Japan in a Van: Alpine Route

Day 6 

Today’s adventure had been meticulously planned by Da who had been watching Thai YouTubers travelling in Japan. The Alpine Route as it is known is a very popular tourist attraction though a little hard to get to. 

Our first encounter at 06.30 was the car park attendant telling us we couldn’t park the RV in the empty 24-hour car park where it had been all night and had to move it down the hill. This actually did us a favour as it meant we didn’t have to pay for parking.

We’d booked the Alpine Route tickets online fearing overcrowding and scanned a QR code at the automated machine on the day to get the tickets. The return trip costs 12,300 yen each or around 2,900 baht. Fortunately, there were very few people on the 8am electric bus that took us through a tunnel (Japan has a LOT of tunnels) to the first stop at Kurobe Dam, the highest in the country at 1,500 meters. 

Cold doesn’t come close to what I felt at the ice-covered viewpoint over the lake but the views made up for it. We walked across the dam to the next station on the route which involved a funicular railway up the mountain to another viewpoint and souvenir shop. 

Then it was on to a cable car for the third leg of the journey before we took a trolley bus for the fourth stage to the peak at Murodo Station, 2,450 meters above sea level. What I didn’t expect here was a massive snow field with fresh falls, but we were in the middle of the Alps in late autumn. 

Alpine Route

Alpine Route

Da was like a kid in a candy store seeing real snow for the first time, and a lot of it. There were various trails leading away from Murodo so we set off in search of adventure and a bit of solitude. We found both on a trail leading up to a viewpoint overlooking the Alps.  

We’d dressed for winter but it wasn’t that cold up on the mountain as the skies were clear and the sun beat down reflecting off the snow fields (I actually got sunburnt). However, the hike we’d undertaken was a little more challenging than we’d expected since we were not properly equipped with snow shows and hiking sticks – two essential items for this terrain. Breathing was also a little laboured due to the elevation and neither of us being that young anymore. 

Nevertheless, we made it to the lookout several kilometers later at 2,700 meters elevation close to the summit of Mt. Tateyama with its spectacular views where we met a few other hikers with all the correct gear. Getting back down was a little hairy, to say the least. 

The trails around Murodo had become quite busy by then and you could hear the Chinese hollering at each other from halfway up the mountain. They are a complete contrast to the polite and respectful Japanese people. We explored the lakes offering some marvelous photo opportunities before seeking out something to eat.

Da really wanted to see the famous snow road or snow wall but that had melted and was only accessible in April and May. It was time to get off the peak and back down the way we came up via the various modes of transport, however, unlike this morning when a handful of people were coming up, there were hoards of Chinese tour groups making their way back down so we had to keep ahead of them in the queues at the stations. 

The entire trip was extremely well organized with hundreds of staff, multi-modal transport leaving bang on time, and complete Japanese efficiency in managing the crowds. I couldn’t imagine another country achieving this.

We got back to Ogisawa at around 16.00 an hour before dark, folded ourselves back into the van, and drove down back into the valley to get another ridiculously cheap meal of sushi and sashimi and find a road station for the night, thoroughly exhausted.

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