Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route + Shirakawago & Kanazawa
Leaving noisy Tokyo, and jumping into the full nature and culture, to the Nagano prefecture! Going to the land of pilgrimage in the middle of a mountain, to have the experience of stay in the temple Zenko-ji.
Visit Mountainous Lands to find cultural authenticity&natural beauty:Tokyo~Kanazawa
Climbing over the 300m mountains of Japan Alps called the Roof of Japan which devide Japan into east and west by several transports.
Then at the foot of the Japan Alps, riding on rumbling trolley train in Kurobe gorge surrounded by abundant nature, and arrive at Kanazawa, the Small Kyoto.
Then unmissable Shirakawa-go, one of the World Heritage Site.
Heading to Kyoto but shall we stopping over some interesting sites to enjoy the culture, the nature and the tradition of Japan?
Where to Go
Ideas of activities to enjoy before the day of departure.
Day 1 : Tokyo
Overnight in Tokyo
Day 2 : Tokyo - Zenko-ji
The Kanazawa Hokuriku Shinkansen, introduced in 2015, is designed on the connection between the ancient traditional culture and the future, the “Wa future” project.
Its appearance is a combination between two important designed structures, the ancient traditional japanese colour in harmony with the landscape along the railroad, and the high speed operation while having a comfortable and elegant motion.
The steadiness of the train is remarkable, and although the train crosses mountainous areas to a speed of 260 k.p.h, it reduces vibrations and makes the travel be as relaxed as possible.
Pilgrimage to Zenko-ji temple
This temple is located north of Nagano Prefecture, and was founded in the 7th century. It was already established before the separation of buddhism in Japan. This temple accepts everyone without any distinction, including women, unlike least recent temples. Consequently, this temple has always been visited for centuries.
During the Edo period, local roads have been constructed and traveling has become easier than before. People began to travel into the heart of mountains in Nagano. At the end of the Edo period, Zenko-ji was a highly visited temple which allowed the city of Nagano to grow and become nowadays, the prefectural city.
Into the main part of Zenkoji temple stands the statue of Amida-sanson-zo. This is the oldest statue of Japan, and a true national treasure. Once every 7 years, during the “Gokaicho” time, a replica is shown to public because the original statue is kept preciously and even the priests of Zenko-ji are not allowed to contemplate it.
Tourism in Zenko-ji is also popular due to “Okaidan-meguri” road, where visitors walk under the Ruri-dan with heads bent down, into total darkness.
While they are moving along the wall, visitors are heading for the “Gokuraku no Jo-mae” (The paradise keyhole) which is under the Buddha statue. It says that if you touch it, you could place yourself in relation with Buddha to Paradise. This experience has a true connection with buddhism.
Usually, people are skeptical about how this experience could have any interest, but thanks to it, we learn all the secrets of meditation and concentration. After touching the keyhole, we move into darkness, completely lost, but helped by concentration and the desire to reach the light as we wish to reach the awakening. And when we finally make it, we are dazzled by the light, relieved, and delighted by the wonders of the world around us. We realize how lucky we are to live in this world and grateful to our daylife. That is why these little road is synonymous of “Dojo”, a space for immersive learning and meditation.
~ The town loved by Hokusai ~
Obuse is located north of the Nagano Prefecture and the smallest town of the region with a population of 11,000 inhabitants. However, more than 1.2 millions of visitors come to visit it each year.
There are many museums, ancient temples and shrines, little shops selling local pastries and the town is surrounded by a quiet and wonderful scenery. In this traditional town you feel a true wellbeing. Formerly, it was a farming village which was witnessing increasing rural exodus.
In order to revitalize its streets, the Hokusai Katsushika (famous japanese painter known for the art of ukiyo-e) museum was established.
Hokusai will therefore be remembered as the painter who lived in Obuse for several years since he had 83.
At this age, it was the first time he came to Obuse to visit his old friend, Kozan Takai, a wealthy farmer settled in the town for a long time. Takai established a workshop in his house for Hokusai. Hokusai came back to Obuse in 1844 until 1848. He passed away in Edo, age 90.
Hokusai was very famous and renowned for its remarkable work but also for his very particular personality, and many people though he was crazy, and totally uncaring on money. However, Hokusai was completely serene when he lived in Obuse.
