Toyama Cultural Heritage Toyama Cultural Heritage

Seeking World Heritage Recognition
One of the 20 Selections for Japan’s 20th Century Heritage

Hydroelectric Power Facilities on the Kurobe River

The Ultimate in Power Generation Developed in Harmony with Nature

The Kurobe River flows from a source in the Northern Alps. With its steep terrain and abundant water, it is naturally suited to hydroelectric power generation. The vast power generation facilities here are considered a symbol of the 20th century, and have been praised as the ultimate in power generation that exists in harmony with the natural environment. In 2017, these facilities were collectively listed among the twenty selections for Japan’s 20th century heritage, for the way that they bear testament to Japan's modernization.

The Rich Natural Environment of Kurobe Gorge

Kurobe Gorge is a large V-shaped valley formed by the Kurobe River eroding the terrain that was formed by volcanic activity in the Tateyama mountain range and upheavals in the Ushiro Tateyama mountain range. You can also see Japan's only existing glacier here, as well as glacial landforms created 10,000 to 30,000 years ago.
One area is particularly popular with climbers, offering majestic scenery of twisting, intersecting gorges. A variety of wild animals, including ptarmigans and Japanese serows, two special protected species, can be found here, as well as native flora like alpine plants, and pristine Tateyama cedar forests.
Photo:taken by Yasuo WASHIZUKA.
English Tour Guide of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
In Japan, ptarmigans have long been considered messengers of the gods.

Sarutobi Gorge

This gorge is the narrowest section of the main part of the Kurobe River, and gets its name (literally, "monkey jump") from the way that monkeys would leap across the river here. Take the sightseeing trolley train to Keyakidaira Station, then walk 20 minutes.
Kurobe River Power Generation Development - History and Facilities

The Origins of Power Generation Development

The Sightseeing Trolley Train, Beloved by Visitors
Takamine Jokichi, Who Discovered Taka-diastase and Adrenaline, and the Development of Power Generation: The project to develop electric power resources using the Kurobe River started in 1917, based on a plan proposed by the renowned chemist and Toyama Prefecture native Takamine Jokichi. He took an interest in domestically refining aluminum - an industry that relied on imports at the time - and proposed harnessing the Kurobe River to generate the large amounts of electricity needed. In 1923, a railroad line was built to transport construction materials, and in 1927, the first power generation facility was completed on the Kurobe River.
Copyright:Toyama Tourism Promotion Organization
Transport Railroad and Tourism
The railroad line was originally built to transport construction materials, but before long it was a popular draw for tourists, and began passenger train service in the 1950s. In 1971, the Kurobe Gorge Railway Company began operation, and this trolley train, running along these scenic sights, has become a popular favorite for visitors from Japan and abroad.
Kurobe River Power Generation Development - History and Facilities

A Power Station in a National Park: Kurobe No. 2 Power Station

Kurobe River No. 2 Power Station (Completed in 1936)
In 1934, the Tateyama-and-Kurobe region was designated as Chubu Sangaku National Park, making it necessary to take the natural environment into consideration when installing power stations there. The electric power company commissioned Bunzo Yamaguchi, a leading early modern Japanese architect, to design the appearance of the Kurobe River No. 2 Power Station and Koyadaira Dam, in order to make them suitable to fit into a national park. Just before undertaking this assignment, Bunzo Yamaguchi had studied in Germany from 1930 to 1932, and trained in architecture under the world-renowned architect Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school; he also received guidance on hydrology from authorities on dam construction at the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie.

Geometric aesthetics mesh with the beauty of the valley

Exploring Architecture from the Trolley
Kurobe No. 2 Power Station has a sleek design that incorporates an international style with an emphasis on functionality, rationality, and minimal decoration. Its geometric appearance perfectly fits the beauty of the valley, and was the talk of the architectural world at the time. The Kurobe No. 2 Power Station and Meguro Bridge are concrete and steel structures, yet integrate splendidly with the scenic beauty of Kurobe Gorge. These can be seen on the Kurobe Gorge Railway trolley, which departs from Unazuki Station. Kurobe No. 2 Power Station is about 42 minutes from Unazuki Station, and Koyadaira Dam is a 62-minute trip from the departure point.
Meguro Bridge (Built in 1934):
A railroad bridge using a Vierendeel truss, one of only two of its kind built in early modern Japan.
Structural Beauty in Curves and Lines along the Gorge

