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Day 8, From Toyama to Nakone

The Roof of Japan, the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

snow 24 °F
View Japan 2023 on Helen K.'s travel map.

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Today we are leaving Toyama and going to Nakone via the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route, one of the world's most beautiful mountain sightseeing routes. large_alpen_map.jpg This is a bucket list item and this route just opened three days ago. Our hotel in Toyama has a massage chair, no doubt for the weary and cold guests who have returned from sightseeing, skiing, or hiking in the Japan Alps.

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The hotel is also right across the street from the Toyama Castle which we could see from our hotel window. large_DSC_1686.JPG Janet had asked that we scope out the local Dentetsu station's ticket counter yesterday as soon as we got out of the JR station when we arrived in Toyama. It was located to the left or south of the exit from the Toyama JR station. IMG_1527.JPG You go up a short escalator and the counter is to the left of the front door.

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The ticket counter was closed at the time, but fortunately a sign indicated what time it opened today.

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We wake up at 6 am to go to the train station by 7:00. We needed to exchanged our 1:20 pm tickets for earlier tickets in order to reach Nakone before dark. Trina had purchased the tickets online from the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route official website before we left for Japan and the 1:20 pm slot was the earliest time she could book. The Alpine route takes over six hours. We wanted to get to the train station when they opened in the hopes that they would allow us to exchange our tickets. You can't take any baggage on the route, so we used our ANA hotel's baggage forwarding service to send our baggage to Nagano.
The cost depends on the baggage destination. large_img-baggage01_190417.jpg Our larger baggage had already been forwarded to Tokyo. The Louie's got up even earlier than us and enjoyed a complimentary breakfast. As they were leaving a whole bus load of guests came in for breakfast. There was a line for the dining room when we met in the lobby. Kingman said "all those people are going the same place we are". When we arrived at the ticket window in the train station there was a long line already. large_IMG_1615.JPG A staff member asked if we were buying tickets and Trina told them that we needed to exchange them. Hearing us speak English a young lady came over to join the line behind us. She started to talk to our group, explaining that she had bought a ticket before her trip too, but she got into the ticket counter line for her ticket but had missed her train! She had to exchange her ticket now for a later time. As we waited she told us that she was from Oakland. Mike said the Kings were playing against the Oakland Warriors. She proclaimed herself to be an ardent Warriors fan and she had been listening to the game during her trip. Mike showed her his King's ski cap and gloves. She said "I only have this little souvenir hanging on my backpack". It took a while for Trina to get up to the ticket window. The young lady eventually gave up waiting and decided to take a taxi to the first part of the route. While Trina was in line, Kingman noticed that the line for the 8:00 train was forming. He advised us to get into the line, just in case Trina could exchange the tickets for this train. He figured that if we didn't get the 8:00 we could just let people go ahead of us. It was a very smart decision, Trina was successful in getting the 8:00 tickets and it was just a couple of minutes later that we were allowed to board the train, the Alps Express. IMG_1636.JPGIMG_1639.JPGThe train was an older style express rail train with cushioned chairs and wood trays for non reserved riders. The reserved car had wood chairs and a long wood counter that faced the wood framed windows. The one hour ride went past homes, farmland, a very old, wood framed train station that I would have mistaken for a defunct station, a cemetery, a forest of trees and a tiered river stream.IMG_1625.JPGIMG_1621.JPGIMG_1627.JPGIMG_1632.JPG When we reached the Tateyama station there was a sign of two fighting cats, a warning against assaulting the police!

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there was a shop at this small station. I had been shopping for a knit ski cap in Osaka and Kyoto without success so I was happy that there were many to choose from here. I had brought a hat that a patient had knitted for me, but it was crocheted and not meant for the snow. I bought a cap and when I saw Janet looking at a colorful heavy sock I bought a pair of socks too. I found a seat and took off my thin sock and put on the warmer new pair.IMG_1648.JPG A live view screen showed the temperature at difference sections of the route.IMG_1652.JPG We headed to join the line waiting to board the Tateyama cable car.