Hokusai is well-known for his beautiful engravings “Ukiyoe”, and he was also a great painter. You could admire in Obuse, among his most beautiful works. The best known in this small town are “Ryu” (the dragon), “Houou” the phoenix and “Do-to” (the furious wave), and you would not miss it. You would visit the Gansho-in temple to see the ceiling that Hokusai painted. This painting is the “Happo-Nirami no Houou” (the phoenix staring in 8 directions). This remarkable painting is 191cm x 95.5 cm, the size of 12 tatamis mats. The works of Hokusai contribute to promote the town in addition to the efforts which have either been completed to develop Obuse as we know today.
Many architects play an important part in harmonizing modern life with ancient traditional buildings. Obuse spotlights its speciality, the chestnut cooked in several ways (pastries, ice creams, and a wide range of other delicious recipes). In addition, the infrastructures and tourism are widely developed in comparison to other small touristic towns of the same kind.
~ Overnight in a temple ~
When you are visiting Zenko-ji temple, we highly recommend you to spend the night in a temple called in Japanese, “Shukubo”.
Formerly, a Shukubo was part of a temple that welcomed pilgrims came from far away, and these people aimed for a modest meal and for spending the night in the same place where monks lived. They purified their souls and their body.
Nowadays, in the same way, Shukubo welcome tourists who enjoy to spend the night in a comfortable place, the facilities and the service being improved.
It is quite different from the ascetic life pilgrims used to experience before but it keeps the willingness to share the buddhist culture to visitors who stay here.
There is also the opportunity to experience the Sha-Kyo (a soutra transcription) and the Sha-Butsiu. But above all, "O-asa-ji" is highly recommended. It means the reading of the soutra aloud by the monks in the main part of the temple. It starts between 5 am and 6:30 am. Visitors are down on their knees while receiving the benediction from the main monks, a man and a woman (no discrimination in this temple). While the monks are heading for the main part of the temple, they are praying aloud and visitors are listening to them.
The participation of "O-asa-ji" is not obligatory, but why not taking the opportunity to participate in this early morning experience for once?
Day 3 - Day 4 : Zenko-ji - the Alpine Route
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート, Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route) is a unique and spectacular route through the Northern Japan Alps which is traversed by various means of transportation including cablecars, trolley buses and a ropeway.
Completed in 1971, the route connects Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture with Omachi Town in Nagano Prefecture. The section between Tateyama Station and Ogizawa is closed to private vehicles.
It is completely inaccessible from December to mid April.
The main attraction of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is the magnificent scenery of the Tateyama Mountain Range, part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park. Visitors can enjoy varying vistas during different seasons of the year. In spring, accumulated snow, especially around the upper sections of Midagahara and Murodo, form a majestic snow corridor whose snow walls reach up to 20 meters high. A section of the snow corridor around Murodo is open to pedestrians usually from mid April to late June.
Summer and autumn attract visitors with beautiful landscapes, alpine flowers (especially around June through August) and autumn leaves. The fall colors typically reach their best around Murodo and Daikanbo from late September to early October, and they gradually descend the mountain slopes, arriving at the lower elevations from late October to early November.
The highest point along the route, Murodo offers a variety of hiking trails that cater both to serious hikers and to those looking for a leisurely walk. Other highlights along the route are the single-span Tateyama Ropeway that provides great panoramic bird's eye views of the surrounding mountain scenery, and the 186 meter tall Kurobe Dam which is especially spectacular when it discharges water between late June and mid October. From mid June through September temperatures along the Alpen Route are mild, and it rarely gets too hot either. From April to early May and from mid October through November, temperatures are cool and it might get chilly on windy days. Just one layer of clothing is enough for summer, while an additional sweater or jumper is recommended for spring and autumn. Good walking shoes are advised if you plan on hiking beyond the easy walking trails in the vicinity of respective stations along the route. Accommodation in form of hotels, mountain huts and camp grounds is available along the route, especially around Murodo.
1. Oogisawa st. to Kurobe Dam st. : Kanden tunnel trolly bus（6.1ｋｍ）
Starting from Nagano side, Oogisawa and ended at Kurobe dam. You will pass the border of Nagano and Toyama in the tunnel.
This route has been made for the construction of the hydroelectric power plant of Kurobe dam. The trolley bus will be rechargeable electric bus in 2019.
2.Kurobe Dam st. to Kurobeko st. : on foot on the dam（0.6ｋｍ）
This dam is constructed in Kurobe river which sauce is Northe Alps and the water is sent to Kurobe River Forthe power plant, so it is called also as "Kuro Yon damu" (No. 4 Kurobe dam).
In the recovery phase of Japan after the war, in order to solve the electric power shortage, the construction of the dam is started in 1956, and it took 7 years and made precious 171 human lives lost. The dam provided the 50% of electric in Kansai area and it contributed for the development of Kansai.
