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Mt. Takao a day trip from Tokyo

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.

Going Up Mt. Takao

Going Up Mt. Takao

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.

Walking through the green path

Walking through the green path

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 few food and souvenir shops on the way

The few food and souvenir shops on the way

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.

Entering Takao San Temple Complex

Entering Takao San Temple Complex

The ornate wood aork and traditional buildings around the Takao San Monastery

The ornate wood work and traditional buildings around the Takao San Monastery

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.

Rain draped but beautiful path back to Takao Station

Rain draped but beautiful path back to Takao Station

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

Keio Line information and details of Mt. Takao

For a similar day trip to another peak around Tokyo, Mitake San, check the page below

Mt.Mitake a day trip from Tokyo


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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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