The Koyadaira Dam (Completed in 1936)

In addition to the dam itself, the attached water intake and settling basin were also designed by Bunzo Yamaguchi. The dam features a symmetrical design that cleverly combines straight lines and arcs, while the intake has an innovative design that makes use of curves, and the settling basin gate uses arcs and emphasized horizontal lines in its design; as a result, they all coexist harmoniously with the natural beauty of the gorge.
Kurobe River Power Generation Development - History and Facilities

The Kurobe River No. 3 Power Station and Sennindani Dam, Completed after a Long, Difficult Construction (Completed in 1940)

26 m tall, 49 m wide, 29 m deep, 5-story reinforced concrete structure
The Kurobe River No. 3 Power Station was designed to adopt the visual style of the Kurobe River No. 2 Power Station, while emphasizing the verticality of the pilasters and using smaller windows for greater functionality. Overall, it has needed few renovations, and largely retains its original appearance.
The design of Sennindani Dam largely emulates that of Koyadaira Dam, but with refinements to improve its efficiency, such as placing the intake and sediment basin underground. In addition to the difficulties of the construction work itself, the building camp experienced powder snow avalanches and other tragedies, leaving many injured or even dead.
Concrete gravity dam, 47 m tall, 240,000 m3 water capacity

Complex Construction Work That Stands the Test of Time

The Kurobe River No. 3 Power Station is located below Keyakidaira Station, the last stop on the Kurobe Gorge Railway. The slope of the Kurobe River was so steep that it was impossible to build a railway to transport materials to the Sennindani Dam construction site above. Instead, a mineshaft elevator was installed inside the mountain, and a tunnel was dug horizontally through the mountain from the mineshaft to build the upper railroad line. During the tunnel excavation, a hot spot was found where the rock reached temperatures as high as 166°C, and scalding water would spray out. The high temperatures would also cause dynamite to spontaneously combust. The Kurobe No. 3 Power Station and Sennindani Dam were completed in 1940, having overcome a gargantuan challenge that would go down in the history of Japanese civil engineering. This work was accomplished without the large excavating machines available today, with the crew instead drilling by hand. Today, a tour of the route to the Kurobe No. 3 Power Station, using the Trolley and the KEPCO mineshaft elevator, is available by reservation — it also makes a great way to enjoy a panoramic view of Kurobe Gorge.
The Trolley Can Ride the Mineshaft Elevator Up or Down 200 m.
The Project of the Century

Kurobe No. 4 Power Station and Kurobe Dam (Completed in 1963)

Kurobe No. 4 Power Station is a reinforced concrete construction approximately 33 m tall and 22 m wide, and spanning 117 m. One particularly unique feature of this power Station is the fact that it is completely underground, in order to avoid disturbing the natural landscape, and to prevent damage from avalanches.
The Kurobe Dam employs a distinctive design, with a basic structure composed of an arch dam made of concrete, and a winged gravity dam attached at both ends to counteract the weak bedrock. This dam is one of the largest in Japan, at 186 m tall, and has a water capacity of 200 million tons. It plays a key role in regulating the amount of electricity generated by the Kurobe River.

From Landmark Construction Challenge to Beloved Tourism Destination

The Kurobe No. 4 Power Station and Kurobe Dam were completed in 1963, with a total of 10 million people involved in the seven-year construction project, overcoming tremendous hardships such as steep terrain and severe weather conditions. The story of its construction was shared with the world through the movie The Sands of Kurobe. Today, the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which gives access to Kurobe Dam, draws tourists with the changing beauty of nature through all four seasons.
The observation deck, 1,508 m up, offers a vast panoramic view of the Northern Alps, including the Tateyama mountain range.
In order to maintain the landscape of the Kurobe Gorge, water is discharged during a portion of the year, and the stunning sight of sprays of over 10 tons of water per second is viewable by the public.