Now it is one of the main sightseeing site of the Alpen route, and we can see the touristic drainage between end-June and mid-October.
3. Kurobeko st. to Kurobedaira st. : Kurobe cable car（0.8ｋｍ）
From the station Kurobe-ko (Kurobe lake) to the point of the altitude 1,828m, climing 373m of difference of altitude in 5minutes.
In order to avoid the snow damage, the route runs underground tunnel.
4. Kurobedaira st. to Daikanbo st. : Tateyama ropeway（1.7ｋｍ）
The aerial ropeway linking Kurobedaira station and Daikanbo station which has 488m difference of altitude has no pier between 2 stations.
The two stations linked directly without pier because it is the solution for avoiding the snow damage, and it it the longest ropeway between the stations in Japan.
5. Daikanbo st. to Murodou st. : Tateyama tunnel trolly bus（3.7ｋｍ）
Going through the tunnel inside of the Mt. Oyama (3,003m of altitude), the route is linked Daikanbo station and Murodou station.
Receiving directly the electricity from the overhead wire, the bus avoids the car fumes so that it is environmentally friendly.
There two only trolley buses in Japan are the one of Kanden tunnel and this Tateyama trolley bus, but the Kanden trolley bus will be rechargeable electric bus in 2019, so that this Tateyama trolley bus will be the one and only trolley bus in japan.
6. Murodou : stroll around
This is the highest point of the Alpen route and it is the best sightseeing site of this route.
Murodou station is located in the lake side area which has been made by volcanic activity, and the altitude of the point of the station is 2,450m.
In spring, the outside of the station is totally covered with snow, and you will see the snow wall of 10-20m hight in the sides of the route.
In summer, when the snow is melt, the beautiful route is appeared, and you can enjoy the lushly green.
If you are lucky, you may see the ermines or grouses which are the endangered species.
7. Murodou st. to Bijodaira st. : Tateyama hightland bus（23ｋｍ）
Going down the 1,500m of difference of altitude in 50minutes.
In Spring, descending the large valley covered with snow is spectacular, but in summer and autumn, you will enjoy the difference of nature in each different altitude.
In the route, you will enjoy looking the tallest water falls Shomyo-daki from the windows, and when you arrive at Bijodaira, you will find yourself into the lush greenery forest.
8. Bijodaira st. to Tateyama st. : Tateyama cable car（1.3ｋｍ）
Then, you will take again the cable car for finishing this route.
This route is not inside of the tunnel, so you will descend 500m with an incline of 24 degree, so please enjoy the experience the thrill of falling.
Day 5 : Kurobe gorge - Kanazawa
Kurobe gorge devides the Northen Japan Alps into Tateyama mountain ranges and Ato-Tateyama montain ranges.
This huge gorge is designated as a natural treasure and it is one of the 3 biggest gorges in Japan.
Kurobe gorge is the depest V shaped gorge in Japan which was made by crustal mouvements and rapid streams of Kurobe river.
Once, it was unexplored region but in the 19th century, when the people started to explore the gorges, many alpinists comes to this place.
The Kurobe river has the source from many mountains of the Northern Japan Alps, and as it is a heavy snowfall area, it is abundant with water, the construction of dam is started for the purpose of electric power development.
Even though, the untouched wildness of nature as the virgin forests of maples, beeches and oaks are left and they show the beauty in each season.
Especially, in the season of autumn leaves, many tourists rush for seeing the contrasts made by red, orage and yellow leaves.
Kurobe gorge railway
Kurobe gorge railway is called by a nickname of "Kurotetsu" among the people with affection, and it is the sight seeng route between Unazuki Onsen station and Keyakidaira station runs trokko train from end-April until November.
On the way, there are many stations, but there are only two stations Kuronagi and Kanetsuri whre we can go out from the train.
There is a train goes from keyakidaira to Kurobe dam but you should apply and draw in the lottery which is highly competitive to ride the train.
Kurobe gorge train today is known as a sightseeing train and one of the most popular attraction, but it was used to be a train for the delivery of materials for the construction of the dam.
However, the route has been made before the construction of the "Kuro Yon dam", people burrowed the tunnel with dynamite and simple tools as it was in prewar period.
They lost precious lives for the tunnel but as the hydroelectric power by abundant water from Kurobe river was indispensable for supplying electricity in Kansan region, so the consecutive constructions kept going fo making many dams and hydroelectric power plants away from Unazuki hot spring.
