How Large is Tokyo?

Via flickr

Via flickr

Just exactly how large is Tokyo?

A view from the 35th floor in a building near the Tokyo Sky Tree

The answer: mindbogglingly huge.

Whenever I try to explain how large Tokyo is, a lot of people have trouble imagining the vastness of a single city. They imagine other fairly dense cities like Boston or New York, where you can hop on a train or drive from edge to edge in just an hour (never mind traffic, of course!).

Via flickr

Tokyo, however, isn’t just a city. It’s the largest metropolis in the world.

A satellite view of Tokyo

A satellite view of Tokyo

By official counts, Tokyo is a mere 845 square miles and has a population of around 8.9 million people. However, if you consider the greater Tokyo Area, these numbers swell dramatically to an area of 5,200 square miles and a population of 40 million.

40. Million. People.

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Even when you live at the center of Tokyo, it’s sometimes hard to grasp that you’re living in one of the densest population areas in the world. The greater Tokyo area is only .036 of Japan’s total landmass, and yet accounts for 30% of Japan’s population (10% if you only count the 23 wards).

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Because 70% of Japan’s land is made of mountains and forest, a lot of people don’t appreciate how large and dense Tokyo actually is.

The picture below was taken from a helicopter and covers the greater Tokyo area- the 23 wards of Tokyo, areas west of Tokyo, and the surrounding prefectures Chiba and Saitama. (via Reddit)

The picture below was taken from a helicopter and covers the greater Tokyo area- the 23 wards of Tokyo, areas west of Tokyo, and the surrounding prefectures Chiba and Saitama. (via Reddit)

In comparison, this photo shows some of the major railways and landmarks of Tokyo. I went to school near the Tokyo Tower, and took the Yamanote line (green) for half of my commute. The Yamanote line is a circle around the center of Tokyo. Over 3.6 million people take the Yamanote line per day. In comparison, the busiest airport in the world (Atlanta International, USA) only services 240,000 people per day….that’s how many people in Tokyo use public transportation in a half hour. (via Reddit)

In comparison, this photo shows some of the major railways and landmarks of Tokyo. I went to school near the Tokyo Tower, and took the Yamanote line (green) for half of my commute. The Yamanote line is a circle around the center of Tokyo.
Over 3.6 million people take the Yamanote line per day. In comparison, the busiest airport in the world (Atlanta International, USA) only services 240,000 people per day….that’s how many people in Tokyo use public transportation in a half hour. (via Reddit)

 In Tokyo, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. But if you do rise above the urban sprawl, it’s absolutely amazing. Being in Tokyo can make you feel ridiculously small and insignificant, but at the same time, it’s enchanting. You’re part of something so much larger than yourself.

via Flickr

via Flickr

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Nara Prefecture

Although I spent most of my time abroad in Tokyo, I had the amazing opportunity to check out other famous cities and areas in the Kansai region of Japan. One of my favorite places to go was Nara, a small prefecture and city about 3 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train. Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, and lends its name to the Nara period.

While the city itself isn’t much to look at, Nara is rich with history, particularly when it comes to temples. There are 8 temples, shrines, and ruins in Nara (known as the Nanto Shichi Dai-ji), which remained powerful even after the capital of Japan moved to Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto) in 794.

Nara Park Nara Japan

However, my favorite part about Nara was…the deer.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Hi there!

Yes, that’s right. I said deer. According to local folklore, deer in Nara became sacred after one of the four gods of the Kasuga Shrine appeared on a nearby mountain riding a white deer. From then on, the deer were considered to be divine, and killing one was a capital offense punishable by death. Although the deer were stripped of their sacredness after World War II, they’re still considered National Treasures of Japan.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Whutcha doing?

Sika Deer Nara JapanToday, the miniature Shika deer can be found wandering around Nara Park and on some temple grounds. They’re extremely friendly and can be pet (although you might want to wash your hands afterwards).

