With the state of emergency being lifted countrywide, it was time to finally leave the city and head out hiking again for the first time in 6 months. Thankfully, Tokyo prefecture has a number of mountains to visit that are only a day trip away. Having visited Mt. Mitake (mee-tar-kay) before in rather unfavourable weather, we were excited to visit again and try different sections of the mountain.
Mt. Mitake is a part of the enormous Chichibu Tama Kai National Park in far-western Tokyo. This national park is home to a multitude of different mountains, with Mitake being a popular day hike. During our last visit we had hiked up the mountain from the base, instead of taking the cable car, which left us very little time for exploring the sights at the top. As a result, on our most recent visit we decided to take the cable car to the top and use the extra time to adventure in the top section of the mountain.
Upon reaching the Mitake train station, we were hit with the delightfully fresh mountain air. The temperature was a cool, 16º and perfect for hiking. After catching the cable car to the top, our first stop was the ‘Rock Garden,’ arguably the most well-known attraction on Mt. Mitake. The Rock Garden runs along a lengthy section of trail and is comprised of a small stream running through moss-covered rocks, nestled within a valley of foliage. Maddy likened the sight to a scene from Lord of the Rings. The Rock Garden is a very popular spot to stop and take a snack break while gazing at your beautiful surroundings.
After finishing the Rock Garden trail loop, we headed to a mountain-top Soba restaurant for lunch. We had soba noodles and green udon noodles, overlooking the surrounding mountains. It was a spectacular way to have our first meal out, post – state of emergency.
After lunch, we headed out for the second part of our hike, climbing and descending Mt. Hinode (hee-no-day). Because we were already up on the mountain tops, there was a lot of through-hiking, rather than up or down, with a small final ascent to the summit of Mt. Hinode.
Views of Tokyo from the peak of the mountain were spectacular; we could even make out the Tokyo Skytree! The peak also houses picnic benches where other hikers were taking out their gas stoves and cooking lunch.
After admiring the breathtaking views, we (Maddy) deciphered the signs to the train station and we began our descent. The descending trail is significantly quieter than the ever-popular Mt. Mitake, and is a lot more rugged. Due to the quiet nature of the trail, we happened upon a few delightful surprises on our way down. The first was nearly running into a mountain biker who was riding UP the mountain, over incredibly knotted root systems, on a VERY slim path. He must be a very experienced cyclist to be able to tackle that trail! Our second surprise was spotting a rare, Japanese animal called a ‘serow.’ Maddy was hiking up front and stopped suddenly, pointing up on the hillside. We all gasped when we found the serow with our eyes. The serow is a Japanese mountain goat that is considered to be a cross between a goat and an antelope. An avid hiking colleague of mine has told me that he’s never seen one in the wild while hiking and that it’s quite rare, so we feel incredibly fortunate to have seen one. It just goes to show that it’s worth going off the beaten track a little.
By the latter half of our descent we were hitting the 6-hour mark of hiking and the track became trickier to traverse. With steeper sections, knotted with more root systems, our shaky legs and brains were certainly getting a workout.
Two hours of hiking along the quiet wooded trail finally saw us reach the town of Hinode at the base of the mountain. Upon reaching the base we came across some Japanese hikers who had also just finished and who wished us luck (頑張って！ganbatte!) and told us that it wasn’t far into the train station in town.
Three trains later and we reached our home station, grabbed our favourite Indian dish from our local restaurant (where we are so regular that they know our order!) and relaxed after our rejuvenating day of hiking.