Like this post? Help us by sharing it!
Mount Tateyama: Heaven or Hell? Hagino Baker puts on her walking boots to learn about this much-fabled and mysterious part of Japan.
Mt. Tate, or Mount Tateyama, at the border of Toyama and Nagano prefectures, is one of the three Spiritual Mountains in Japan; along with Mount Haku (at the boarder of Gifu, Fukui, and Ishikawa prefectures) and the most famous of all, Mount Fuji.
In the old days, Japanese people feared high mountains as they believed the spirit of the dead travelled to the top, and in Buddhism, Hell was thought to be in the mountains. These two beliefs combined with spectacular geology have drawn people here for many years.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route was made by constructing an underground power station below Kurobe Dam, Japan’s tallest dam (186m). The history of its construction is fascinating – seven years were spent creating tunnels though the hot mountains (up to 165 degrees Celsius!) and an 80-metre-long shattered zone.
As you stand in Murodo, at the highest point of the Alpine Route, you can see why people likened it to Hell; the vast flatland in the middle of high mountains, caused by volcano eruptions, looks mysterious. Tarns hold red muddy water that resembles blood, and volcanic gas spews out of the ground by the beautiful Mikurigaike pond in Murodo.
Murodo: The hike
There are many walking paths in Murodo, but the most spiritually significant is the one to Oyama (3,003m), one of the three peaks of Tateyama.
Start the 2-2.5 hour (one way) hike to the (2,450m) peak from Murodo. Follow the paved path, crossing 4-5 snow patches (around until August in most years) to Ichinokoshi saddle where there’s a bathroom and a hut that serves drinks for a small fee.
From Ichinokoshi, a steep climb with loose rocks leads to Sannokoshi, a small flat area to take a break. The final climb leads to Oyama where you can visit the shrine and receive a purification ritual for 500 yen per person.
For a more relaxed approach, the 1-2 hour stroll around Mikurigaike Pond is refreshing, as is the as a boardwalk in Midagahara marshland (2,000m) a 20-minute bus ride down the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route on the Toyama side.
This area is very popular among spiritual seekers, mountain lovers, families with small children, and tour groups alike. Although some of the paths are paved, there are lots of steps and you need good trekking shoes and suitable clothes.
If you plan to do the Oyama hike, stay in Murodo and enjoy the stunning sunset and sunrise.
This is all easily accessible with the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route transport. Access either from the Toyama side and the Nagano side for cable cars, trolley buses and a ropeway.