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

You can also buy stacks of rice crackers from vendors along the road and feed the deer from your hands. Just be careful though- once the deer know you have food, they won’t leave you alone. I was stalked by a deer for a good 15 minutes, and when I wouldn’t keep feeding him, he head-butted me several times.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

This deer knows what’s up. He’s stalking one of the cracker vendors from behind.

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Here’s my stalker deer friend literally moments before he head-butted me. Notice the sheer terror in my face.
Don’t worry though, I survived.

The deer are also extremely intelligent and have been known to wait at stoplights before crossing the street. You can even bow to the deer, and some will even bow back! I had an elderly Japanese couple laugh at me when I tried this, but once I walked away, I saw them trying the same exact thing.

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

Like I mentioned earlier, Nara is home to several important temples and shrines in Japan. I visited Todai-ji, a large Buddhist temple complex. Todai-ji is known for its Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), which was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1998.

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Todai-ji also houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, which stands at almost 50 feet tall. The statue was completed in 752, has undergone several restorations and repairs since then.Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Guardian of the Great Buddha

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

At the Great Buddha Hall, visitors can see the many statues, purchase ema, and visit a small gift shop with deer paraphernalia.

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Japanese ema (prayer plaques)

Todai-ji Nara Japan TempleNara may not be as exciting as downtown Tokyo, but it still has plenty to do. Check out ancient Japanese history, enjoy a relaxing day in the park, and pet some deer. Just make sure to bring some hand sanitizer, and plenty of money for rice crackers.

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I’m staying in the Kansai area for next weeks Travel Tuesday, so make sure to keep an eye out! Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy!

Alice in Wonderland Themed Cafe

As you’ve probably noticed in my past blog posts, food in Japan is as much about the experience and presentation as it is about taste. Today, I’m continuing this trend by visiting a themed restaurant in Shibuya, called Butou no Kuni no Arisu.

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Can you guess what it’s designed after? That’s right, Alice in Wonderland.

Although a bit pricier than your average fare, themed restaurants in Japan are extremely popular. You don’t go here just for dinner- you go for the lavishly decorated interiors, interesting shows, or just downright bizarre themes. When I was in Tokyo, I saw themed cafes for almost anything you could imagine. My friends visited one restaurant called The LockUp, where you’re handcuffed and spend your night eating and drinking in a prison cell. Other themes include ninjas, Gundam (a popular space anime), vampires, robots and more.

Down the rabbit hole! (or down the stairs into the restaurant)

Down the rabbit hole! (or down the stairs into the restaurant)

DSC_2461Butou no Kuni no Arisu, or Alice in Dancing Land, is a completely Alice in Wonderland themed café. Everything- from the décor to the wait staff and menus- relates some way to this popular children’s tale. We came early since we didn’t have a reservation and were lucky enough to be seated with a waitress who spoke English! She was very excited to practice speaking with us, as she was going to study in England in a few months.

Our first glimpse of Alice in Dancing Land

Our first glimpse of Alice in Dancing Land

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The restaurant made us feel as if we really were in Wonderland. The entire restaurant was covered in drawings from the movie, and was enchantingly mysterious. Even our waitress was themed, wearing a cute ruffled version of Alice’s iconic dress.

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DSC_2474Alice in Dancing Land serves western fare, from pasta and risotto to meatloaf and pizza. You can also indulge in a variety of creative cocktails, each with a twist that makes you feel like you just fell down the rabbit hole. We tried delicious tea, and felt like we were next to the Mad Hatter at his tea party.

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Fruity tea and a light salad- served in a tea cup!

Fruity tea and a light salad- served in a tea cup!

Creamy shrimp and spinach pasta

Creamy shrimp and spinach pasta

DSC_2485 My favorite part of the meal, however, was the dessert. We ordered the warm brownie and ice cream- it came shaped like a heart, with a cute pasty cut out of Alice on the top. And best of all? It was doused with liquor and lit on fire!

