JPN042013 Chapter 4-1: The Alpine Route

The great Valley of Snow

The backpacker was tall, lean and brightly decked out in fashionable alpine gear with a piece of fleece stashed carelessly at his front. He carried a tall bag pack that reached all the way till above his beanie-d head. And a huge tripod tucked at the base of the bag. Or maybe those were ski poles. A typical, young, Caucasian backpacker, he’s probably heading to where we are headed – a good sign. Perhaps, our destination would be less daunting to foreigners than we had imagined.

But we worried needlessly. When we got off the train at the Shinano-Omachi station, we were greeted immediately by this huge signboard. A train staff was seated next to it, ready to assist. Here, you can get all the information you need regarding the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

We bought a one-way ticket to Tateyama station – 9390 yen. With that, we just needed to show our coupon at each station, follow instructions and hop on/off. Very easy, even for foreigners. I highly recommend it.

When they saw our hard case luggage , they helpfully led us to a shop to deposit our luggage, but we told them no – we were not planning to backtrack. In hindsight, backpacks would have been more convenient. Our luggage caused us no small amount of trouble – because there’s a lot of walking and climbing of steps: up a viewing tower, up and down the ropeway platforms etc.  No wonder everyone else brought only small day bags. 

It started drizzling just before we boarded the bus bound for Ogizawa. We had seen the clouds on the train coming from Matsumoto. Big pieces of wispy-like clouds that obscured the mountain tops from our view. When we got to Ogizawa, it was still misty.  

In spite of the wet weather (or because of it), Kurobe dam was still breath-taking.

Poster in the tunnel. the construction of the dam.

It was cold and wet and drizzling as we rolled our luggage across the dam. But it was still beautiful and captivating. I wished I could stay longer but I had the cable car to catch (already was rolling very slowly).

After crossing the dam, it was up onto the cable car. followed by the ropeway. Then the trolley bus. The wet weather didn’t keep the day trippers away. They came in huge parties. Tour groups – mainly Taiwanese.

Murodo, our final destination for the day, was the most crowded of them all.

We were staying a night at Tateyama Hotel so we waited for the crowd to disperse and then we had the place all to ourselves.

Soon, it became too windy for us to hang out outside.

We went back to the hotel because of the Yuki-no-Otani tour. But I had no idea what it was about. Earlier that day, the conversation went like this:

Staff: There is a Yuki no Otani tour at 4pm. Do you want to join it?

Me: Is it free?

Staff: Yes. It is free for all guests.

Me: Sure. Ok.

Staff: Please come to this lobby at 4pm.  

Me: What is Yuki no Otani  

staff: ….

Actually ‘Yuki no Otani’ 雪の大谷 literally means ‘Great Valley of Snow’ and often translated into English as ‘Snow Corridor’. Almost everyone staying at the hotel was gathered. There was a briefing by the staff, and then we followed him out. Oh before that, we could go to the equipment store to draw any equipment we needed – boots, ski poles. etc.

Yup. That’s the whole point of staying at Hotel Tateyama 2450m above sea level. It was for the Yuki no Otani. At its highest, the snow wall could reach up to 20m!

But I came here because Tateyama Hotel was the highest hotel in japan.

After the walk, time for a sumptuous dinner. A fine meal, as befitting the highest hotel in japan. 

After dinner, the staff organised a slideshow at the cafe to share more about the place through the 4 seasons. There were also detailed explanations about how the snow walls were carved out. Even though it was in Japanese and we could hardly understand what he was saying, we could make out how the snow walls were made using a combination of gps, sticks to mark out the roads etc through the slides. Absolutely mind-blowing.

A picture paints a thousand words indeed.

Next: Part 2 – Sunrise and goodbye.

Visited 24-25 April 2013

Categories: Japan

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