Mt Takao

Tamago had a day off the other day and since I’m not working yet we both had a day completely free. Those of you who know us know that we are extremely outdoorsy, we spend our weekends camping and downhill mountain biking. My preferred sleeping arrangement is a swag [great — I’ll set one up on the floor for you, and I’ll take the 1.5 bed! – Tamago]. Naturally, therefore, on our precious day together we elected to go and climb a mountain. Thankfully it is only about 599 metres tall.

Mt Takao is an hour away by train from Shinkuku train station, the main train station nearest to us. That is if you manage to catch an express train. If, on the other hand, you mistakenly catch the local train because you are a silly gaijin and you’re forced to stop at every single station on the way to Takaosanguchi Station (the train station nearest to Mt Takao) it takes about an hour and forty minutes. Give or take.

When we got to the station, it was really easy to figure out which way the walks were, we just followed the elderly Japanese hikers in their gigantic visors and walking shoes. There are English language as well as Japanese maps in the train station. So, ignoring the temptation of the Takao Trick Art Museum (with an Egyptian theme!) that was beckoning in the distance, we two intrepid walkers set off up Mt Takao.

There are several options available to you when you elect to walk up the mountain. If you have your elderly grandmother with you, you can catch the cable car halfway up and trundle along the gently sloping paths to the summit, if you’re hardcore like Tamago and Moon Tan, you can walk up the practically vertical pathway until it converges with the cable car crowd and becomes civilised. Otherwise,  if you’re suicidal you can take the chair lift halfway up.

Mt Takao is considered a sacred mountain and is associated with tengu, Japanese Shinto spirits. There are Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines at the summit of the mountain and smaller shrines along the way. I was particularly intrigued by the tiny statues of little sitting men (perhaps Buddha? But they didn’t seem chubby enough. I’m such a heathen). These statues were everywhere up and down the mountain, even on the tracks that weren’t main tracks. And every single one of them on the day we went was wearing a red or orange knitted beanie and a red or white bib. I love that someone has gone and dressed every single one of those guys. In Australia, someone would have lost the map of all the statues for sure.

One more thing I should mention, Mt Takao is such an unashamed tourist mecca that there are little food stalls, bars (yes bars!) and souvenir shops all the way up the main path. There is also a ‘Monkey Park’ where tourists can see monkeys. We gave the Monkey Park a miss but we did sample a ‘dango’, Japanese dumplings on a stick made from a chewy, slightly sweet paste and toasted so they had a crunchy, salty exterior. Very strange. We weren’t fans but lots of Japanese people were eating them with gusto so maybe our palates aren’t refined enough.

We had an excellent walk, the scenery was stunning, the temples were fascinating and it is unbelievable that such a lush and beautiful environment is only an hour outside of the biggest city in the world. Tamago and I ate our lunch at a rest stop halfway up the mountain and we had incredible views over Tokyo. There are several walks available that are all outlined in the brochure you can pick up at the train station. There are also a lot of maps along the pathways. There does seem, however, to only be one main path and the rest are all a little off the beaten track but still perfectly walkable for the able bodied individual. Tamago and I took an alternate route down the mountain and stumbled across a waterfall and a little shrine to some cave gods. We went at the end of one of the latest autumns Tokyo has ever experienced, at the beginning of December. To see the autumn colours in the future I would recommend playing it safe and visiting a little earlier in the season.

A highly recommended day trip.