During the peak of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, people of Tokyo were asked not to leave the capital, in order to prevent further spread of the virus to rural areas. Then the long holiday of Obon came about and everyone was stuck in the city, but soon a loophole was discovered: Okutama area belongs to the Tokyo capital area! As you probably guessed already, Tokyoites were soaring towards Okutama’s forests in order to cool off the summer heat at the numerous gorges and rivers of the area.
Located in the northern-most part of Tokyo, Okutama can easily be mistaken as part of Saitama prefecture. The area belongs to Chichibu-Tama Kai national park and offers a lot of options for nature excursions to the lake and mountains surrounding it. The most popular mountain in the area is Mt. Mitake (御嶽山), which is also equipped with a cablecar reaching almost to the top. Mitake station itself is exceptionally beautiful, built with wooden materials and decorated with old-school movie posters depicting old trains.
After arriving to Mitake station, we took the bus to the cable car. Since the mountain was still crowded even in September, there were double buses at each route. We decided to skip the cable car and instead walk our way to the top and follow a 16km hiking route.
We visited Mitake on a rainy day, but not a single drop of rain reached us thanks to the lush forest surrounding the path. Still, everything was covered with mist as you can see in the pictures. Visibility was non-existent after 2-3 meters ahead. A lot of locations that usually offer great view allowed us to only see white clouds and the outlines of the nearest ridges.
The hike starts with a steep slope and follows a narrow road with tall trees on both sides. Along the way, a dozen of wooden signs are scattered, indicating the names of checkpoints of the route that were important in the past. Soon, you reach a small village, with a couple of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.
This is a good place to take a rest, as there are a lot of stairs to go until you reach the top. So I got myself a nice fluffy sweet made of brown sugar, called Karume-yaki (かるめ焼).
After entering a huge red torii entrance, tight steps take you to the top, where Mitake-shrine is located. The design is quite interesting, with small carved figures appearing to be trapped by or to support the steps. Just below the shrine there is a small museum called Treasure Pagoda, holding precious artifacts.
The shrine itself is not only pet-friendly, but openly welcomes pets. The gate keepers in front of the shrine are two great hounds and the talismans and prayer boards sold at the shrine office depict a dog. A lot of people visit together with their dogs in order to get a blessing from the priest. At the base of the shrine’s entrance, where the purification water-basin is located, there is a separate small area for washing the pets’ paws as well.
Although the shrine complex has a couple of levels and a lot of interesting structures, we decided to head further towards Mt. Hinode. From there on there is no street or stairs, only plain rocky path.
After a while, there is a landscape that easily qualifies as one of the best I’ve witnessed. Inside the white mist, a red torii appears and a wonderful branched tree keeps it company.
During summer, around here there is a simple lodge to spend the night, with the name of Shinonome Sanso (東雲山荘). Unfortunately, the combination of corona and September meant that it was already closed by the time I visited.
The top of Mt. Hinode follows soon after. On a clear day, it is supposed to have a gorgeous view of the mountains around, but this time we could see only pure white.
Soon, we start following the signs towards Mt. Konpira. This route was full of lush plants, but as empty as can be. It seems there are not many sightseeing spots along the way.
In the end, we never saw the top of Mt. Konpira. But we eventually reached the small Kompira shrine and the park around it. On the way down, there is a nice balcony observing the city bellow.
The city of Akiruno at the foot of the mountain is quite lively, with a nice rural style infused into it. You can find a Buddhist temple with a nice garden, as well as a couple of restaurants and shops. There is also a nice gorge at the Akigawa valley where you can swim during the summer months.
If you are interested to see how Mitake looks during a sunny day, you can get a taste below.