Anyone and everyone who have spent time near Tokyo have probably been to the wonderful Mt Takao. It located just an hour from the city centre and offers spectacular views back over the city as well as the mountain range. Takao has been a mountain of worship for more than 1000 years and thousands of visitors stop and pray to the Shinto-Buddhist mountain gods 天狗 (tengu) of good fortune at the impressive Yakuoin temple that stands along the trail. The gods (long nose and crow beak) can be spotted at various places around the mountain and are an impressive statue to come across. Today was our time to witness the beauty that is Mt Takao.
Guess what?! Today we had a friend! One of our fellow JETs from the Northern Territory joined us on our hike and she’s always up for adventure! We met at the Tsukubasanguchi station, layered on the sunscreen and insect repellent and headed off to trail #1. This is the main touristy trail that takes you past the shrines, temples, and monkey park on the mountain. Fortunately for us, it was a very quiet day as a typhoon was due to hit Tokyo that night. Most people take the chair lift or cable car halfway up the mountain (soft). But after completing this hike, I now know why.
The first half of the hike is as steep as steep can be, and I’m talking bent over to push upwards kind of steep. Safe to say, we took many rests, enjoying the scenery and admiring the beautiful flora lining the sides of the stone path. Yes, stone path. This is such a relief after our previous weekends hike up Mt Tsukuba clambering over boulders and tree roots (see our Mt Tsukuba blog to find out). Still, the sheer steepness of the path would ward off anyone with a soft stomach. Luckily, it was a STUNNING day! The sun was out (it was beyond hot), and although a few spits and spots of rain hit us on the way up, it remained a beautiful day. Trail #1 leads past thousand-year-old temples, shrines, and tengu gods! There’s plenty to stop and look at on the way up, as well as food if you forget to bring snacks (we always bring the snacks). We enjoyed the tengu statues, a statue of a boy scout (still not really sure why, I couldn’t read all of it), and a massive Buddhist shrine atop the mountain. And of course, gorgeous red lanterns that are a rather famous aspect of Mt Takao that guide you on your journey to the top.
The summit of Mt Takao is as beautiful as you probably think. The thick foliage of summer does inhibit some views but ultimately, its breathtaking. We could JUST make out the Tokyo sky tree (it is not clear during summer) and the views of surrounding mountains on the farthest end of the summit are exquisite. Without an incoming typhoon, I would definitely suggest climbing later in the day to stay and watch the sunset. The unfortunate (well, maybe actually fortunate) thing about beautiful views, is that you can actually see incoming rain. So, our viewing was cut a little short as we decided to start descending the mountain and hopefully reach a lunch spot before the rain!
On our way down, I stopped in my tracks as we were walking beside the Yakuoin temple. I could here chanting. As we walked to the front of the temple, we climbed the stairs and inside, the monks were chanting! They were running a religious service and many locals had joined in on the surrounding tatami mats. That was incredible to see! Of course, we didn’t go inside as we do not belong to that religion but we could hear and see inside. Just imagine, a temple on the mountainside with monks hosting a service. Wow. Just wow.
Alas, we had to keep moving on! It JUST started pouring as we came upon the most marvellous ramen restaurant, near to the top of the mountain. Perfect timing. The ramen was delightful and with its rich and warm flavours, we were comfortable in no time. We were joined by a multitude of other foreigners who had also been caught in the rain. But, eventually, we had to continue our descent once the rain cleared.
The next stop was the monkeys! Yes, there is a monkey park ON the mountain! They have about 74 Japanese macaques in a glass-fenced enclosure for foreigners to see. While this is slightly on the dicey side of animal rights, they were amazing to see that close, including 4 little baby monkeys! We were lucky enough to have a lovely old Japanese man talk to us about the monkeys and tell us who the leader was and the names of the babies etc. (in Japanese, I had to concentrate really hard). It was only an extra few hundred yen to get into the monkey park and it’s well worth it. Not only do you see monkeys closer than you probably have ever before, but there are also spectacular views from the top of the viewing platform! Because we are all such lovely people and were happy to have a conversation with him, our lovely monkey expert man gave us an incredible grasshopper he had made entirely from leaves! It looked so real that I thought he might be showing us what the monkeys eat but no! He made it and gave it to us as a gift. We now have it sitting proudly on our shelf to remember that lovely man.
Finally, it was time to finish our descent down the mountain, but apparently mother nature didn’t like that. After getting some dango (a sweet rice dumpling of course), it rained quite heavily on our way down the steep stone path which, as you can probably imagine, gets extremely slippery when its wet. Fortunately, if living in Japan teaches you anything, it’s to take an umbrella with you…everywhere! Between the three of us, we had 2 umbrellas and a poncho so we were set. Just had to avoid slipping for the rest of the trek downhill. But of course the rain eventually stopped and we made it home with plenty of time to spare before the typhoon hit. Just enough time to get some yummy Indian food from our favourite local Indian restuarant!