DSC_2489DSC_2491 I wish I had a chance to try more themed restaurants in Japan, as Butou no Kuni no Arisu was such a unique and fun experience. Perhaps next time I’m in Tokyo, I’ll get adventurous and see what it’s like to eat behind bars or enjoy some cannibalistic sushi.

DSC_2492 Would you like to try a themed restaurant? What kind would you like to go to?

Kamakura and Daibutsu

It’s only November, but here in Boston it already feels like the dead of winter.  To escape the cold, I’m revisiting Kamakura on today’s Travel Tuesday, and exploring a town with both history and fun in the sun.

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Kamakura is located in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan, about 30 miles southwest of Tokyo. Although it’s a small town, Kamakura used to be a formal capital of Japan and served as the seat of the shogunate (feudal government system) during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Because of its proximity to the city and its many attractions, Kamakura is a popular tourist destination year round.

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I first visited Kamakura during early September and headed straight for the beach, which is extremely popular during the summer months. Even though it was still 95 degrees out, we arrived shortly after the end of the official season and had the beach almost entirely to ourselves.

DSC_0889DSC_0899DSC_0918If you ever visit a beach in Japan, keep an eye out for sea glass! I never realized how interesting it could be in other countries, and I collected a wide variety of pottery shards, sea-green glass, and even part of a teapot.

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Watching the sunset on the beach is also a perfect way to end a day in the sand before heading back to the nearby train station.

DSC_1082DSC_1144 If you’re interested in sightseeing or you visit during the cooler months, Kamakura still has plenty to see and do. The city has a dozen temples and shrines to visit, great shopping for traditional souvenirs, and tons of delicious restaurants.

DSC_2886DSC_2940One of the most famous sights of Kamakura, is the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha. This towering bronze statue was built in 1252, and despite a series of earthquakes and storms, still stands proudly today. Daibutsu is approximately 44 feet tall, weighs a whopping 267,000 pounds, and is one of Japan’s most iconic symbols.

The ticket to see Daibutsu

The ticket to see Daibutsu

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Hundreds of tourists flock here everyday to see the giant Buddha, pay their respects, pray, and even purchase charms that will help them succeed in daily life. I bought a small token that was good for one wish, which I spent standing in front of Daibutsu.

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A small charm that I purchased at Daibutsu. This particular token was good for one wish, which I asked for in front of the Great Buddha. Don't ask me what it is though, or it won't come true!

A small charm that I purchased at Daibutsu. This particular token was good for one wish, which I asked for in front of the Great Buddha. Don’t ask me what it is though, or it won’t come true!

Because of its popularity with tourists, Kamakura also has tons of souvenir shops, unique crafts for sale, and many different types of cuisine. I ate Hawaiian food twice when I visited, which I had never tried before (even in the US!).

Handmade pottery

Handmade pottery

A Miyazaki shop! Miyazaki Hayao is a famous Japanese director (kind of like the Walt Disney of Japan). You can find shops with cute products from his films all across Japan.

A Miyazaki shop! Miyazaki Hayao is a famous Japanese director (kind of like the Walt Disney of Japan). You can find shops with cute products from his films all across Japan.

Sometimes, I missed American food in Japan. This burger at a Hawaiian restaurant near the beach really hit the spot.

Sometimes, I missed American food in Japan. This burger at a Hawaiian restaurant near the beach really hit the spot.

Another Hawaiian meal. A fried egg and gravy over rice.

Another Hawaiian meal. A fried egg and gravy over rice.

My favorite food, however, was the sweet potato ice cream. It’s made with murasaki-imo, which give it a nice purple color. It’s deliciously sweet and mellow, and unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. It seems to be a specialty in Kamakura, as we passed many different booths and cafes offering this unique flavor.

Sweet potato ice cream. This was probably the best ice cream I had in Japan…I wish I could find it in the US!

Sweet potato ice cream. This was probably the best ice cream I had in Japan…I wish I could find it in the US!

Whether you want to learn a little history or just enjoy a day on the beach, Kamakura has something for everyone.  Although it’s about an hour by train from the center of Tokyo, it’s another wonderful chance to get outside the city and experience a little more of the amazing sights Japan has to offer.

