Jess' Japan Travel Journal
by Jess, japan-guide.com writer

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2016/04/18 - Alpen Route Snow Wall 2016

Today, I traveled the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route to view this year's snow walls at Murodo. Murodo is the highest point on the route that connects Nagano Prefecture's Omachi Town with Toyama Prefecture's Toyama City through the spectacular Northern Japan Alps. Standing at 2450 meters above sea level, Murodo is completely inaccessible in winter due to the heavy snowfall. In mid-April, a road is cut through the snow from Bijodaira leading up to the Murodo Bus Terminal, creating snow walls that can be as high as 20 meters.

From April 16 to June 22 this year, the snow corridor is open to pedestrians from 10:00 to 15:00 (from 9:30 on weekends) along a several hundred meter long stretch of road, allowing up-close views of the walls. This year, the highest point of the wall was reported to be 13 meters on the opening day, which is lower than in the average year due to below-average snow fall during the past winter.

The beginning of the walk was crowded with people eager to see the walls up close

I started out my day on the Nagano side of the route to spectacularly bright and sunny weather; but the closer I got to Murodo, the more clouds covered the sky. By the time I arrived, it was mostly cloudy with the sun only occasionally showing through the clouds. Since the snow corridor can be closed to pedestrians due to bad weather, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to see the walls. Fortunately, the weather was just cloudy so the corridor was opened for the day.

Cloudy weather today, but luckily the route is open!

The walk extended for several hundred meters and ended at a dead end near a curve in the road. This area was crowded with people waiting for that perfect photo of a bus driving by the highest point of the snow walls. I joined in for a few pictures, then moved aside to let others have their chance.

Probably the most crowded area of the walk was where the highest point of the wall was indicated, as there was a long line of people waiting to take pictures with the sign. Also interesting was a rope with some different colored cloth tied to it. The layers of the snow act like a short-term calendar, and the cloth marked when large snow falls and other events took place throughout the winter.

On nice days, it is possible to take a path up on the wall itself and walk back to the bus terminal through the snow. Today was icy and cold, so that part of the route was closed. However on my way back to the entrance of the corridor I was able to walk up a short distance to see the path through the snow along with some views of the mountains.

Waiting for a bus to come around the curve

Here it comes!

The highest point of the wall was here

A volunteer explains the snow calendar to an interested crowd

Though closed off now, walking through the snow is also possible on nice days

As unique as the snow corridor is, getting up to it was equally unique... and takes a bit of effort! I started on the Nagano side of the route by driving up to Ogizawa Station. I arrived before the ticket gates were even opened, but it became crowded quickly as the tour buses began to arrive. I bought a round trip ticket up to Murodo as soon as the windows opened, and waited in line for the first departure of the day. Tickets go on sale about 40 minutes before the day's first departure.

To get to Murodo, there are four different modes of transportation to take. From Ogizawa, the first is the electric-powered Kanden Trolley Bus through a tunnel, which drops you off at Kurobe Dam. After walking across the dam, you take a cable car through another tunnel up to Kurobeko Station; and from there, the Tateyama Ropeway takes you up to Daikanbo, where yet another trolley bus drops you off at Murodo Bus Terminal.

Waiting in line at Ogizawa Station for the first departure of the day

Trolley buses are the first leg of the journey

A quick walk across Kurobe Dam, leaving the tour groups behind

Up up up on the cable car!

Then up even further on the rope way, the longest of its kind in Japan

Look at those mountains!

Then the final leg of the journey on the second electric trolley bus of the day.

I was able to beat the crowds and hit the first departure of each mode of transportation all the way up to Murodo, arriving there around 9:00. Waiting around for the corridor to open at 10:00, I explored around the terminal. There's a large expanse of snow field behind the terminal, with several walking paths to the various buildings and areas around Murodo. I noticed many skiers and snowboarders lugging their equipment along the paths, snowshoers snowshoeing easily around, and regular tourists like myself slipping and sliding on the ice. Shoes with good traction are a must on the snow!

There's also a mini snow walk leading to the Tateyama Nature Conservation Center, which features information about the area around Murodo and the rock ptarmigan, the official bird of Toyama Prefecture. There are two short movies about the local wildlife and fauna in a few different languages, including English

Mini snow corridor leading to the conservation center

Exploring inside the center while waiting for the snow walls to open

After viewing the snow walls, I went back through the many types of transportation to Kurobe Dam for a quick lunch and to see the dam from the viewing platforms around Kurobedaira. After climbing the stairs to the highest view point and taking a hot drink break, I traveled the last leg of the route back to my car. Including the drive up and walking around various points, I used six different types of transportation in one day. Wow!

A quick note on the crowds, every step of the way was completely full of people. I would definitely recommend getting to your starting point as early as possible, as it seemed like the times between 8:00 and 12:00 were the most crowded. I would expect weekends to have the most crowds, but even during the week until the Golden Week holiday in early May, there will likely be a wait for each part of the route both ways.

I also noticed many people weren't dressed for the weather, including passing a group dressed in shorts and sandals. Don't be fooled by the temperatures at the start; at Murodo, it was close to freezing! It's important to take into account the change in temperature between the lowest and highest points when you dress for the route.

A crush of people still waiting for the cable car around 13:00

Kurobe Dam from the top of the new observation deck

Green dam curry for lunch, shaped like Kurobe Dam... delicious!

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List of Posts:
2016/06/06 - Ajisai Viewing in Kamakura
2016/04/20 - Nemophila at Hitachi Seaside Park
2016/04/18 - Alpen Route Snow Wall 2016
2016/03/08 - Plum Blossom Report from Kairakuen
2016/02/24 - 2016 Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival Report