History of Tateyama and the Alpine Route

Religious Tateyama

People have believed that a god resides on Mt. Tateyama but the unique volcanic landscape has also prompted comparisons with hell! Many areas have names that conjure hellish images. Examples include “Gakinoda” or “Rice Paddy of Preta”, “Jigokudani” or “Hell Valley” and “Chinoike” or “Blood Pond”.

In the 17th-19th centuries, Tateyama became one of Japan’s three holy mountains along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Hakusan. Many pilgrims visited the mountain. People seeing hot water coming from the ground at Jigokudani imagined that they were seeing into the underworld. The high point of Mt. Tateyama overlooking the valley of hell came to represent heaven. People who climbed Mt. Tateyama during their life hoped that their souls would go to heaven after their death.

The Dawn of Modern Climbing

In the 19th century the Tateyama religion, which had been established from a combination of God and Buddha, brought the idea of experiencing the majestic scenery as it is. This idea attracted many British climbers to Mt. Tateyama. Finally Japanese and female climbers started to enjoy climbing the mountain.

Building Kurobe Dam

In the sudden economic boom following WW2, Japan faced a severe energy shortage. To generate additional electricity the government invested in hydroelectric power. 10 million people worked on the dam during it’s construction, and 171 lost their lives in the process. The hardest part was digging the tunnel that the Kanden Tunnel Trolley bus now runs through. Following construction a movie entitled “Sun over Kurobe” was released starring famous actors who gave realistic performances and the dam acquired a near legendary status similar to the Hoover Dam in the USA.