Day Hike from Tokyo: Mt. Takao

Back to the basics, because the MOST elementary mountain around Tokyo is none other than Mt. Takao (高尾山). It is tiny (only 599m tall), easily accessible by train and cable car, and has interesting foliage colors all year round.

The station for the lift
The train station at Takaosan-guchci

Mt. Takao is primarily famous as an easy pilgrimage location, owning to the Buddhist temple complex that is located at its summit. The association of Mt. Takao to the Yamabushi and Shugendo pilgrims helped increase its status (read about Shugendo here). Departing from Takaosan-guchi station, there are two different ropeway routes and eight hiking routes that can lead you to the top. The paths and hiking facilities are well-maintained; there’s even a boot-washing corner in front of the station. It is almost always crowded, but the peak season is during the cherry blossoms in April and during the red foliage in November.

Monuments dedicated to ancestors and spirits along the path
The mountain is covered by lush greenery

The symbol of the mountain is the Tengu (天狗), the messenger of the gods. Although the name means “heavenly dog”, Tengus are depicted with human bodies, bird beaks and wings. The large nose and the red-colored face are also common traits. In Takao, a pair of Tengu is the most prominent iconography. The first Tengu is a Karasutengu (烏天狗) with greenish skin and a crow’s beak, which holds a sword. The second Tengu is a Hanatakatengu (鼻高天狗) with reddish skin and a long nose, which holds a feather fan. Statues of Tengu, octopi, squirrels, turtles and other lucky animals can be found all around the mountain.

The two most famous Tengu of Takao
Wooden steps and mushrooms

Another sightseeing spot on the mountain is the cedar tree with octopus roots. The Tako-sugi tree was blocking the way when a Yamabushi monk was trying to open a path. He thought that there was no other way to solve the problem, apart from cutting down the tree. On the next day, when he was getting his saw ready, the monk realized that the tree had curled its roots like an octopus, making way for the path.

Jizo statues of the ancestors
Grape ice-cream and statues of Buddhist saints

A few small waterfalls are scattered around, depending on the ascending path. I liked the Snake falls and the Biwa fall. There is an observation deck at Inari-yama. I usually like to hike the unpaved route 6 and then do a small loop to get to the Yakuoin temple.

Wood carvings that depict a monkey
One of the temple buildings, proudly supported by the Yakult yoghurt company

At the top, there is a flat area with a couple of shops and restaurants. A few meters further you can find an observatory with a view to Mt. Fuji. This part is also where you can enjoy red Momiji and pink Sakura trees.

The top of Mt. Takao

Actually, Mt. Takao is the exit point of a large network of paths that reach as far as Mt. Minoo in Osaka. If your end goal is exercise, you can keep moving and get further away from Hachioji in Tokyo to end up at lake Sagami in Kanagawa. In between, there’s Mt. Kobotoke-Shiroyama. The large hut there is more spacious and less crowded than the ones on Mt. Takao. You can recognize this mountain peak from the grumpy, wooden Tengu statue that has turned its back to Tokyo.

The top of Mt. Kobotoke-Shiroyama
The mountain hut on top of Mt. Shiroyama
View towards Tokyo

From Kobotoke, the path turns and climbs down the mountain towards lake Sagami. A lot of Jizo statues are scattered around. I recommend stopping for mochi and tea at Fujimi-chaya (富士見茶屋) in Chigira. The thatched roof of the chaya is barely holding the weight of all the moss that is covering it, but the grandma who owns the shop has a smile that cures everything.

View to lake Sagami
Rice fields and cemeteries

The next checkpoint is Benten bridge (弁天橋). Right before the bridge there’s a cat sanctuary for stray cats (弁天橋猫の会). You can donate money for our furry friends and receive some fresh yuzu as a reward. Continue walking along Sagami River and you will eventually end up at the hydroelectric plant and the dam. The lake was one of the large infrastructure projects of the Showa era.

Sagami river and Benten bridge
A cat sanctuary
The banks of Sagami river
View of the lake

Sagami lake used to be a prominent resort a few decades ago. Nowadays, only the shell of its past self remains. The boat owners can be racist so beware, but the lady with the small coffee shop Fujiya (富士屋) gave me three traditional dolls and a tea pot with a 90% discount. You can also find some establishments that have arcade machines so old that I doubt that they are still working.

The park at lake Sagami
Enjoy the boat ride
Arcades from decades past

If you want to check out the details of this hike, you can follow the route here. If you liked this article, share it with your friends. Do you have any hiking tips for the area? Add them in the comments. You can also follow this blog, follow me on Instagram or Facebook, to never miss a post. Until next time!

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