Mount Takao: A Day Trip for Everyone
Standing just short of 600 m, Mount Takao has become a haven for hikers and nature lovers. For a mere 390 yen, and 50 minutes on a train from Shinjuku, it’s a beautifully cheap day trip with some very rewarding views. There are a number of different routes to take up the mountain, the most popular being hiking route number 1. As a paved path, this makes for a gentle 90 minute walk to the top and has plenty of sights on offer along the way.
For anyone wanting a quieter hike, there are 5 other trails leading to the top: these are narrower, unpaved and see far fewer visitors. If hiking is not the aim of the day, there is also a cablecar (480 yen one way) and a chair lift (also 480 yen one way). These both transport visitors to an observation deck, from which you can join route number 1 on the 30 minute stroll along a largely flat path to the peak. Around the top terminal of the cablecar, it can get fairly busy but there are great views of the surrounding areas (sometimes even Fuji can be seen on a clear day). There is also a monkey park nearby (admission is 420 yen), where 40 Japanese macaques put on shows during the day.
The main sight on the way to the summit is Yakuoin temple. As a holy mountain, people have been worshipping on Mount Takao for over 1000 years, and many still come to pray to the Shinto-Buddhist mountain gods. Statues of a number of gods are located around the mountain as well as in the temple. Yakuoin temple is also a fantastic place to be during March when Hiwatari-sai (Fire Walking Festival) is celebrated: while chanting prayers, monks walk barefoot through a scorching fire, making for a pretty breathtaking sight.
Around the temple, there are various stalls selling tea and snacks - a good place to stop for a bite to eat on the way up/down. It’s a great time to try dango, if you haven’t already: round dumplings made from glutinous rice flour and water, often grilled with a soy-based sauce. Usually presented on a skewer, these make for a convenient snack to maintain energy levels on the walk.
From the summit, there are a number of photo opportunities, as well as further hiking for those inclined. The Takaosan-Jinbansan trail leads on to another observation deck, and is a great place to see the blossom in spring. For lunch, you can splash out and eat at one of the small restaurants, or join the many other hikers with a packed lunch (more commonly in Japan: bento) enjoying the view.
While Autumn is probably the best time to visit (to see the ‘changing of the colours’), be warned that the cablecar and trails get very busy, especially on weekends. But don’t be deterred, just plan your route accordingly. Spring is also a great time to visit, particularly if you happen to miss the cherry blossoms in the city, as the variety of trees here bloom later than those in central Tokyo.