you’ll end at the other. Do take note that the last bus leaves from the route to Nagano at 4pm, whilst the last train departs Toyama for Tokyo at 9pm. I hence recommend starting from Nagano to buy yourself more time; plus, if you’re travelling all the way to the Japanese Alps you should aim to spend as much time there as possible!

I chose to take the 7.20am shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo station, which would have me in Nagano before 9am. I recommend not taking any train later than this. If you’re an early bird, do check Hyperdia for earlier timings. This route is completely covered by the JR Rail Pass; a point-to-point ticket would otherwise cost 8,200 yen (~SGD105).

The JR Rail Passes, which can only be purchased outside of Japan.

The Tateyama Option Tickets that can be purchased from the JR East Offices.

As I previously mentioned, completing the Tateyama Alpine Route would entail taking multiple modes of transport. Do keep in mind that the route is likely to be swarmed with people, especially during the two months each year when the Snow Corridor is open. (This year, it’s open from 15 April to 22 June 2017.) So do expect lots of people, and plenty of congestion along the way.

Save yourself the headache and purchase the Tateyama Option Ticket from a JR East Office at Narita Airport, Haneda Airport, Shinjuku, Tokyo Station, Ikebukuro or Nagano before you make the trip – the one-way ticket costs 9,000 yen (~SGD115.24), and will cover your entire way from Nagano to Dentetsu-Toyama station (the other end of the route). Sadly, the various modes of transportation besides the shinkansen are not covered by the JR Rail Pass. This ticket, however, is valid for five consecutive days, so you can even choose to stay in hotels along the route and explore the area over a longer duration.

Step 2: Nagano to Ogizawa via Alpico Express Bus (100 minutes)

Once you’re at Nagano station, head for the bus terminal on level one and get on the Alpico express bus bound for Ogizawa. The bus has free Wifi services, so you’ll be able to entertain yourself during the 100-minute ride. However, don’t forget to look out the window – soon enough, you’ll be able to spot the Japanese Alps approaching in the distance!

For the second half of the ride, the bus goes uphill into the mountains; watch as the scenery changes from brown and green to dazzling snowy panoramas.

The area surrounding Ogizawa station itself is a sight to behold – snow streaked mountains stand majestic against a vista of sheer white. By the time I arrived, there were already a couple of tour buses parked in the parking lots. Don’t linger too long at this station, you’ve only just arrived at the gateway of the Tateyama Alpine Route!

Step 3: Ogizawa to Kurobe Dam via Kanden Tunnel Trolley Bus (16 minutes)

There wasn’t a queue for the Kanden Tunnel Trolley Bus, which was a great relief. The staff at the station told me that I made the right decision to approach the route from Nagano, as there was apparently a three-hour queue for the cable car from Toyama (the other end)!

Also read: Travel Cheat Sheet: Things You Can Do ONLY in Tokyo

Step 4: Kurobe Dam to Kurobeko on foot (15 minutes)

The trolley bus took us to Kurobe Dam, which is one of the two main highlights (the other, naturally, being the Snow Wall) of the Tateyama Alpine Route. Just look at that view!

(left) tunnel walkway to Kurobe Dam; (right) Stairs leading up to the observatory

Not many people are aware of this, but there’s an observatory that allows visitors to have an aerial view of Kurobe Dam. At the station, do look for the flight of green stairs that will lead you up to the observatory. There are over 200 steps, which makes for a good morning workout!

tateyama alpine route

The 200+ steps may be tiring to climb, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views from the top. Another plus point about this observatory is that it’s normally excluded from the itineraries of tour groups, making it a blissful stop point devoid of crowds.

tateyama alpine route

To get to this part of the journey, you’ll have to venture 15 minutes on foot across the Kurobe Dam. Enjoy every step – welcome to winter wonderland: the Japanese edition.

Step 5: Kurobeko to Kurobedaira via Kurobe Cable Car (5 minutes)

If you purchased the Tateyama Option Ticket beforehand, head for the ticket office at the Kurobeko station (which lies at the end of the 15-minute walk across Kurobe Dam) to obtain a numbered ticket. You’ll be given a ticket with either 1, 2, or 3 imprinted on it – the number denotes which queue you should join.

The Kurobe Cable Car has stairs within the compartment – the first of its kind that I’ve ever seen! It’s a short five-minute ride but the cable car tends to jerk when coming to a halt, so do hold on tight.

Step 6: Kurobedaira to Daikanbo via Tateyama Ropeway (7 minutes)

This part of the route is where you’ll usually encounter a bottleneck – each ropeway car can only accommodate a limited number of people, resulting in long queues. Just like at Kurobeko, head to the ticket office at Kurobedaira Station (where you’ll get off the cable car) to get a numbered ticket. After which, check the whiteboard at the entrance for your allotted timing.

There was a massive number of people waiting, resulting in a 1.5-hour interval before I could get on the ropeway. Luckily, Kurobedaira Station is home to a beautiful sky garden, which had a spectacular view of the Japanese Alps. To add to the magic, it started to snow when I was there! Warning: the winds can get really strong, so do suit up before climbing.