Japanese Kaiseki

I’m a firm believer that food is art. In Japan, this is particularly evident in kaiseki ryori, a traditional multi-course dinner where each plate is as delicious on the eyes as it is on the tongue. Kaiseki meals are generally served at ryokan, traditional Japanese inns, and are as finely prepared as those you might find on tasting menus in haute cuisine.

Kaiseki are made with fresh ingredients, and each course is served as soon as it is prepared in order to maintain its freshness and integrity. There is usually a prescribed order of courses, however, the different types of ingredients in each dish depend on the season and location of the kaiseki,

I tried kaiseki in a ryokan in Kyoto, and had a chance to experience just how beautiful this meal could be. Kaiseki are often described as a meal in harmony with nature, with both the expert flavors and beautiful presentation of the food reflecting the shapes, textures, and seasons found in the environment. The plates and dishes are a reflection of nature as well, with different colors and shapes complimenting each course.

Because I tried kaiseki in November, many of my courses were decorated for fall and included dishes appropriate for colder weather. Keep reading to see exactly what I tried, and how each course traditionally progresses throughout the meal.

The menu

The menu

1. Shokuzen-shu (alcohol) and Sakizuke (bite-sized appetizer, similar to a French amuse-bouche)

Kaiseki usually begin with a small glass of sake or alcohol, with a selection of bite-sized appetizers. Mine included both sweet and savory elements, and were decorated with maple leaves.

Kaiseki usually begin with a small glass of sake or alcohol, usually locally made (lower right)

Sakizuke

Sakizuke

2. Hassun (a second course of bite-sized appetizers, usually seasonally themed)

DSC_55493. Soup

The soup course is usually a clear broth, with vegetables, seafood, or in my case, tofu.

The soup course is usually a clear broth, with vegetables, seafood, or in my case, tofu.

4. Sashimi

A selection of thinly sliced raw fish, served on a bed of daikon (radish). Also served with shoya (soy sauce) and wasabi

A selection of thinly sliced raw fish, served on a bed of daikon (radish). Also served with shoya (soy sauce) and wasabi

5. Shiizakana (a substantial dish)

Shiizakana is often one of the larger courses of the meal. At my kaiseki, we had shabu shabu, or meat and vegetables simmered in broth.

Shiizakana is often one of the larger courses of the meal. At my kaiseki, we had shabu shabu, or meat and vegetables simmered in broth.

Each guest had their own personal stove to cook the shabu shabu in!

Each guest had their own personal stove to cook the shabu shabu in!

6. Yakimono (grilled dish)

Grilled fish, usually from a local source

Grilled fish, usually from a local source

7. Nimono (boiled dish

Simmered vegetables

Simmered vegetables

8. Agemono (deep fried dish)

The deep fried dish is usually a selection of tempura, including fish and vegetables. It's generally served towards the end of the meal.

The deep fried dish is usually a selection of tempura, including fish and vegetables. It’s generally served towards the end of the meal.

DSC_56319. Mushimono (steamed dish)

Kaiseki often offer chawanmushi for the steamed dish, a savory egg custard with fish stock, and bites of mushrooms, chicken, and seafood. It's served in a teacup-sized lidded dish and eaten with a spoon.

Kaiseki often offer chawanmushi for the steamed dish, a savory egg custard with fish stock, and bites of mushrooms, chicken, and seafood. It’s served in a teacup-sized lidded dish and eaten with a spoon.

DSC_561710. Sunomono (vinegar dish)

Seafood and vegetables served in a vinegar-based sauce. This was probably my least favorite dish.

Seafood and vegetables served in a vinegar-based sauce. This was probably my least favorite dish.

11. Gohan (rice dish)

Rice with seasonal ingredients. This course was also cooked in individual pots at our seats.

Rice with seasonal ingredients. This course was also cooked in individual pots at our seats.

