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Mt Mitake a day trip from Tokyo

Glimpses on the way to Mt Mitake
Glimpses on the way to Mt Mitake

Mt Mitake a day trip from Tokyo

Mt. Mitake is one of the two well known hill spots around Tokyo, the other being Mt. Takao. Both are in the west of Tokyo, connected by JR Chuo line within 1-1.5 hours distance from the heart of Tokyo. So both  Mt Takao and Mt Mitake can be visited in a day trip from Tokyo.  Mt.Takao or Takao San is more popular, being connected to a good part of the uphill journey via chair lifts and cable care. The path up from the lift/cable car stop is also easy on the gradient. But we will talk about Mt..Takao in another issue. Today let us hear about the trip to Mt.Mitake.

view from the mall at the base of the hiking path
view from the mall at the base of the hiking path

Green pines and fir, steep slope, gorgeous wooden temple complex, fine views, that’s all that is there in Mt. Mitake as in Mt.Takao. What differentiates it from its more well known cousin is the rather steep slope, and dense woods. Whereas Takao san has a mix of cedars and pines, Mt.Mitake is almost exclusively covered by higher altitude foliage. The slopes also have caused the land to be more prone to landslides. In fact the map handed out at the Tourist center right outside the station clearly marks an area as risky due to landslides. Due to this dual reason of higher slopes and risk of landslides perhaps Mt.Mitake is less popular. But to purists, Mt.Takao could appear a bit too touristy, too tame. For a taste of real hiking up a mountain path, to see real old Japanese homes with thick layers of hay covering the tiled roofs, and to be able to pray at the yet non-embellished wooden altar centuries old, one needs to go to Mt. Mitake.

Contrast of colors - Mt Mitake
Contrast of colors – Mt Mitake

Going to Mt Mitake

We happened to choose a clear sunny day one of these days in the Golden week holidays of 2016. To help tourist rush, JR operated direct trains from Tokyo via Shinjuku to Okutama, two stations short from Mitake. However being lazy on the holiday day we missed it, and boarded one that required us to change at Ome. Not a bad choice though, since the single line path from Ome offered a view altogether different from the familiar one. If we got the direct train we might not have noticed this change. As the elevation increased, residential quarters tended to be more unplanned, more with gardens. Houses changed into homes. And temples. Areas yet unaffected by the ever increasing boundaries of the great Metropolis.

Good number of people started getting down few stations before the train approached Mitake. Those were the places good for a days camping by the river Tama. The river curved its way here though a wider valley. We could see the silver reflections of it in places as the train chugged along. Tama river at Mt Mitake goes though a gorge, narrow and less suitable for picnic. Mitake is the place more suitable for climbing up, even though there is a canoeing zone right under the bridge across the station. It’s probably more patronized by the locals. For us. tourists we all headed out to our destination – up Mt.Mitake.

Hiking up to Mitake San
Hiking up to Mitake San

The station was typical, on a slope, wooded, the station name-board still had the name curved on wood. Only the smart card enabled exit turnstile betrayed a touch of modernity. The tourist office right next to the station was well appointed with lots of brochures. We were pleasantly surprised to see availability of English language maps. Of course there was another family seemingly from Eastern Europe. So tourists do seem to frequent Mitake as well even though that day we were the only two gaijin families amongst all the crowd.

The way was covered by the tall evergreens
The way was covered by the tall evergreens

At first we would board a cable car that will take us up till a point. From there the hiking route starts. A bus leaves from near the station. Goes till the base of the cable car “caburu shita”. 5 minutes trip. From where the bus dropped us, at cabru shita, we started getting a feel of the slope. About thirty forty meters away is the cable car station. One car goes up as another comes down, crossing in the middle. The full cable car path is a steep incline – quite, repeat quite steep. Its felt especially when one stands next to the driver in front, on the way down. We got our tickets, stepped into the car next to the driver, camera ready in one hand and the hand rail tightly grabbed with the other hand.

Village huts on the way
Village huts on the way

The gradient was well um exciting. Tad too exciting, forgot to take pictures. Anyway at the top there is a view pavilion, with a few eateries cum souvenir shops. We decided to have our fill of ramen here, then headed up. The walk is scenic, as the rows of blue hills in horizon appeared clear on that sunny day. The path weaved through places darkened by tall pines and firs. In between there were a few houses, some fairly old with olden day hay covered roofs but all very well maintained. In between there were Tories, vermilion colored wooden gates with inscriptions on them. And there were stone tablets all the way up perhaps reminding us of the great tales of noble men and / or reminding one of the sayings of Lord Buddha.

At one point the number of houses increased to more than a few, and a few shops selling memorabilia also graced the two sides of the narrow path. The road was very steep. But we could not afford to look tired or afraid, as along with us there were a group of fairly aged Japanese men and women. And they seemed to be able to manage fairly well!

So we trailed on. The appearance of the shops and houses indicated to us our destination might not be much farther. That was wishful thinking though. The houses and shops were there because they got the space there, that’s all. The path extended farther up. There again were another set of Tories, and another unending set of stairs going up.

The old style dwellings are still a part of this locality
The old style dwellings are still a part of this locality

At some point the stairs ended into a wider platform. By that time the sun tilted towards west, coloring the sky with Orange hue. We finally reached the top. Felt like real mountaineer on top of summit. Rows of very tall and old trees guarded the main temple and the sub temples around. Unfortunately part of the main temple was draped due to ongoing maintenance work. But the view otherwise from the top, supplemented by the austere wooden sub temples, bells and bell towers presented a view of olden days Japan. We felt a sense of accomplishment. We did reach the top through hard work, and earned this view.

The wind started picking up speed. So decided to head back down. On our way we happened to meet the expat American teacher at our kids school. Conveyed pleasantries, moved ahead. The way up seemed pretty stiff. But the way down seemed more difficult. But again there were the old and the very young giving us company. So the journey was tempered by admiration for others and admonishing for self for not being fit enough. Promised to self to exercise more, spend less time browsing and more time jogging. er walking.

The main hall leading to inner sanctorum
The main hall leading to inner sanctorum
A sub-prayer room at the back
A sub-prayer room at the back
Gilded facet still shining in places
Gilded facet still shining in places
View from the top pavilion
View from the top pavilion

Took a break as we reached back at the cable car station. My inner self reasoned I deserved an energy boost. And guided me to a place selling strawberry ice creams, with real strawberry bits and real cream. It tasted heavenly. It really was, not just my tiredness silly! In any case licking the strawberry cream sitting at the pavilion facing the distant range of hills, time quickly slipped by. We queued back at the cable car platform. In a few minutes reached the bus stop below. Few minutes more and there we were back at the oldy looking wooden station. This time we did not miss the direct holiday special to Tokyo.

In summary it was a day well spent. A day of golden week – shall we say a golden day? Looking back, yes it was a very memorable day, call it by any name. Do let me know how did you feel if you have been to Mt Mitake.  If not yet,then make sure you plan it your next long weekend. Cheers


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