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.
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
While 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.
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!
Halfway 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.
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?
If 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?!
There 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
While 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.
This was built in 744 AD…can you imagine carrying all that wood up by hand, with no paths?
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!
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.
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.
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
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!