On the other hand, by the requests of the alpinists and the explorers who were fascinated by the beauty of nature, they started selling the trolley trains' tickets for not only the people who are carrying materials and for the workers of the construction.
However, the main function of the trains is material transportation, so that the tickets for the passengers were endorsed that security was not guaranteed at all. In the winter time, train service stops halfway through the route for the snow falls, there is another sidewalk tunnel.
Once, there was no electricity inside of the tunnel, so that there were the people who carried the materials and foods for the workshop so far called "Teiso-san".
Even now, there are 10-12 Teiso-sans bringing foods and goods to the engineers who permanently stationed in the 2nd Kurobe power plant during winter time, and they walk long distance from Unazuki hot spring for 2 or even 4 hours per day.
Kurobe gorge hot spring group
The gorge of Kurobe situated at the foot of the Tateyama volcano is famous for the landscape but also for the abundant water quality.
The starting station of trolley train, Unazuki onsen is very famous and the biggest hot spring in Toyama prefecture.
If you stop at the station Kuronagi, there is Kuronagi hot spring, famous for abundant water, and Unazuki hot spring draws water from Kuronagi.
It is the first discovered hot spring in the gorge and you have to walk in the mountain path from the station to Kuronagi, but you would enjoy nice view.
In Tsurigane station, there is also a hot spring and you can stay in the accomodations, but among all, the special features of this location are the free stone bath and the open-air bath in river beach.
When you walk from the station to the mountain streams, you will find the natural open-air bath as like a cave between rocks, and also another open-air hot spring surrounded by stones in the river beach very close to the river.
In the river beach, as soon as you dig, the hot water cames out, so that by mixing the cold water from the river, you can make your private bath tub.
You can wear the swimwear, but as many people come to this spot, you must be very brave to take a bath for long time.
The last stop is Keyakidaira. After 15minutes of walk, you will arrive at Meiken hot spring, and if you walk more around 40minutes, there is Babadani hot spring. So it is nice to enjoy a one day trip to enjoy hot springs by walking in the nature.
Except for Unazuki hot spring, we can go to those hot springs by trolley trains only and as they are closed for winter time, how about enjoying hot springs in Mother nature in good season.
Day 6 : Kanazawa - Shirakawa-go - Kanazawa
In the region of Hida, Shirakawa-go Ogimachi village in Gifu prefecture, Gokayama Ainokura village and Suganuma village in Toyama prefecture are registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
Shirakawa-go is the biggest village among those 3 villages, and it is 2/3 of the World Heritage part, and there are 60 houses in total.
In Japanese, it is not simply "the village of the World Heritage", but it is registered under the name of "the village of Gassho style". The "Gassho" is the very unique thatched roofs of this region of World Heritage site.
Gassho style is one of the Japanese construction style and it is used for heavy snowfall region, and it is built by the combination of the logs alternately, steeply sloaped, thatched roofs that meet a high roof, which looks that "bringing the hands together to pray to the gods" which is "Gassho" in Japanese.
The design of the steaply sloaped roof is for that the snow piled up on the roof would easily sliding down.
The large garret created by those roofs was used for the shelves to raise silkworms. The sericultural industry is the principal industry in this region.
By the development of the sericultural industry, the roof was made higher and steeper to increase the space.
The roof is made without one single nail, and it is fixed by ropes but tough and flexible structure. The exposure of the house and the position of the window are fully calculated. This rational style of architecture is made by wisdom of ancestors.
The thatched roof maintains for 30-40years, but it is damaged by wind, rain and snow, so it is necessary to repair one or twice per year.
Changing the thatched roof is a great task so that all residents used to come to work together.
In the end of the 19th century, there were around 2,000 houses of Gassho style, but nevertheless, this style of architecture was exceptional and rare in Japan.
By the depopulation and by the constructions of the dams, many people left the villages, but as this region is located in the heavy snowfall area and
without the sufficient transportation facilities, the villages have been isolated from cities, and for this reason, some part of the villages were being maintained until today.
In due course, the actions of concerving the original and unique villages and rural landscape are started inside and outside of the villages, and finally, in 1994, they are registered as the 4th World Cultural Heritage site in Japan.
Today, it became a famed tourist spot but as the number of the souvenir stores and restaurants are increased, it is concerned that the original scenery of pastoral and calm mountain villages is vanishing.
