The Kurobe Gorge (黒部峡谷, Kurobe Kyōkoku) is a beautiful, forested ravine in the rugged mountains of the Northern Japan Alps. Cut by the Kurobe River, it is one of the deepest gorges in Japan. Its steep, nearly vertical cliffs, untouched virgin forests, and outdoor hot springs have made it a famous destination to see natural scenic beauty. It is not to be confused with the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, which is nearby, but accessed from a completely different direction.
The main attraction of the gorge is the Kurobe Gorge Railway, a sightseeing train originally built to aid the construction of the Kurobe Dam. Today the small trains operate along a winding, 20 kilometer stretch between Unazuki and Keyakidaira stations. The exciting 80 minute journey leads across more than 20 bridges and through over 40 tunnels, and offers visitors panoramic views of the gorge below. The trains stop at a few stations along the way where visitors can get off and explore.
The trains operate seasonally from late April through November, and are most popular in autumn when the forested slopes along the railroad turn bright orange and red with beautiful fall colors. Since the mountains cover a large elevation range, the Kurobe Gorge enjoys a long fall color season which usually runs from mid October to mid November.
Most trains carry two types of passenger cars. The majority of them are open-sided cars with 4-person bench seats without backrests; however, most trains also offer some enclosed cars with more comfortable seating at an additional fee. When purchasing a ticket, you will be assigned a car number, but seats within the car are unnumbered. For the best views, sit on the right side of the train when heading into the gorge.
Unazuki Station, the departure point of the Kurobe Gorge Railway, is located in Unazuki Onsen, a small hot spring town at the entrance to the gorge. The town offers a few hot spring baths, hotels, ryokan, museums and walking trails which lead into the gorge.
Shin Yamabiko Bridge
The bright red Shin Yamabiko Bridge marks the entrance to the Kurobe Gorge. With a length of 166 meters, it is the longest bridge to span the Kurobe River. It can be seen from around Unazuki Station, the Yamabiko Observation Platform in the hills surrounding the station, or from a similarly designed pedestrian bridge next to it.
Selene Museum of Art
Hours: 9:00 to 17:30 (entry until 17:00) Closed: Tuesdays from Nov to Mar (except public holidays), Dec 29-31 Admission: 620 yen
The Selene Museum of Art is a small art museum whose collection is based around the theme of nature in the Kurobe Gorge. The museum features painting by contemporary Japanese artists such as Tabuchi Toshio, Hirayama Ikuo and Tezuka Yuji.
Kurobe River Electric Memorial Hall
Hours: 7:30 to 18:00 (9:00 to 16:00 from December to mid April) Closed: Tuesdays from December to mid April Admission: Free
The Kurobe River Electric Memorial Hall is a small museum dedicated to the history of electricity production along the Kurobe River. The museum features displays and videos about the various dams and power plants along the river and the railroad that was built to facilitate their construction.
Hours: 9:50 to 17:30 (entry until 17:00) Closed: early December to mid April Admission: 510 yen
Tochinoyu is a small public hot spring bath located a few minutes drive into the Kurobe Gorge. The bathhouse sits above the river bank and affords nice views of the river, gorge, and passing trains from its gender segregated outdoor baths.
Kuronagi Station is the first stop along the Kurobe Gorge Railway. The small, isolated station is perched on the steep forested cliff above where the Kuronagi River flows into the Kurobe River. The station offers good views of the Atobiki Bridge high up above the river, but trains stop here only briefly so you may not want to get off unless you plan to visit Kuronagi Onsen.
Atobiki Bridge (lit. back away bridge) is a 60 meter tall, blue bridge spanning the sheer cliffs around Kuronagi Station. The bridge gets its name from the steep, nearly vertical walls that it is attached to as they are said to make even experienced mountaineers want to back away from them.
Daytime Hours: 9:00 to 16:00 (entry until 15:15) Daytime Admission: 800 yen Closed: Late November through April
Kuronagi Onsen is remote hot spring with a single ryokan, a 20 minute walk along a narrow trail from Kuronagi Station. The ryokan opens its baths to daytime visitors, including its outstanding, mixed gender outdoor bath right alongside the river, its indoor baths and a women-only outdoor bath.
Kanetsuri Station is the first really developed station along the railway. A paved trail leads from the station past a food stand and a few ryokan down to the river below.
Hours: Always open Closed: No closing days Admission: Free
A riverside onsen bath lies just down the trail from Kanetsuri Station. The bath is fed by hot spring water which bubbles up through the rocky riverbank into a rustic stone pool set up for adventurous bathers. This outdoor bath has no facilities and is completely exposed to the dozens of sightseers who frequently pass by.
Mannen Yuki ("ten thousand year old snow") is a semi permanent snow bank deposited during the winter. The snow piles so deep that it often lasts through the summer and into the following year's winter. The mannen yuki can be viewed from an observation deck near Kanetsuri Station.
Keyakidaira Station, the terminal station of the Kurobe Gorge Railway, lies about 600 meters above sea level where the Babadani River meets the Kurobe River. Trails lead to the various attractions around the station, which houses its own observation deck, souvenir shop and an information center.
Sarutobikyo ("jumping monkey gorge") is a beautiful gorge cut into the rock by the Kurobe River. An attractive 10-15 minute riverside walking trail leads to an observation deck from where you can admire the rushing river flowing through the steep cliffs of the gorge.
Hours: 9:00 to 15:00 Closed: December to late May Admission: Free
A large foot bath (ashiyu) lies on a platform along the river below the Okukane Bridge. The covered foot bath seats up to a dozen people and offers nice views of the bridge above and the river below.
The Okukane Bridge is a 34 meter tall, red pedestrian bridge that spans the Kurobe River right across from Keyakidaira Station. The bridge connects the station to Babadani and Meiken Onsen, two ryokan with hot spring baths, 15-60 minutes farther up the trail.
The path along the far side of the Okukane Bridge is cut directly into the steep cliff. The cliff face, known as Hitokui Iwa ("people eating rock"), curves overhead making it look like a huge stone mouth is swallowing up the trail.
Getting there and around
The Kurobe Gorge should not be confused with the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Although geographically close to each other, they are accessed from different directions.
Take the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kurobe Unazuki Onsen (2.5 hours, about 12,000 yen one way, 1 train/hour, covered by the Japan Rail Pass). Toyama Chiho Railway trains depart from Shin-Kurobe Station (next to the shinkansen station) to Unazuki Onsen Station (25 minutes, 640 yen, 1-2 departures per hour, not covered by the Japan Rail Pass). The sightseeing trains into the Kurobe Gorge depart from a separate railway station, Unazuki Station, a short walk from Unazuki Onsen Station.
Take an hourly departing JR Thunderbird limited express trains from Osaka or Kyoto to Kanazawa and transfer the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen for Kurobe Unazuki Onsen Station. The entire journey takes about three hours, costs about 9,500 yen, and is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Toyama Chiho Railway trains depart from Shin-Kurobe Station (next to the shinkansen station) to Unazuki Onsen Station (25 minutes, 640 yen, 1-2 departures per hour, not covered by the Japan Rail Pass). The sightseeing trains into the Kurobe Gorge depart from a separate railway station, Unazuki Station, a short walk from Unazuki Onsen Station.
Hours and Fees
Kurobe Gorge Railway
Trains depart Unazuki from around 8:00 to around 15:00
December to late April
1980 yen (one way to Keyakidaira), 530 yen supplement per ride for more comfortable seats