A Starry Night on the Roof of Japan

We went up 2,450 meters/ 8,038 feet above sea level to Murodo station, the highest point of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. The region is known for its panoramic view the Japanese mountain range, rare plants and impressive 20m/66 ft snow wall from open from April to June. The mountainous region is said to get the most snowfall in Japan. And we got to see the snow. What a thrill!

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The Ogizawa station, a trolley bus station with the alps in the background.

About the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, the Japanese often called this region the “Roof of Japan”. The route passes through an awesome scenery of the Japanese Alps. And Mt. Fuji sometimes can be seen from afar but on a very clear day.

The fun part is getting on the different transportations that take you over the Japanese alps to Murodo station. You traverse using, electrical hybrid buses, tunnel trolley bus that goes underground, cable cars that climb and a long ropeway. These vehicles and the seasonal changes within scenery are the main attraction of the route. We got to see autumn from the bottom and the higher we got, we saw snow. It was fascinating to watch our surrounding change and to feel a change in the temperature, too.

And along the way up or down to different stations, we took our time and walk around to see special points. We stopped at the Kurboe Dam, the tallest dam in Japan. The station had a museum that talked about the history of the dam. And went on a nature walk around the dam where we watched the highest sailing vessel cruise around on Lake Kurobe. It was pretty with all the autumn leaves. Then we took a cable car to another station and transferred to the Tateyama Ropeway, the longest unsupported ropeway to our final destination, the Murodo Station, the highest altitude station that stood 2,450 meters/8038 feet. We also stayed overnight at Hotel Tateyama that is attached to the Murodo station. The hotel was old and had a lot of character.

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We stand in front of a large rock carved with the name of the mountain, Tateyama in Japanese Kanji characters.

At Murodo we found ourselves surrounded by white snow. We immediately went to check in our rooms, changed to boots, grabbed our hats and gloves, and went out for a walk on the snow. We took pictures of ourselves before a sign with the name of the Mountain range that was in the Japanese language. Next to the sign was delicious natural spring water. We drank the water and filled our bottle with the water before we embarked on our hike around the Murodo. There was a lot to see in the area. We went to see the oldest mountain hut in Japan built 2,300 years ago. This hut is an important cultural site. And we walked to Mikurigaike pond that one of the most picturesque spots in the area. The pond is actually a crater lake. And around the lake were rare Rancho birds (a kind of ptarmigan bird) can be seen hiding in the bushes. We looked for these birds but only to find their footprint in the snow. We continued to walk past the pond to the Emmadai, a Jigokudani (a kind of hell valley) where we watched hot spring steam come out the ground into the cold air. It created a white like fog before us. And we had the option to take a bath in the Mikurigaike hot spring, that is the highest altitude natural hot spring in Japan. But because it was getting colder and dinner was approaching, we had to decline the bath and return to our hotel.  And we had a feast with lots of foods and drinks.

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Starry Night

After dinner, we learned from the front desk of our hotel that we were going to have had a starry night. This meant we would be able to see lots of stars. We dressed up warm again and went outside to watch the stars. Some expert was already outside giving a lecture to groups of people about the stars. He used a kind of pen-like device that gave off a very thin ray of light that could trace the constellations. It was so interesting and were able to recognize many patterns with help of that ray of light. It was also exciting.

The next morning we got up very early for the sunrise. And we saw a very bright sun come up from between two mountains. We could see everything clearly in white snow. We were inspired to follow another trail but shorter where we found a Ptarmigan bird’s footprint but no bird. We looked but never spotted one. Also, we had the option for a hot spring bath but most of us didn’t want to go down an icy slope.

After breakfast, we took different transportations down to Tateyama station, stuffed our bags in a locker at the station and took off on a bus to the Shomyo Falls, the highest waterfall in Japan. It wasn’t a part of the tour itinerary but we wanted to see the waterfall and so we went. The autumn leaves offered a lovely scene. And we saw rainbows that promised us good luck.