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.
2012/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
Today I head out to the Northern Japan Alps to revisit the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a series of buses, cablecars, electric trolley buses, and a ropeway that connect Toyama and Nagano prefectures. The large change in elevation along the route, about a 1000m difference between Murodo and Ogizawa and 2000m between Murodo and Tateyama Station, means that the autumn colors in the area have a long season that typically lasts from late September into November.
Schauwecker paid a visit to the area on October 4th, and on his trip the autumn colors were in full force around Murodo at the upper elevations of the route. However, in the intervening 2.5 weeks these colors have disappeared, and I was greeted by a landscape dominated by brown grass and evergreen sasa grass and conifer bushes instead of the brilliant red and orange nanakamado bushes when I arrived this morning.
However that was exactly as I had expected, so I wasn't at all disappointed. Instead of chasing autumn colors, I planned to spend some time exploring the walking the circuits that leads around the area's lakes. Unfortunately, one of the attractions that I wanted to visit, the hell valley (Jigokudani), remains closed due large concentrations of poisonous gases.
Also according to the weather forecast, it may begin to snow around Murodo as early as tomorrow. So it may not be long until the area is completely covered in white.
Descending the Nagano side of the Alpine Route took me to the Tateyama Ropeway between Daikanbo and Kurobedaira stations. The colors along this section of the route were beautiful today, and bright red, orange, and yellow leaves could be seen all along the slopes under the ropeway.
Although the colors around the upper slopes around the ropeway were very nice, it seems as if the best colors were down around Kurobedaira today. The station there was completely surrounded by some of the brightest nanakamado bushes I have seen yet this year. And next to the station is a garden of alpine plants, with lots of colorful nanakamado that definitely make it worth exploring.
After exploring Kurobedaira, I took the cablecar down to the Kurobe Dam below, a hydroelectric dam and large reservoir, which offers visitors a variety of activities including leaf viewing, hiking, climbing, and pleasure boat rides. The area is an extremely attractive place to visit especially interesting when the dam's two discharge vents spew water into the air. Unfortunately, the autumn discharge period ended last week, so I didn't get to see it this time.
Instead, I was able to see some really nice foliage around the dam, with plenty of bright yellow and orange leaves on display. However, many of the trees still had a hint of green in them that implies that it is still slightly before their peak in this area. So as long as the weather holds, I would expect the colors to continue to improve into next week
Departing the Kurobe Dam, I took the electric buses which lead through narrow tunnels to Ogizawa Station at the entrance to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Though the trees there were slightly behind those around the Kurobe Dam, the colors around Ogizawa and along route 45 to Omachi were also approaching their peak today and should be at their best in the next week or so.