Friday, January 17, 2020

Escape to Mount Takao

If I had to choose between exploring a bustling city or hiking in nature, I'd pick nature every time. So to escape Tokyo's urban jungle: Mount Takao (Takaosan 高尾山).

Getting to Mount Takao is a cinch. From a Keio Ticket Machine in Shinjuku Station, we bought a Keio Mount Takao Discount Ticket for 1390 yen. The Discount Ticket saved us 370 yen compared to separately buying train tickets (390 per way) and chairlift/cable car tickets (490 one way/950 roundtrip). (If you plan to skip the chairlift/cable car and just hike it all the way to the peak, then you're better off buying train tickets only.)

Keio Mount Takao Discount Ticket

Entrance to Mount Takao

The train ride from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi Station is about 50 minutes. From Takaosanguchi Station, it's a 3-minute walk to the entrance of Mount Takao, where you have three choices to get to the peak: walk, cable car, chairlift. The latter two options don't take you straight to the peak but will cut the hike by half. Of course we chose the shortest way to the peak. We've been on a few cable cars this trip so between the cable car and the chairlift, it was an easy choice: chairlift!

We arrived at the entrance of Mount Takao around 930am and there were no queues for the cable car nor the chairlift. Although a chairlift can seat two people, my friend and I each had a chairlift to ourself. It was a serene 12-minute ride up the mountain surrounded by trees.

No bars on the lift to keep you in place! Be careful!

From the upper station of the chairlift, it was a short walk to Takaosan Sumika, a building that has a restaurant, snack shops, a souvenir shop, and an observation deck. All the shops were still closed when we arrived (it opens at 10am). But we did stop by on our way down (about four hours later; by this time the lines were really long) to try out the dango (rice balls) with walnut miso sauce (350 yen per stick) and tengu-yaki, a tengu-shaped pastry with black bean filling (150 yen).



View from the observation deck of Takaosan Sumika

On the way to the peak, we walked on paved paths surrounded by trees and passed a clearing with benches and some shops selling food and souvenirs, a monkey park (430 yen), then more trees until we were faced with three trail options: left via Katsura Forest Trail, which goes through a forest; straight ahead via Omotesando Trail, which passes Yakouin Temple; and right via Suspension Bridge Trail, a trail through the woods and a suspension bridge. All three trails have a difficulty rating of two (from a range of one to five).

It was straight ahead for us via the Omotesando Trail, so we could go see Yakouin Temple. The paved path flanked by tall trees and red lamps went on for a few hundred meters  and then split into two: a 108-step stairway on the left, and a gradual incline on the right. We chose the gradual incline for the good of our knees. The stairway and incline merged at an area with snack shops but no temple in sight. It was a few meters more of walking between tall trees until we reached another snack shop (hikers on this trail will never go hungry) and then Yakouin Temple.

Yakouin Temple

A tengu with a long nose (left), and a tengu with a beak (right)

At the temple, there were a number of tengu statues. Tengu are demon-like beings with a long nose who live in sacred mountains. Although they look quite scary, they are believed to favor and protect the good, and reprimand evildoers. Like many Japanese temples, Yakouin also has a shop selling charms, many of which are tengu-shaped.

I noticed there was a line of locals waiting to have a go at turning a stone wheel, and another line waiting to go through a stone circle then bang on metal rings. I wonder what these rituals mean.

This guy was banging on the two metal rings

This guy was turning the stone wheel many times

We went through the maze-like temple grounds, where we climbed stairs and found more temple buildings. It seemed we have left the temple grounds already when we found ourselves on a paved path surrounded by trees.

We chose to go to Mount Takao on a Friday to avoid the weekend crowd. I was surprised to find that there were a lot of people at the peak of Mount Takao! (There were many people on our hike up but I did not expect it to be this crowded.) Is every day a weekend in this country?!

People lining up to have their photo taken at the sign that says "Mount Takao 599m"

Lots of picnickers on a Friday!

At the peak, there were snack shops, a visitor center, and an observation deck (where, on a clear day, the peak of Mt Fuji could be seen). After just a few minutes at the peak, we decided to head back down via Suspension Bridge Trail.

Suspension Bridge Trail meanders through the woods. There were not as many people on this trail as Omotesando Trail and I was glad to be away from the crowds again. This was the escape I was looking for.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Sa May Kanto (2019)
Pocket WiFi: Japan Wireless
Keisei Skyliner and Tokyo Subway Tickets
Tokyo Accommodations: Oak Hostel Fuji, Hostel Owl Tokyo Nippori, Centurion Ladies Hostel  Ueno Park
Food for the Eyes and Food for the Mouth at Asakusa
A Day at Ueno Park
Tokyo Sights Using the Toei 1-Day Pass
Teamlab Borderless
Escape to Mount Takao (you're here!)

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