Did you know there is a hiking spot, where you can enjoy the scenery changing from season to season, in just an hour from central Tokyo? It is Mount Takao or Takao-san in Japanese.
Mount Takao is located in western Tokyo and it takes about an hour from Shinjuku station in Tokyo by Keio express train or JR line. The mountain has it all: stunning views, various hiking trails, attractive temples, and shrines. Since the mountain has a gentle slope and the altitude is rather low at 599m (Mount Fuji is 3,776m), it is easy to hike; if you take a cable car or a chair lift to the midpoint of the mountain, you can reach the summit in only about 40 minutes.
As Mount Takao is located close to central Tokyo, it can get crowded on weekends. The season of autumn leaves and cherry blossoms especially are busy. It is, of course, nice to visit the mountain in peak season, but I recommend you to visit in cold crispy winter during the week. Winter may seem like a gloomy and volatile season, but in fact, it has more sunny days than other seasons, and you can enjoy even more spectacular views in clearer air. Furthermore, you will have your best chance of seeing Mt. Fuji from the top of Mount Takao in Winter!
There are several hiking trails to climb the mountain. If you wish to walk the whole thing from the foot to the top of the mountain, it takes about 100 minutes. You can also reach halfway to the summit in 6 minutes by cable car and 12 minutes by chair lift. Both have the same fare of JPY490 for one-way and JPY950 for the return trip.
This time, I personally chose the cable car. It runs about 1km from 201m to 472m above sea level and has the steepest angle of about 31 degrees near Takaosan Station (At the top of the cable car station) on the hillside. Thus being the steepest cable car slope in Japan! It was mid-December, but I could still see the beautiful autumn leaves from the cable car window. It was amazing!
When you arrive at the midpoint of the mountain by cable car, you can enjoy the view of the Kanto plain and Tokyo Bay from the observation deck. There are 5 walking trails with different levels from there, and I took Trail 1 (Omotesando trail) which is the most popular route to reach the summit.
Trail 1 is a paved road while the rest are natural trails. You will pass through beautiful temples, shrines, and statues as you walk on the trail. There are so many things to see on the trail so that I am sure you never get bored.
When you start walking on the trail, the first thing you will encounter is Takosugi (Octopus Cedar), which is 37 meters tall and about 450 years old. It was named this way as the roots of the tree look like octopus legs. Do not forget to stroke the head of the Kaiun Hipparidako (Good luck Octopus) statue next to the Takosugi. It will make you more popular!
Walking just a little further from Takosugi, you will see the entrance of Yakuo-in Temple called Joshin-mon Gate. Mount Takao is known as a place for mountain worship since ancient times, so the mountain has a very mysterious and sacred atmosphere.
After a short while, two separate paths came into my sight. Both paths merge ahead, so it does not matter which way you go. Onnazaka Hill (women’s hill) is on the right side, and Otokozaka Hill (men's hill) is on the left side. Onnazaka Hill is a gentle slope and it seemed easy to walk, while Otokozaka Hill has a slightly steep stone staircase with 108 steps. The number of steps in this staircase is considered to be the same number of worldly desires of a human being and is believed that every time you climb Otokozaka Hill, one anxiety disappears.
I ran up the Otokozaka Hill and looked down the stairs. It felt so good!
By the way, you will see many statues of Tengu in various shapes when you walk near Yakuo-in Temple. Yakuo-in Temple stands along the trail near the mountain’s summit, and many visitors stop there to pray to the mountain god (Tengu) for good fortune. Tengu is a mythical, human-like creature that is said to embody the spirits of the mountains and forests. They are often depicted holding a big feather fan that sweeps away misfortune and brings good luck.
*Great-Tengu has a tall nose with a big feather fan in his hand and it is believed to bring good luck with its magical powers.
*A small-tengu (known as Karasu Tengu) has a crow-like beak. It is believed to cut off the misfortune with its sword.
I noticed that I had climbed many slopes and stairs when I looked down after making my way further up into the temple.
After climbing the long stairs of Yakuo-in Temple, I finally reached the summit of Mount Takao!
It was still 10:30 in the morning and the sky was a cloudless blue! I left home early as I knew this is the highest chance to see Mount Fuji on a winter morning when the air is clear, and I was totally right. I could see a beautiful Mount Fuji far ahead!
The distance between Mount Takao and Mount Fuji is around 100 km but as Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain of Japan, being 3776 meters high, I could enjoy a clear view of it from where I was standing. It was stunning! There were not so many people on the summit and everybody was admiring the breathtaking view of Mount Fuji. Since Mount Fuji is a special mountain for Japanese people and has the status of a bringer of good fortune, everybody looked very happy.
Before going down from the mountain’s peak, be sure to pop in the Takao Visitor Center. You can learn about the best seasonal hiking trails, and watch a slideshow presentation on local plants and wildlife.
On the way down, I chose to take trail 4. It is a short mountain trail and takes about 40 min to the midpoint. I was looking forward to crossing the suspension bridge (Miyamabashi Bridge) in the middle of the course. Compared to trail 1, it is a more natural hiking course with wooded footpaths and some log-steps, and I felt like I was an expert hiker.
As I enjoyed walking on the trail, the suspension bridge came into my sight! I am actually scared of heights but this bridge is quite sturdy even though it is floating in the air. I relaxed and walked through the bridge.
When I finished trail 4, I reached Trail 2, which is the midpoint of the mountain, and after a short walk, I arrived at Monkey Park. There are 70 monkeys in the park and these monkeys are not trained or disciplined and are bred in a way that suits their eco-system. Therefore, the monkeys appeared to be stressed-free. I bought a box of monkey food (JPY100) and, tossing pieces down into the monkey park, some of them were good at catching the food. It was fun to watch.
It was still 1:30 pm in the afternoon when I backed to the midpoint of the mountain, and the view from there was outstanding! There are plenty of food stalls around this area, so you might find it difficult to make up your mind about what you eat.
In my case, I had already decided to eat ‘Tengu-yaki’ when I got back to the midpoint of the mountain. Tengu-yaki’ is a crispy waffle-like dessert filled with a red bean paste. I just fell in love with its shape. Tengu looked so cute and it did not let me down. The taste was also good! Luckily, there were not many people queuing for Tenguyaki on that day but please be aware that it will be sold out before 3:00 pm.
I fully enjoyed the fresh air when I walked down to the foot of the mountain, but if you are not afraid of heights, you should choose the chair lift to go down the mountain. It is like a ski-chair lift with no bar, and you can overlook the magnificent scenery for 12 minutes from the sky!
If you miss the fresh air and beautiful nature while in Tokyo, Takaosan is the ideal place and a quick gateway from Tokyo for a day!