Day 7 : Free visit in Kanazawa
Free time in Kanazawa all day
Kanazawa is the capital of the prefecture Ishikawa in Hokuriku region, and it has been developped as a castle town of the biggest daimyo (feudal lord) in Edo period, and its population was big after 3cities as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
Known as "Kaga Hyakuman koku" (the wealthy Kaga Domain with a net worth of 1 million koku of rice), people and feudal lords admired its prosperity and even though the city is out from principal roades, the original graceful city has been founded.
Kaga has not been involved and damaged by wars, and by the Second World War, the classic and charming beauty remains.
Moreover, successive lords of the Domain encouraged the cultural activities, various traditional cultures are succeded until today.
Kenroku-en is known as one of the 3 best parks in Japan, a circuit style garden classed 3-star in the Michelin guide.
In each season, the park shows beautiful various beauty; the cherry blossom in spring, fresh green leaves in summer, red and yellow leaves in autumn, and Yukitsuri in winter (the technique for the protection of the trees for avoiding snow damage) and off course, a variety of flowers are worth to see in the garden.
Kenroku-en belongs to the Kanazawa castle, and it is located in a low hill, but there are many ponds and the warterways, trees and objets d'art make a magnificent harmony in the garden.
《21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art》
This museum features the contemporary arts after 1980 and the up-and coming artists' artworks are on exhibition.
As they are contemporary arts, perhaps the name of artists are not yet famous, but they will be well known, so that this is the investiments for the future.
For example, the unit of the architects SAANA who won the Golden Lion prize for the most significant work in the international architecture exhibition of the Venice Biennale constructed the unique circular design and elegant galleries one floor under ground and one floor above ground.
Now SANAA is in charge of the design for the renovation of the old department store in Paris, La Samaritaine de Paris.
Myoryuji is the official name of this temple, but it is called as the Ninja Temple because of many trap doors and secret passageways inside.
The temple has no relation with the historical ninja who spies and assasins, but this architecture has been made because of the history of the domain of Kaga.
The domain of Kaga was called as "Kaga Hyakuman koku" (the wealthy Kaga Domain with a net worth of 1 million koku of rice), and the very wealthy and powerful feudral clan so that they have been watched out by the central gouvernment the Tokugawa Shogunate.
However, they could not officialy protect them by the gouvernement, so that they built the temple with fully function of protection secretly for the emergency of atacks.
The visit tour must be pre-booked in advance, and the guide will show you the traps inside of the temple.
《Higashi & Nishi Chaya District, Kazue-machi & Naga-machi Chaya District and Samurai residence》
Without beein involved into the wars, this region maintains classic and peaceful streets of Edo period unti today.
They have been influenced by the elegant culture of Kyoto because of the location, and the entertainment district with luxury restaurants with Maiko and Geisha was developped along the river Saigawa.
Especially, Higashi Chaya District and Kazue-machi Chaya District are designated as the Nation's Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings.
And in Nagamachi, the beautiful earthen walls of upper and middle classes samurai's residences and pavements will drive you in the ancient classical period.
Seison-kaku is specified in the Nation's Important Cultural Properties and built in 1863, in the transition period from Edo to Meiji, very turbulent time of Japan.
It is built by the lord of Kaga for the retirement of his mother, so that we can find his careful attention for the parent in the elegance of the construction.
The ground floor is buit in Shoinzukuri style (the traditional style of Japanese residential architecture) of feudal lord, and the 1st flor is in the style of Sukiyazukuri which is based of a Japanese tea ceremony building. Each room has been decorated in own theme.
We can find the modern oxidental touch which was very modern at that time into the traditional construction and these aspects make the special charm of the building.
《The park of Kanazawa castle》
The Kanazawa castle is the residence of Kaga Domain "Kaga Hyakuman koku" (the wealthy Kaga Domain with a net worth of 1 million koku of rice), the family of Maeda.
What we see today is the renovated one in the end of 20th century, and the most of the original part of the castle has been burnt in the end of 18th century. In 19th century, it was used as military facilities of the army, and it was used as the campus of the university after the Second World War.
The main building of the castle is not restored, but the central raised platform and the main gate, and positions and constructions of the facilities are historicaly re-produced.
Especially the technique of stone walls are very high and you can find the stone walls of different style and different period, so that this castle is also called as "the museum of stone walls".
Day 8Kanazawa - Kyoto
Ideas of activities to enjoy after the tour
|Important to know|
Average temparature (in Celsius)
:7 breakfasts, ２lunches,３dinners
:1night at Tokyo, 1 night at Zenko-ji (Shukubo) , 1 nuit at an hotel on the alpine route, 1night at Unazuki-onsen or in Kurobe gorge,3 nuits at Kanazawa