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They pack you into the car. We didn't have seats and we all stood.IMG_1664.JPG Mike had a large backpack and I had to tell him to be careful moving around because he could hit someone with the pack. I took my backpack off and held it in front of me. There wasn't much to see as there were too many heads in the way. It was a very cramped seven minute ride as the car goes up slopes of almost 25 degrees through the tunnel under the mountain. These are the most powerful cable cars in Japan. IMG_1667.JPG At the next station we wait until 10:20 to board a highland bus. IMG_1669.JPG
The seats are comfortable. large_IMG_1726.JPG During the ride a recording is played in English and Japanese sharing facts about the area and points of interest along the way. IMG_1680.JPGIMG_1671.JPG I kept my eye out for the Shomo Falls and the Sendo Cedar, one of Japan's 100 biggest trees, at the tree line along the road.IMG_1685.JPGlarge_c5aaddc0-e5ee-11ed-960d-d9e09913a966.JPG I couldn't get a good photo of the Sendo Cedar.IMG_1676.JPG Mount Tateyama or Mount Tate for short, is an ecological treasure and everyone is working to preserve it since most of Japan's forests are not natural, but rather consist of man made forests of cypress and cedar. That is the reason why no cars are allowed to drive from the station to the top of the mountain.IMG_1682.JPG The bus stops to let some passengers off at Midagahara which has a hotel.IMG_1704.JPG The snowcapped mountain is stunning, but I am glad we are not staying overnight on Mount Tate. Soon we are going through the 500 meter (1,620 foot long) pathway known as Yuki no Otan (or Great Valley of Snow). A section of the snow corridor around Murodo is only open to pedestrians from April 15 to June 25. IMG_1695.JPG A pathway cuts through towering snow walls that rise up to 20 meters (66 feet) at the highest point of the route. large_IMG_1707.JPGThe tourist attraction is the result of months of strenuous work by snowplow drivers who carve through the snowed-in Tateyama Toll Road. We go inside the rest stop for a few minutes before heading out to the snow wall entrance. There were people walking along the snow wall corridor when our bus drove pass. Some were holding umbrellas, not because of rain, but because it was snowing. large_IMG_1714.JPGIMG_1713.JPG Today the wall is 13 meters (42 feet). The area is just a sea of white and so bright, I should have worn the sunglasses that I had sent ahead to the next destination.large_IMG_1747.JPG We head towards the corridor but stop along the way to take photos.large_IMG_1732.JPGThere was a group waiting in front of a roped off area. large_IMG_1725.JPG The group we saw on the corridor was the last group to be able to walk along the corridor. IMG_1748.JPG Our bus load of people were turned away because the conditions were deemed unsafe. There was nothing to do but make snow balls. IMG_1755.JPGIMG_1756.JPGIMG_1759.JPGIMG_1760.JPGIMG_1768.JPGIMG_1766.JPGIf you're standing around in -4 centigrade (24 degrees) weather without doing any physical activity to produce heat or to distract you from the cold, you might as well enjoy the snow from inside. We went inside and took a snack break after which we caught the Tateyama tunnel trolley bus.

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The bus runs every half an hour. It traverses a tunnel under Mount Oyama, one of the peaks of Mount Tateyama. It runs on battery electrical power so there is no production of gas fumes. The tunnel is only one lane wide but near the middle of the tunnel there is a short section where it is two lanes wide to allow for another bus to pass going in the opposite direction.IMG_1782.JPG The tunnel was originally built as access for the construction of the hydroelectric plant for the Kurobe Dam. After the plant's construction, it was converted for public use. The trolley ride is a quick seven minutes and we head for the next station which has an assortment of stuffed animals who are found in this snowy region as well as some toy rope car, as example of what we will be riding next.