Also, grab the opportunity to have your lunch here at Kurobedaira Station; there aren’t any other food establishments along the route.

At long last, it was finally my turn to board the ropeway that would bring me closer to the biggest highlight of the Tateyama Alpine Route – the Snow Corridor!

Step 7: Daikanbo to Murudo via Tateyama Trolley Bus (10 minutes)

Upon arriving at Daikanbo, a short 10-minute trolley bus ride brought me to the majestic Yuki-no-Otani Snow Wall at Murudo! The temperature was about negative two degrees, and there are rubber boots for rent should you wish to be in something sturdier.

The Snow Wall looked exactly liked how it did on the Internet – feast your eyes on a towering snow corridor, the highest point of which reaches up to a staggering 19 metres. It was truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen; I can’t believe I actually made it to the famous Snow Corridor!

tateyama alpine route

tateyama alpine route

I went on the second day of the snow corridor’s opening, and was blessed with clear skies. I heard that the Snow Walk was closed the previous day due to heavy snow – such a pity! Do check the forecast before you go, it’d be a shame to travel all the way and be unable to walk through the magnificent Snow Corridor. Check out this website for the weather forecast, live updates about route conditions, and for live camera feeds of the various areas.

P.S. If you can’t envision how tall the Snow Walls are, just compare them against the bus!

Veer off the Snow Corridor for the panorama walk, where you can’t help but wonder whether you’re still in Japan, or if you’ve been teleported to Switzerland. A blanket of fine snow covers the ground as far as the eye can see; remember to bring your sunglasses, for the snow glare can be quite intense.

tateyama alpine route

tateyama alpine route

As you can tell, I had lots of fun frolicking around in the snow! Feel free to engage in a snowball fight with your friends, or simply revel in all that wintry goodness.

tateyama alpine route

The Snow Corridor is a one-way walk, so you’ll go back the same way that you came. Take your time here; you won’t see a Snow Wall anywhere else in the world!

Step 8: Murudo to Bijodaira via Tateyama Highland Bus (50 minutes)

Once you’ve had your fill, embark on a 50-minute bus ride back down the mountain. The bus will drive straight through the Snow Corridor, allowing you to enjoy the glorious Snow Walls in every way possible! The bus will stop off at various stops, but you’ll stay on the bus until the very last stop.

Step 9: Bijodaira to Tateyama Station via Tateyama Cable Car (7 minutes)

Drink in the scenic views from the seven-minute cable car ride from Bijodaira Station to Tateyama Station; they’ll be the last of the Japanese Alps you’ll see.

Step 10: Tateyama Station to Dentetsu Toyama Station (60 minutes)

tateyama alpine route

The 60-minute train ride back to Dentetsu-Toyama Station was uneventful, except that WE DID IT! This is the second last leg of the Tateyama Alpine Route, before the shinkansen back to Tokyo. Dentetsu-Toyama Station is located right next to Toyama Station, where you can make seat reservations for the shinkansen journey if you have the Japan Rail Pass. If not, you can easily buy point-to-point tickets back to Tokyo as well.

Also read: Exploring Japan: 9 Easy Day Trips from Tokyo

Step 11: Toyama Station to Tokyo via shinkansen (139 minutes)

I highly recommend making a seat reservation for this last leg of the journey, for it’s a 139-minute ride. This is completely covered by the JR Rail Pass, and a point-to-point ticket would otherwise cost 12,730 yen (~SGD163). I took the 7.37pm train which would have me back in Tokyo by 10pm – it was a long and tiring day, but it was totally worth it! Do take note that the trains run like clockwork – if the schedule says that it will leave at 7.37pm, it WILL leave at 7.37pm. Not a minute earlier and not a minute later.

So there you have it, a step-by-step itinerary for visiting the Tateyama Alpine Route from Tokyo! In case you need a visual overview, here’s a picture of a map that you can grab from any of the stations:

tateyama alpine route

The route is terribly long, and the journey can be confusing at times, but is it worth it? Absolutely. Visiting the Tateyama Alpine Route is a once in a lifetime experience, made all the more amazing by how the Snow Corridor is only open for two months a year. Many also choose to traverse the Tateyama Alpine Route during other seasons, especially during autumn due to the colours of the fall foliage. However, I do recommend that you go during winter – it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

Kudos to the Japanese for making such a multi-faceted route so efficient; I didn’t run into any hiccups throughout the journey, and everything was smooth sailing! If you require assistance, there are plenty of officers stationed along the way who will be more than willing to lend a helping hand.

It might sound intimidating, but the whole process is actually easier than it looks. Why not try it for yourself? Put this on your Japan bucket list, and bring on the Tateyama Alpine Route!

About Author

E-lyn Tham
E-lyn Tham

Having a strong conviction that getting lost is just another adventure in itself, E-lyn takes particular delight in wandering stranger lands, inhibitions and fears thrown asunder. There’s so much left in the world to see, and there’s nothing she would like better than to spend her days dreaming whimsical, thinking adventure, and laughing curious.