When staying in Tokyo for a restricted amount of time, one might wish to escape the somewhat overwhelming cityscape and enjoy a bit of countryside while not necessarily spending valuable time in transports, or money in extra accommodation. The option of a day trip is therefore one to be considered but where to go when Tokyo is known to spread endlessly over miles and miles? One perfect location for such a trip is the Mount Takao. A very popular weekend destination for many Tokyoites, Mount Takao is located about 50 km east from central Tokyo within the Meiji no Mori Takao Quasi-National Park near the city of Hachioji.
The rich woodland of Mt Takao
Mount Takao (Takao-san, 高尾山) welcomes over 2.5 million visitors each year so for a quiet walk, you should try to head down there on a weekday. The mount is set at a peculiar geological location between the subtropical and temperate zones of Japan and therefore, the vegetation and woodland covering the mount display features of both zones, making it with more than 1,200 plant species, a fantastically rich environment for wildlife, animals and insects alike. The base of the mount actually hosts the Tama Forest Science Garden (多摩森林科学園, Tama Shinrin Kagakuen), a complex consisting of a botanical park and a research center which can be visited for free every day except Mondays. The garden harbors a large number of domestic of foreign tree species and is well worth a look at. Unfortunately, the exceptional biodiversity that characterizes the region could soon be heavily undermined by the drilling of two tunnels at the core of the mount in order to make way for the Metropolitan Inter-City Expressway (圏央道, Ken-Ō Dō).
Takaosan Yakuoin Yukiji Temple
Before even starting the climb, as you exit Takaosanguchi station (高尾山口), take the time to inspect the little village at the bottom of the mount. It is mostly composed of traditional wooden houses that host souvenir shops and restaurants. The atmosphere of the place alone is worth the trip so take your time to absorb it. As you reach the bottom of the mount, time will come to decide which of the seven different paths you will choose to take for your ascension. While the trail number 1, also known as the pilgrim's trail (3,8 km long), is fairly broad and paved, others are more narrow and close to nature. There is also the option of riding the rope-way (Sanroku station) or the funicular (Kiyotaki station), both operated by the Takao Mountain Railroad Company (¥900 return ticket), which take you from the foot of the mountain to about halfway to the top (400 meters up) on the trail number 1.
On the other hand, the somewhat rougher trail number 6 will take you to the summit in about 90 minutes (10 minutes less than Trail number 1) but it does not pass rope-way and funicular top stations. Aside from these two, you can also chose the longer Inariyama trail, or one of the four variation trails that appear regularly all through trail 1. Note that trail number 1 also proposes various shops and shrines that will make good opportunities to take short break, especially for younger kids. These obviously make the trek longer but they are more scenic. Hundred years old cedars, beeches, and wild flowers pave the way in different colors according to the season. Climbers can also stop at the monkey park (adults ¥400; children ¥200) and enjoy a moment with Japanese Macaques as well as demonstrations.
View of Mt Fuji from Mt Takao
At the top of the mount, if the weather is reasonably clear, the visitor can enjoy a fantastic view of Tokyo, Yokohama and Mount Fuji. The tengu (minor shinto mountain gods) are worshiped at the Takaosan Yakuoin Yukiji Temple which was first built in 744 (Nara period) by the famous Gyoki Bosatsu under decree from Emperor Shomu. The temple belongs to the Chizan School of the Shingon sect and it is also quite notable for harboring over 2,500 documents dating from the Japanese Middle Ages. Statues of the gods are scattered all over the mountain and they come in two variations, one with a long nose and one with a crow beak. A visitor center as well as a restaurant are also located at the top.
On your way down, try of course to choose a different path from the one you used on the way up and don't forget to stop by Takao Beer Mount (open from the 1st of July to the end of September), a beer garden that offers food and drinks to be enjoyed while appreciating a panoramic view of Tokyo and Yokohama. The formula "all you can drink and eat" for ¥3000 might please the most party-inclined visitors.
Map of the access paths to Mount Takao (click on the map for a flash version)
From Shinjuku station, the Keio or line will take you to Takaosanguchi station in less than an hour for ¥370. If you have a JR rail pass, you can take the Chuo Line from Shinjuku to Takao Station (¥540, about 50 minutes) and then transfer to the Keio Line until station to Takaosanguchi Station (¥120, 2 minutes).