As much as I love being in Tokyo, sometimes the hustle and bustle of this metropolis can be a little too much, especially if you are visiting for the first time. People everywhere, noises bombarding you from every direction, neon lights blinking all around you. Sometimes it’s just nice to leave the city for a day and get out into the nature. If you like to go for a hike, visit Mt. Takao (or Takao-san 高尾山 in Japanese)!
Directions to Takao-san
From Shinjuku station it will take you about one hour to get to Takaosanguchi station, you can take either the Keio Line or JR Chuo Line to get there. If you take the latter, you will have to transfer at Takao-san station and ride one more station to Takaosanguchi station. Costs will be around ¥ 390 if you take the Keio Line. But if you have a Japan Rail Pass, I’d recommend to take the JR Chuo Line since it is covered in the pass and pay an extra of ¥ 130 for the extra station.
The easiest way to plan your trips around Tokyo would be either to use Google Maps or Hyperdia. I used Hyperdia a lot, it was extremely helpful in planning all our trips in advance.
Once you get to Takaosanguchi station, you will find out that there are many hiking trails to get to the top (or down). We chose the easiest to get to the top first. It is paved all the way up but if you think it was an easy walk, then you’re quite mistaken! It was a very hot and humid day and the trail was very steep! Just a few steps and we were sweating buckets.
Actually you can also take a cable car to get almost halfway up. But we thought, nahh, we’re young and healthy, we can do it! Luckily, though, once you arrived on top of the cable car station, there will be a few restaurants and food stalls just a little further up. They sell some refreshments and also some mitarashi dango (みたらし団子), grilled rice dumplings covered in thick and sweet soy sauce. They are amazing if you can get them fresh from the grill. You can rest here for a bit and enjoy the view with a dango in your hand before heading to the top of the mountain.
On the way up
At some point after the cable car station, I was very amused to find that the trail split up in two. To our right there was the ‘Women’s Path’ where the paved trail continued and to our left was the ‘Men’s Path’, a staircase with 108 steps. Of course we took the ‘Men’s Path’! (I also counted the steps, because I can not resist to try and see if what I’ve read in a travel guide is actually true, and yes, there really are 108 steps.)
After we had managed the staircase, we continued on the trail for a little bit until we arrived at the Yakuoin temple.
The long-nosed god at Takao-san
So, when I told a friend of mine that we were going to Takao-san for a hike, I already knew that there was a big temple worshipping the mountain gods (also called tengu). They all have very long noses or crow beaks and are usually depicted as very big and muscular types. Typical machos. My friend told me then, that some people believed that the appearance of the tengu god might have been inspired by the first Westerners that arrived in Japan centuries ago, thus the long nose. (Of course, all Westerners have long noses!) It’s a funny story, anyway!
The temple grounds are quite large actually, and they spread on different levels too. So once you have walked through the first level, there are some more steps to climb to get to a big temple hall. It doesn’t stop there, though! There are more staircases to manage, until you get to the main temple hall.
Although there are many tourists here, especially on the weekends, please keep in mind that this is a religious site. Don’t forget to be respectful and keep your distance from people praying and worshipping here.
After we had managed a few more stairs, we finally arrived at the top of the 599 m Takao-san! There is a big open plaza at the top, a few kiosks around that serve some refreshments (unfortunately no dango!) and picnic tables to rest. If you are lucky you might be able to see Mt. Fuji from here! If the weather is clear enough, though.
We were quite lucky as the weather was very fair and we had an almost clear view of Mt. Fuji!
We rested here for a bit, with a cold beer in hand and a few snacks to fuel up again, before heading back down. This time we decided to take a different route down.
The way down
The trail back down proved to be a ‘proper’ hiking trail, meaning it was not paved. We had to climb over rocks and roots and I was just glad we didn’t choose this trail to hike to the summit. Hiking it downwards was definitely the better choice.
The sun was already setting when we arrived at the bottom of the mountain. I was sweaty, exhausted but very happy to have been back at Mt. Takao with its beautiful surroundings.
If you are looking for a short trip to get away from Tokyo, go on a hike at Takao-san! You will surely not regret this! It’s a very popular place to view the cherry blossoms in spring and the fall foliage in autumn, too.
To help me plan all my trips and itineraries in Japan, I mostly used the Lonely Planet Japan (Travel Guide)*. I’ve used it a lot when I was living in Japan and found it a great help this time as well!