Mt. Takao a day trip from Tokyo
The river delta area of Tokyo is a wide valley, bordered by a ring of hills. These hills tend to change into mountain ranges in a few tens of kilometers further outback. Thus a walk in the mountains can always be part of a day trip. One of the most well known peaks for such a day trip is Mt Takao. Reachable in just about an hour from the center of the city, Mt Takao is both a trekkers pleasure and a cultural history enthusiasts delight. The other similar peak popular for easy reach in a days trip from Tokyo is Mt.Mitake. It is slightly farther, but more than that it is a more higher gradient making the trekking up slightly more challenging. So for more of a comfortable day trip from Tokyo, you may opt to visit Mt. Takao. Keio line train goes right upto the base TakaoSanGuchi from where one may start the walk up.
The walk up is known to be quite enjoyable. But for the benefit of the larger mass including yours only, there are alternatives as well, more than one actually. There is the all time favorite rope way, and there is also a cable car. Families with kids or the elderly need not worry or feel deprived!
On our part we opted for the ropeway on the way up. The rope way here is open chair type, with an iron bar separating one from ones perch up. For those with fear of height this may cause some Adrenalin rush as the path waves it way up. There are seven trategically placed photo cameras that catch your facial expressions and transmits wirelessly up at the top station, printed ready for you to buy when you reach there! However this being Japan safety precautions are duly followed, in the form of a net below covering the entire ridge up all the way. So as you go up you feel the height, feel the excitement, but with your safety ensured. So its an experience to enjoy, if only after the ride ends!
Once up at the rope way or the cable car station, take a look back. Beyond the green forest covered ridges, the high rises of Tokyo megapolis are faintly visible. At strategically positioned observation decks, there are coin operated telescopes to take a closer look at Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo tower.
A mall area with a few food stalls greet visitors here. From here the walking path starts. For most the destination is Takao San temple, an old traditional complex with a monastery teaching students still the way it did centuries back. Families with kids take time out at a monkey park situated about half way up. Serious hikers go beyond the temple complex, cross the point marked top of the hill, and choose to take one of the many routes going back to civilization. At points in between there are rest areas with modest meal options. But being essentially a hill region the eateries tend to close early, with many being operated mainly during the spring-summer peak seasons.
As the road goes higher and higher up, the cedars and maples on the two sides create a dense canopy above, with sun rays peeking in occasionally. At certain points the distant outline of the city is visible. The chilly air at the higher altitude feels pleasant on summer days.
The walk winds through for a good two kilometers through forested path. The entire road is decorated by traditional style lanterns. Surely the autumn colours and the evening lights would make this trip magical. On the way there are small temples with ornamental gates, and fortune rocks by the way side. The fortune rocks have messages carved on them. As you turn the wheel, whichever message the turning wheel comes to rest at, that is heaven’s wish for you. In its heydays the devoted walked up the entire path hoping for salvation through prayer at the monastery at the top. To make this journey comfortable, special variety cedar trees were planted along the way. Today after centuries passed these cedar trees are an attraction on their own, their gigantic widths resembling redwood trees of the American west.
The monkey park falls somewhere midway. It is developed recently to add natural life diversity, and also make the journey a wholesome experience not only for the religious or the hikers but also for families with kids.
The Temple and Monastery of Takao San
The journey comes to its end as the temple/monastery complex is reached. The monastery complex is situated over at multiple levels, reachable by stairs. There, past the huge gate and past by the guardian deities, there are other statues, smaller temples, shops selling religious offerings. There is an observation deck. There are some snacks and drink huts that also sell souvenirs. The one thing that strikes one is that the monastery is devoid of the effects of commercialization that is evident in other religious places in main city Tokyo or in Kamakura. The evening prayers and gongs still evoke a sense of being here for a greater purpose , living under a greater will. The intricate wood work have remained as it were since created hundreds of years ago.
A narrow set of steps go up by the side of the monastery. Arrow head on wood points to the top of Mt Takao. A small flattened land up at the marked top point houses a plaque declaring this is the highest point in the entire greater Tokyo area!
You can choose to take a different trail back down from the one you took to go up. The road remains crowded during the peak seasons of Sakura in Spring and Koyo fall colors in Autumn. Otherwise it’s quintessential hill, covered in trees, silent in meditation. As we reached the top, the sun decided to hide behind clouds. Rain drops soon started, the patter on the leaves joined the monotonous sound of the prayer chant coming from the temple nearby. We turned back.
On the way back we decided to take the cable car. Soon we descended down to more familiar heights. The path back to the train station from the base of the cable car / rope way is also scenic, with a small ravine following beside all the way to the station. Traditional handicraft stalls on the two sides of the road give a colourful feel to the way. The rain stopped, but the dark clouds stayed. Creating a landscape of higher contrast. The station complex itself has been redeveloped with heavy use of wood to match the surroundings. An Italian restaurant at the 1st floor with wide glass windows looking into the mountains is a nice place to pass some time by. We were game for a dash of freshly made pizzas. The restaurant seemed to be well stocked with choice of wines. And chocolates dessert, for us with our kids.
Over all Mt.Takao is a highly recommendable experience, for a day out of the hustle and bustle of the great metropolis. With a mix of trekking / enjoying monkey park / praying at a centuries old monastery, its a great experience. Look up the following link for relaxant journey timings and other details by Keio line
For a similar day trip to another peak around Tokyo, Mitake San, check the page below