TOKYO—Before heading back to the city, I decided to buy Takahiro a thank-you omiyage, or souvenir from a trip. After all, it was on his suggestion that I went hiking, reaching the peak of Mt. Takao or Takaosan, where I stood in awe of breathtaking scenery.
A few days earlier, for English language exercise, we made travel recommendations. We practiced with phrases using “You should,” “You could,” “You may want to.”
And then Takahiro said, “You should go to Takaosan this weekend.”
That was a year ago, and two years since I left Singapore and moved to Japan to teach English.
I felt that I was ready to explore places outside of Tokyo. Many of my students would mention Takaosan whenever the topic of hiking came up.
So, on an early Sunday morning, I went on my first hike.
Far from the madding crowd
Technically, Mt. Takao is still in Tokyo, just an hour away from its central business distict. However, it’s far from the madding crowd in Shinjuku or Shibuya.
As I would later find out, Takaosan is a favorite destination for day-trip hiking among locals and tourists alike.
The mountain sits within a national park. And though only 599 meters high, it’s a great place to visit if you’re not keen on seeing the usual touristy spots and are instead looking for something different.
The beautiful scenery, with with an ancient temple, a monkey park, and various hiking trails are among the reasons 2.6 million people visit Takaosan annually.
On a clear day, something great awaits you. On my first hike, while taking in the panoramic view of the mountain and blue sky, a group of women suddenly exclaimed, “Sugoi! Sugoi! Kirei! Kirei! (Amazing! Beautiful!)”
Following their gaze, I saw, in the distance, Mt. Fuji, or Fujisan, as the locals call Japan’s highest mountain.
Trails for newbies
Hiking newbies won’t feel lost as Takaosan offers a number of trails. For an easy hike, Trail No. 1, the Omotesando Trail, is the best option. The path is mostly paved. From the base to the peak, it takes more or less 90 minutes, depending on your stamina and the number of times you stop to take photos.
It’s common to see toddlers, moms and dads with babies in carriers, even obaasans (grandmas) and ojiisans (grandpas), who put me to shame with their energy.
But just in case you’re not up to the challenge, you can take the cable car or the chair lift. You’ll reach the peak without breaking a sweat.
I prefer the less popular courses like Trails 4 or 6, which are not crowded. The terrain is more rugged. There is a higher sense of peace and solitude while hiking to the sound of birds chirping.
When hikers come across other hikers, they exchange the customary “konnichiwa (good day).”
Trail 4 is a personal favorite because it cuts through forests and crosses a suspension bridge.
Don’t worry about not being able to read kanji (a system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters), because there are Japanese and English translations.
Arriving at the Mt. Takao’s peak, you can have your photo taken by the marker, then head to one of the restaurants and reward yourself with a hearty meal—which comes with a view!
I always look forward to having a bowl of tororo soba (buckwheat with grated yam) in light soup and oden (an assortment of hot pot stuff like boiled eggs, daikon, fish cakes). Bottled water and drinks are available at vending machines. (This is Japan, after all.)
Most mountains in Japan host shrines or temples at the top or near the summit. People pray to the mountain gods called tengu for good fortune. They are believed to live on mountains.
Takaosan has Yakuoin, a beautiful old temple built in 744 and restored in the 14th century. There are tengu statues, one with a long nose and another with a crow beak. Whether or not you’re a believer, Yakuoin is a must-visit.
There is also a monkey park if you want to see some Japanese macaques.
For the easy hikes, you can wear jeans and rubber shoes. For the more adventurous trails, wear hiking gear.
Stick to the trails. Be courteous to other hikers. Appreciate the beauty of nature. On your way down, bring your trash with you.
The fastest way to get to Mt. Takao is via Keio Line. Head to Shinjuku Station. Get off at Takaosanguchi Station. The whole ride takes 55 minutes or so. It should cost somewhere around 390 yen (P185) one way.
Alternatively, you can also take the Chuo Line, get off at Takao Station, and transfer to the Keio Line for Takaosanguchi Station.
Takaosanguchi Station itself is a nice architectural piece, having undergone transformation in 2015. The station building uses wood from cedar trees and was designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
The cable car operates from 8 a.m. to about 5:45 p.m., departing every 15 minutes.
If you prefer something more exciting, you can take the chair lift, and get a spectacular bird’s-eye view of Tokyo. The 12-minute ride is even more thrilling on the descent. The chair lift runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., depending on the season.
The cable car and the chair lift both cost 480 yen (P227) one way for adults and 240 yen (P114) for children.
At the end of your hike, you can visit Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu natural hot springs, located just next to Takaosanguchi Station. The onsen offers separate baths for men and women.
My first visit to Mt. Takao was followed by more hiking trips to other places in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures. I have since returned to Takaosan four or five times, but the trip still makes my heart skip a beat—or, to borrow from Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo, “sparks joy.”
Depending on the weather, the season, the time of day, Takaosan offers a different and unique experience.
Zehi, kite kudasai ne. By all means, do come. —CONTRIBUTED