By the time I finally got to the Japan snow tunnel, I’d been waiting literally for years. And I’m not the only one.
“We planned to come here back in 2018,” a Singaporean woman who approached me within the tunnel (she recognized me from this website) explained. “But it was raining on both days we’d potentially set aside, so we had to postpone until 2020—which obviously didn’t happen—and then until now.”
As we relished the experience of being within the towering walls of snow, as crowded as the space between them admittedly was, I began thinking about how I’d explain this experience to all of you. (Who, hopefully, won’t have to wait years to put this advice into action!)
How to Reach the Tateyama Snow Wall
If you want to see Japan’s snow tunnel, you have to do so in conjunction with the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. This is an all-day trip, usually originating from Toyama but sometimes from Nagano, and has many components apart from the snow wall. You’ll start by riding a train from Toyama to Tateyama, and then by riding a cable car (funicular) up to Bijodaira lookout. You’ll then ride a bus to the resort town of Murodo, which is where the snow tunnel.
To descend you’ll need to go through Mt. Tateyama (via tunnel) to Daikanbo lookout, and then down to Kurobe Dam via a ropeway and a second funicular railway. From here you’ll take a pair of buses to Nagano Station, where you can either terminate or return to Toyama via Shinkansen. You can buy a ticket for the entire journey—you must buy it, I should—on this website (TIP: Make sure and toggle the language to English if you can’t speak Japanese!).
Highlights of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Tateyama Cable Car
I love a rickety old funicular—and the Tateyama Cable Car certainly foots that bill. Do note that in order to reach the base station (Tateyama Station), you’ll need to ride the Toyama Chiho Railway from Toyama Station; the cost of this journey is not included in the price of your Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route ticket.
Murodo Snow Tunnel
I’ll be honest: The next leg of the journey isn’t extremely exciting, and not just because you won’t have much time to enjoy the view from Bijodaira lookout. Never mind the fact that it’s about an hour by bus to Murodo, which is the point from which you walk to the Japan snow tunnel (which is spectacular, and worth the journey, but crowded).
You ride a “trolly bus” through a tunnel in Mt. Tateyama itself to reach Daikanbo lookout, which is on the Nagano side of the mountain. This journey isn’t interesting, visually—you can’t see anything—but is captivating when you imagine the engineering that must’ve gone into it. The view from Daikanbo, meanwhile, is spectacular.
The Japan snow tunnel long since left behind, you head dramatically downhill, this time via a ropeway. As you descend, Kurobe Lake (which appeared like a little speck from Daikanbo) becomes larger and larger, until you’re basically right on top of it.
Kurobe Dam is obviously a marvel of engineering, although it’s difficult to meditate on this as you walk across it; I thought more about it as I ate the so-called “Kurobe Dam” curry. Indeed, it wasn’t until I was on the bus toward Nagano that I realized why Kurobe Dam was built in the first place: To power the somewhat distant Kansai region.
Best Time to See Japan’s Snow Wall
As I’ve alluded to a couple of times within this article, the best time to see the snow tunnel of Murodo is between April and June. Specifically, it usually opens around April 15, which is when the snow is soft enough after a winter of heavy pack for a plow truck to actually reveal the road. It stays open until June 15, past which point the snow walls typically melt.
This is not the only time you can visit the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, of course. While it’s closed all winter, it actually stays open throughout the summer, during which its waterfalls and hiking trails are surrounded by greenery and gorgeous wildflowers. In autumn it’s a paradise of color—during the month of October at higher elevations, and as late as mid-November near Kurobe Damn.
Other FAQ About Japan’s Snow Tunnel
Where is the snow wall in Japan?
The snow wall in Japan is located along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, specifically near town of Murodo just beneath the peak of Mt. Tateyama, on the Toyama side. Getting there from Toyama requires a local train, a cable car and a bus ride, and takes between 2-3 hours door-to-door.
Is Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route worth it?
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is an exciting, diverse and very long day trip from either Toyama or Nagano. It’s worth it if you have the stamina and the attention span to be able to appreciate the wide variety of landscapes, vistas and modes of transport along it. And, of course, if you’re not put off by the somewhat high price.
When should I visit Tateyama Snow Wall?
The snow wall along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route opens every year around April 15, and is open until around June 15. If you want to see the “snow tunnel” phenomenon you have to visit between these days, ideally on a very sunny day.
The Bottom Line
It’s relatively easy to visit the Japan snow tunnel, even if it can seem complicated as you start doing research. Don’t allow yourself to be put off by how confusing it is to buy tickets, or the fact that it’s part of a package: Whether from Toyama or Nagano, you can’t reach the snow tunnel without taking a few cable cars and a ropeway, which may or may not be of any interest to you. Maximize your chances for the perfect experience by having at least two potential days you can visit; if the weather the first day isn’t great, wait until the second. Still feel flummoxed? Hire me to plan out your entire Japan itinerary!