11. Mizumono (dessert)

Dessert at kaiseki are typically light, and consist of a small confection or fruit. We were served a fruit jelly.

Dessert at kaiseki are typically light, and consist of a small confection or fruit. We were served a fruit jelly.

 Because of the quality and number of dishes, kaiseki can get pretty expensive. At kaiseki with as many as 20 courses, the set can cost up to $500 per person.

However, you can typically find kaiseki lunch sets or bentos for a heavily discounted price, with the only exception that the dishes all come at the same time, rather than course by course. You can also get the kaiseki experience by staying at a ryokan (like I did), where the course meal is often included in the cost of your stay.

Thanks for reading once again, and I hope I made you hungry!

Halloween in Japan, Japanese Ghost Stories, and Tales of Yokai

Happy Halloween everyone!

It’s October 31st here in the states, and all I can think about is what I was doing a year ago in Tokyo. Now, Halloween in Japan isn’t really a holiday- it doesn’t have any religious background like it does in the US, nor is it widely celebrated. In the past, it’s mostly been an excuse for foreigners to dress up in costumes and go out drinking, rather than allow children to trick-or-treat.

Japanese girls trick-or-treating in my hometown in Tokyo

Japanese girls trick-or-treating in my hometown in Tokyo

However, thanks to the influence of American popular culture, Halloween is starting to grow significantly in popularity. Today, many stores put up decorations, sell Halloween treats, and host themed parties. Although you still won’t see pumpkin carving or widespread trick-or-treating, it’s turning from an obscure western holiday into a fun day for youth.

My halloween costume, maid cafe girl! It'll be making a comeback this year, so keep an eye out!

My halloween costume, maid cafe girl! It’ll be making a comeback this year, so keep an eye out!

In honor of Halloween, I want to share some of Japan’s most obscure ghost stories and folklore. Most of Japan’s mythology focuses around supernatural monsters called yokai, which is made up of the kanji characters for “bewitching” and “apparition.” Yokai can be terrifying and malevolent or simply mischievous, and can appear human or have animal characteristics. Just make sure to read this post with the lights on, as I’m not sure you’ll be able to sleep tonight otherwise.

1.    Aka Manto

Watch out for this creepy dude next time you're in the bathroom.

Watch out for this creepy dude next time you’re in the bathroom.

Aka Manto is a malicious spirit that haunts public toilets. If you are sitting on the toilet, a mysterious voice will ask you if you want red or blue paper. If you answer red, he will slice you apart until your clothes are stained red. If you answer blue, he will strangle you until your face turns blue. Definitely don’t ask for yellow paper, as he will force your head into the toilet. If you try to trick him by asking for another color, Aka Manto will drag you into the underworld. The only smart way to respond is no paper.

2.    Gashadokuro

Are these terrifying or what?!

Are these terrifying or what?!

Gashadokuro are giant skeletons that roam around Japan, also known as “starving skeletons.” If they see any humans, they will attempt to bite off their heads. These creatures are formed from bones of people who have died of starvation, and the only way to detect them is hearing a bell-like ringing in your ears. Gashadokuro often target people when they are alone, and roam around after midnight.

3.    Kuchisake-onna

NOPE

NOPE

Kuchisake-onna, or the slit-mouthed woman, is a lady who was viciously mutilated and murdered by her jealous husband. She returned to this world as a malevolent spirit, and appears to children walking alone at night as a woman wearing a surgical mask. Kuchisake-onna will stop the children and ask, “Am I pretty?” If the child responds no, the woman will kill the child with a pair of scissors. If the child answers yes, the woman will take off the surgical mask to reveal that her mouth is slit from ear to ear. Kuchisake-onna will then ask, “How about now?” If the child answers no, they will be cut in half, and if they answer yes, the woman will slit their mouths like hers. It’s impossible to run away or escape from her, as she will just reappear in front of you

4.    Teke Teke

DOUBLE NOPE

DOUBLE NOPE

Teke Teke is the ghost of a young schoolgirl who fell onto a railway and was cut in half by a train. She too returned as a vengeful spirit, and haunts train stations, railways and schools. Teke Teke carries a scythe or saw and drags herself around using her hands or elbows. Her dragging torso creates a scratching sound, “teke teke,” which gives her her name. If Teke Teke encounters anyone at night, she will slice him or her in half at the torso.