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We are directed where to queue. 708d6a70-e633-11ed-9cb5-35cab8395b42.JPG As the empty rope cars return, you can see the snow and icicles on the top. IMG_1796.JPGIMG_1797.JPGThe car fills quickly and I chose to stand. Mike and Janet sit.IMG_1799.JPG Because it is snowing and the sky is grey and overcast, the 360 degree aerial view of the valley and peaks looks nothing like this advertisement from the Takeyama Kurobe Alpine Route website. large_63135cc0-e632-11ed-870c-793c2a1fb4d3.jpg I take a couple of photos but give up because of the bleak view.

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IMG_1803.JPGThe ride is a quick five minutes to travel 1.7 km. This rope car is unique in Japan in that it does not have any support towers between the upper and lower stations. We exit the ropeway car and head for the Kurobedaira station where they have a cafe. IMG_1814.JPGOne of the menu highlights include Tateyama Black soft serve ice cream. We take a short break again for snacks and head to a tunnel. large_e4bfd2c0-e642-11ed-8c61-5b37598ab5b2.JPGlarge_IMG_1821.JPG This is the first time we find our group completely alone in this tunnel that resembles a bomb shelter. Are we going the right way? As we near the exit the ground is wet and it's hazy with fog. IMG_1823.JPG We walk out and the view is awesome. It's the Kurobe Dam, Japan's tallest and largest dam. large_IMG_1828.JPGIMG_1826.JPG It was a perilous feat of engineering to build this dam in a long, steep, narrow mountain range. large_DSC_1705.JPGlarge_076f2f60-e651-11ed-9ba8-719b134664c4.JPGlarge_DSC_1695.JPG The building of it was a source of national pride, particularly coming after World War II. It was needed to supply the Kansai area with hydroelectric power. If we had come in the summer we would be able to see water being released from the dam. On this drizzling day we see the stretch of aqua colored railing along the paved walkway above the curved wall of the dam. large_IMG_1825.JPGWe see the snow dotted mountainside. Looking below, Lake Kurobe is a dark forest green color instead of the emerald green often mentioned in descriptions of the dam. The lower part of the mountain slope is covered in concrete. IMG_1839.JPGIMG_1836.JPG Had it not been raining and if we were not on a tight route schedule, I would have liked to explore this area longer to be able to appreciate this engineering marvel. A lot of thought went into preserving the breathtaking beauty of the area. The power generating equipment and facilities are all built 490 feet underground, not just for preservation of the natural scenery but also to avoid problems with snowfall and avalanches. The walk on top of the dam takes 15 minutes. We are heading to the other side of the dam to yet another station. IMG_1841.JPG With rain coming down, I try to open my umbrella with one hand while holding my camera with the other. I finally just give up on the umbrella and try to take more photos while also trying to not lag behind my group who have made their way across the dam and are heading into a building. Our group takes a short break while waiting for the Kanden Tunnel electric bus. IMG_1847.JPGIMG_1850.JPG A poster on the wall announces that the Kurobe Dam is sixty years old, younger than the majority of our group.IMG_1848crop.jpg The electric bus takes sixteen minutes to reach Ogizawa. Now we step back to civilization. We catch the 2:40 limited express train to the JR Nagano Station which lets us off at their East exit at 4:25.large_IMG_1863.JPGIMG_1864.JPG The JR station has restaurants, fast food, and shops. We buy a strawberry flavor croissant takiyaki for a snack. IMG_1865.JPGIMG_1871.JPG A store selling premium Japanese snacks and candy has many cute and appealing products, many featuring licensed characters such as the Sanrio Hello Kitty which are hard to resist. I buy a bag of fruit flavored mochi candy with a creamy filling. We check into the Nagano Tokyu REI hotel across the street from the station. We're all on our own for dinner tonight, having had a long but very satisfying day in the Japanese Alps. I want something quick and easy for dinner so Mike and I settle for a low budget pre-cooked meal to go. They heat up the food upon request. IMG_1866.JPG We sit at an area for eating take out which has a water station. Then it's time to get some rest and get ready for our next adventure!

Posted by Helen K. 05:55 Archived in Japan

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