We were starting our Alpine Route journey from Nagano. Nagano Station is easy to get to from Tokyo by Shinkansen train and this part of the journey is covered by the Japan RailPass if you have one. We stayed overnight in Nagano before starting the Alpine Route. If you are planning on coming straight from Tokyo you will want to take an early train at around 7am. The best place to check for train times is the Hyperdia web site http://www.hyperdia.com
From Nagano station you are an express bus ride away from the official start of the Alpine Route. This is probably the quickest and easiest way to get started, its a nice coach ride and takes about 1h 40m straight to Ogizawa Station which is where the Alpine Route really starts.
The express bus costs 1050 YEN per person and the bus departs from stop 25 outside the east exit of Nagano Station.
We took the 8.15am bus, as we had read it takes about 5-6 hours to get across the route, and we didn’t want to miss our connection to Toyama on the other side.
All the different ways to get to the start of the alpine route
For our Itinerary the following tickets were needed.
Tokyo to Nagano by train: Japan RailPass
Nagano to Ogizawa Station: Express Bus Ticket 1050 YEN
The Alpine Route: Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket (one-way) 9000 YEN
We purchased our Alpine Route Option ticket in advance when we picked up our Japan RailPass. However it is just as easy to purchase at Nagano / Toyama Stations, just leave a little extra time to queue at the ticket office.
What about my luggage i hear you ask. Good question.
It is not really possible to travel the Alpine Route with your luggage, the different modes of transport involved do not cater for it, therefore you are kind of limited to taking a day pack size ruck sack with you.
As the Alpine Route is One-way by design and we did not want to double back to carry on our travels we decided to use a luggage transfer service to take our luggage from Nagano Station directly to our hotel in Toyama. This worked out really well and our luggage was waiting at our hotel reception when we arrived.
You can find the luggage transfer counter on the 2nd floor of Midori department store – just by the Zenkoji exit at Nagano Station.
Important things to note. English is not the first language of the staff at the counter. We greatly improved the communication by visiting customer services / Tourist information desk in Nagano Station first to get them to write down in Japanese for us what we wanted to do. Date of travel, hotel name and address in Toyama etc.
We also dropped our luggage off the night before as we found out the baggage transfer counter was going to be closed the following day. It is probably a good idea to do this anyway if you can as it does take a little while to organise and you don’t really want to waste that time on the day you plan to travel the Alpine Route.
Nagano Station > Ogizawa Station (Express Bus 1 hour 40 minutes)
Upon arrival at Ogizawa Station you are greeted by attendants directing you where to go. Here you can pick up a time table which gives you clear instructions/timetable for all the connections along the Alpine Route. Each stage is clearly marked at the boarding zones with times on display.
Ogizawa Station > Kurobe Dam (Trolley Bus 16 minutes)
From Ogizawa Station board the trolley bus which takes you through the Kanden tunnel up to the Picturesque Kurobe Dam
Kurobe Dam (Walking 1 hour exploring)
At 186m Kurobe Dam is the tallest in all of Japan and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. If you visit between late June and October you may be able to see the dam discharging water at an impressive 10 to 15 tonnes of water every second.
After you have enjoyed looking at the dam from all the various vantage points and maybe stopped for a drink at the cafe/shop cross the dam and head through the tunnel to the cable car departure stop.
Kurobe Dam (Kurobeko) > Kurobedaira (Tunnel Cable Car / Funicular 5 minutes)
The next part of the journey is a Funicular train ride in a tunnel taking about 5 minutes and i think we had to queue for about 15 minutes before we could get on board.
Kurobedaira > Daikanbo (Ropeway 7 minutes)
From the Funicular train ride a quick transition to the ropeway cable car up to Daikanbo
Daikanbo (40 minutes walking, viewing & lunch)
The scenery from the ropeway cable car journey and the viewing platform at Daikanbo are breathtaking. And to top it all off Eva believes she had the best ramen of the trip up here!
Daikanbo > Murodo (Trolley Bus 10 minutes)
Another short Trolley Bus ride down a long dark tunnel takes you to Murodo and the Snow Wall
Murodo / Snow Wall (walking & viewing 1 hour)
Japan’s Tateyama area experiences some of the heaviest snowfalls in the world. Through the winter the snow accumulates to a massive depth of about 20m and in the spring when the roads are ploughed incredible snow walls are formed. We were lucky enough to be visiting in May, the Snow Wall only opens up in late April each year. It is quite an experience to walk along a road carved through the snow, reminded us quite a bit of the wall in Game of Thrones. This is a great photo opportunity and even though very busy with people it is still possible to take shots that make it look like you are the only ones there.
Murodo > Bijodara (highland bus 50 minutes)
Time to start making it back down the mountain, this time by bus. There are a couple of different options for this part of the trip. You can take either a direct bus or one that stops at a few different places on the way down. We choose the direct bus as the weather closing in and visibility was not great. The good thing about the bus ride is it now drives down the Snow Wall road and you get to experience it from a whole new perspective.
Bijodara > Tateyama Station (Cable Car / Funicular 7 minutes but with the queues almost 1 hour)
Due to the weather closing in and it being late in the day there was quite a queue at this station to get the next cable car. As you entered the room you were given a number by an attendant and then you just had to wait around for the screen at the front of the line to show your number. There is a small gift shop at this stop to help you pass the time.
Tateyama Station > Toyama Dentetsu Station (Train 60 minutes)
We seemed to time this just right as we got on to the train at Tateyama Station just a few seconds before it departed to take on to Toyama.
We were pleasantly surprised that our luggage had arrived at our hotel before us and was waiting at the reception desk safe and sound.
All in all an excellent day trip, beautiful scenery and loads of different types of transport make it feel like a real adventure.