5.    Akaname

Go home Japan, you're drunk.

Go home Japan, you’re drunk.

Akaname quite literally means “filth licker,” and is a yokai that personifies the fear of using a dark bathroom late at night. Akaname comes out late at night to lick up the filth and dirt in bathrooms that untidy owners leave behind.

 6.    Toire no Hanako-san

Another bathroom ghost. I'm beginning to see a trend here…Why are toilets such terrifying places?!

Another bathroom ghost. I’m beginning to see a trend here…Why are toilets such terrifying places?!

Toire no Hanako-san is similar to the western urban legend of Bloody Mary, and haunts Japanese school restrooms. If someone goes to the third stall in the girls’ bathroom on the third floor, knocks three times, and asks, “Are you there, Hanako-san?” a voice will answer “I’m here.” If you go into the stall, there will be a small girl in a red skirt. Hanako-san is typically benign and will usually just vanish, but if you’re unlucky enough, she might just pull you into the toilet and kill you. Calling her name is often used as a rite of courage or hazing ritual in schools.

Pretty creepy, right? If this isn’t scary enough for you and you need a little more terror in your life, check out this great article on the 10 most haunted spots in Japan. But in the meantime, happy Halloween, and be careful tonight! You never know what sort of monster you might run into.

Mount Takao

Although Tokyo offers a dizzying array of activities for any weather or season, it’s also nice to get away from the concrete jungle and explore a little bit of nature. I often feel this way in Boston, where I currently live; although the city is amazing, the changing leaves remind me just how much I’m missing out on beyond the skyline.

Last November, I decided to leave the sprawling streets of Tokyo and check out some rural scenery at Mount Takao, a peak at the edge of the Kanto Mountains. Now, I know mountains. I spent most of my childhood hiking in the Adirondacks, a mountain range in upstate New York. The paths on those peaks are dirt and rock, and offer little besides nature and a view at the top. Although you’ll probably run into a few other hikers or families on the trail, Adirondack hikes are largely private. With this in mind, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into.

Fun fact: Mount Takao is often called Takao-san, using the suffix “san” that is used to address people (for example, Mr. Smith would be Smith-san in Japanese). In Japan, all living things are believed to have a soul or spirit. By using ‘san,’ Takao becomes personified, as the mountain definitely has a spirit of its own.

Fun fact: Mount Takao is often called Takao-san, using the suffix “san” that is used to address people (for example, Mr. Smith would be Smith-san in Japanese). In Japan, all living things are believed to have a soul or spirit. By using ‘san,’ Takao becomes personified, as the mountain definitely has a spirit of its own.

Boy was I wrong.

Mount Takao is located about an hour away from central Tokyo by train, making it a popular destination for both families and tourists. On weekends, particularly in the fall, Takao-San is also extremely crowded, as the mountain offers one of Tokyo’s best autumn foliage sites. I went in the beginning of November, and saw just how popular this nature retreat was.

Heading with other hikers from the train station to the base of the mountain

Heading with other hikers from the train station to the base of the mountain

DSC_2967While I wasn’t able to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Mount Takao offers six different hiking trails, a cable car and chairlift for the athletically challenged, beautiful foliage, and stunning views of both Tokyo and Mount Fuji on a clear day. We decided to take the most popular trail, with a conveniently paved path up the mountain.

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A map of all the different trails Takao-san offers. I took the most popular one (light red) but other trails offer views of a suspension bridge, a waterfall, and a panoramic ridge.

A map of all the different trails Takao-san offers. I took the most popular one (light red) but other trails offer views of a suspension bridge, a waterfall, and a panoramic ridge.

