by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2008/10/03 - Tateyama Alpen Route
With heights of over 3000 meters, the peaks of the Tateyama mountain range in Toyama Prefecture are among the tallest in the Japan Alps. Consequently, their slopes are among the first places on Japan's main island of Honshu to see autumn colors.
The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpen Route is a unique route through the Tateyama mountains, which lets tourists easily access the higher elevations of the Northern Japan Alps. Today we visited the area for the first time outside of winter to try and see some of Honshu's earliest fall colors. The weather was perfect with not a single cloud in the sky.
The journey along the Alpen Route is an attraction in itself and includes rides by trolley buses, regular bus, cablecars and a ropeway. At 9am, we boarded the trolley bus from Ogizawa to the first stop, Kurobe Dam. We seemed to have hit the rush of tour groups from Tokyo, and were surprised by the route's popularity even on a weekday (although they disappeared later). We certainly recommend to avoid traveling along the route on weekends.
As expected, the trees around Kurobe Dam (at a modest altitude of 1450 meters above sea) have not turned colors yet, and are likely to take at least two more weeks to reach their best state. We got some pictures of the impressive dam and rushed to get ahead of the tour groups for the next stage of travel, the Kurobe Cablecar.
The only cablecar in Japan to run entirely inside of a tunnel, Kurobe Cablecar brought us considerably closer to the autumn colors with an altitude gain of almost 400 meters in only five minutes. The views from Kurobedaira, the cablecar's top station, are known to offer some of the most spectacular autumn colors along the Alpen Route, however, today greenish yellow still outbalanced gold, orange and red. The peak is likely to take place over the next two weeks.
Another record holder and the next stage of the trip, the Tateyama Ropeway is the longest single-span ropeway in Japan. There are no supports holding up the cable between its two ends, which are almost two kilometers apart from each other. After another 500 meter altitude gain (to over 2300 meters above sea), we finally encountered the first red colored trees.
Another trolley bus ride through a tunnel brought us to Murodo, with 2450 meters above sea the highest stop along the Alpen Route. Here also stands Tateyama Hotel, the highest hotel in Japan. Various walking trails lead through the alpine plateau and onto the surrounding peaks of the Tateyama mountain range.
Since Murodo is already above the tree line, the autumn colors are mainly provided by mountain bushes and grass. They are now at their peak.
A highlight of Murodo is Jigokudani, or hell valley, which is an active volcanic area venting sulfurous gas and steam. Numerous hot springs surface in the area. providing nearby bathing facilities with hot water.
Next week we plan to return to Hokkaido for more autumn colors.