After a short yet extremely steep hike to the halfway point (which can be avoided by taking a cable car ride), the ascent to the summit only takes 45 minutes. However, with so many attractions, you can spend hours exploring the mountain before reaching the peak.

A conveniently paved trail for the first half of our hike. I even saw girls walking this in flats and wedge sandals....not sure how they fared once the trail got really steep!

A conveniently paved trail for the first half of our hike. I even saw girls walking this in flats and wedge sandals….not sure how they fared once the trail got really steep!

DSC_3024DSC_3011Halfway up the mountain, visitors first encounter a rest stop near the cable car platform, complete with vendors selling traditional Japanese street food. Here, you can see some of the first views of Tokyo.

The halfway point. Here, people can get on and off the cable cars and chairlifts that will take you to the base of the mountain.

The halfway point. Here, people can get on and off the cable cars and chairlifts that will take you to the base of the mountain.

A vendor sells dango, a type of Japanese dumpling on a stick

A vendor sells dango, a type of Japanese dumpling on a stick

A view of the sprawling city of Tokyo. Can you believe how large it is?

A view of the sprawling city of Tokyo. Can you believe how large it is?

DSC_3034If you’re traveling with small children or just want a fun afternoon, Takao-san tourists can also visit a monkey park just beyond the rest area for only a few hundred yen (under $5 USD). Here, you can see dozens of different monkeys at play, get up close with trainers, and still enjoy stunning views of the countryside.

How cute is that?!

How cute is that?!

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DSC_3141There are also several nature trails in the park, with beautifully cultivated plants and a variety of wild flora and fauna.

A few beautiful flowers I found on the nature trails in the monkey park

A few beautiful flowers I found on the nature trails in the monkey park

DSC_3219DSC_3175While the monkey park is great for visitors with small children, the main attraction of Mount Takao is Yakuōin Yūkiji, a Buddhist temple located towards the peak. Takao-san has been a center of worship for over 1200 years, after Emperor Shomu ordered the temple to be built in 744 AD. Here, visitors can pray to both Buddhist and Shinto mountain gods for good fortune and prosperity.

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This was built in 744 AD...can you imagine carrying all that wood up by hand, with no paths?

This was built in 744 AD…can you imagine carrying all that wood up by hand, with no paths?

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Tengu, guardian spirits of the mountain and temple

Tengu, guardian spirits of the mountain and temple

Standing at 599 m, the peak of Mount Takao offers stunning views of Tokyo, the surrounding mountain countryside, and even Mount Fuji on a clear day. By the time I reached the peak, Fuji-san was hidden behind afternoon haze, but we still enjoyed the summit.

It's official, we reached the summit. Yahoo!

It’s official, we reached the summit. Yahoo!

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Feeling a bit peckish after your climb? Not to worry- Mount Takao is also famous for its soba noodles. We went to a small restaurant directly on the peak, and enjoyed a bowl of noodles and beer to commemorate our climb.

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A few noodle restaurants right before the peak

A few restaurants right before the peak

Refreshing sake that we purchased from a vendor on our way down. I wouldn't recommend drinking too many of these before hiking though.

Refreshing sake that we purchased from a vendor on our way down. I wouldn’t recommend drinking too many of these before hiking though.

If you’re looking to get away from the concrete jungle of Tokyo, enjoy beautiful views, or check out Japanese history and culture, Takao-san is great for all ages. Just don’t expect to get away from the crowds of the city on weekends, as many Japanese families and tourists have the same exact idea. Either way, it’s a great day trip and an amazing chance to smell fresh air, see the changing leaves, and enjoy a few treats along the way.

Celebratory ice cream, of course

Celebratory ice cream, of course

 Mount Takao is a little bit different from other hikes and mountains (such as those in the Adirondacks in New York). Do you think you’d enjoy this type of climb? Thanks for reading, and be sure to let me know!

You can just barely see it, but Mount Fuji is creeping in the haze!

You can just barely see it, but Mount Fuji is creeping in the haze!