Mount Takao

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo’s Most Sacred Mountain

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Located west of Tokyo, Mount Takao has plenty of natural attractions that offer a variety of breathtaking views. You can also ride cable cars, visit temples, museums, onsens, and climb to the top of the mountain. The Michelin Green Guide highly recommends this mountain for tourists visiting Japan.

When you think of mountains in Japan, you’ll immediately think of Mount Fuji. But what if I told you there was another mountain close to Tokyo that is worth visiting? Get your hiking boots ready, as you won’t want to miss this gem of an attraction.

Below is a list of everything you need to know so that you can plan the perfect trip when coming here!

Mount Takao
Tokyo, Japan – November 18, 2016 : Takaosanguchi Station is a railway station on the Keio Takao Line in Hachioji , Tokyo, Japan . It is the main point of railway access to Mount Takao.

How Do You Get To Mount Takao From Tokyo?

The best way to get to Mount Takao is to start from Shinjuku Station on the Keio Line to Takaosanguchi Station. The ride will take about 50 minutes, and you’ll get to see a change of scenery as you begin to leave Tokyo’s residential areas to a panorama of forests and suburbs.

I recommend spending one full day to do everything Mount Takao has to offer. You can ride cable cars, chair lifts, hike to the summit, visit museums, parks, and temples. There’s also a hot spring and several restaurants.

When you reach Takaosanguchi Station, you’ll be greeted by a very modern station, created by internationally renowned architect, Kuma Kengo. The new design blends Japanese aesthetics with modern technology and natural materials that fit perfectly with the Takao area. You’ll see sloping canopy passageways made from local cedar trees, and traditional lanterns from the local town around the station.

Mount Takao
Tokyo, Japan – November 18, 2016 : Map of Mount Takao . Mount Takao is one of the closest natural recreation areas to central Tokyo

What Can You Do At Mount Takao?

As mentioned before, I strongly recommend putting an entire day aside to experience Takao. There is so much to do in this area, and hiking alone can take hours if you aren’t sprinting up the trails. Check out the list below for everything you can and should do!

1. Hiking Trails

When you finally make it over to the base of Takao from Takaosanguchi, you will see a large glass building for cable cars, and a large map of the hiking trails directly outside of it. Depending on the day, there might be a line for the cable car tickets.

Regardless, if you aren’t planning on taking the cable cars to the top of the mountain, start planning out what trail you want to take from the map. Here’s a list of the trails and our take on them:

  • Trail 1, the Omotesando Trail, is recommended for beginner climbers and children. This is one of the longest routes but you will walk on paved roads most of the time from the base to the summit of the mountain. The route also passes through the main sightseeing spots. This trail is very popular so expect a fairly noisy crowd walking along with you. If you don’t want to hike from the base to the summit, you can take a ride halfway up the mountain using the cable car or the two-seat chair lift.
  • Trail 2, Kasumidai Loop Trail: a short trail that circles the Monkey Park, Wild Flowers Garden, and some forests halfway up the mountain; does not have a path to the summit.
  • Trail 3, Katsura Woods Trail: leads you through forests containing Katsura trees; beautiful during fall since the color of the trees’ leaves can range from yellow to orange.
  • Trail 4, Suspension Bridge Trail: starts about a quarter of the way from the summit; passes through forests and the Miyamabashi Suspension Bridge.
  • Trail 5, Peak Loop Trail: as short as the Kasumidai Trail but goes around the paths near the summit.
  • Trail 6, Biwa Waterfall Trail: one of the most challenging routes; also called the “water trail” since it passes many water features like springs, river, and, of course, the Biwa Waterfall; you might see some monks undergoing water purification under the waterfall even during winter.

There are a dozen other trails besides these six, but if you are visiting Takao for the first time, it’s better to stick to the main ones, and stay on them! Not to freak you out, but there are plenty of trails that lead off from the main ones that will easily get you lost.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

2. Kiyotaki Station and Sanroku Station

If you decide to take a ride on the cable cars, you will need to walk to Kiyotaki Station, which is just right outside the trail map we mentioned above. If you want to take the chair lifts, you’ll need to walk over to Sanroku Station that’s to the right of Kiyotaki Station.

You can buy round-trip tickets or one-way tickets. You can use the cable car to go up the mountain and the chair lift to go down, or vice versa. If you use the chair lift going up you can enjoy a leisurely ride and if you use the cable car going down you’ll feel like you’re in a roller coaster ride because of the steep slope.

Before heading up the mountain, keep in mind that there is a town around Takaosanguchi that’s filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. If you are hungry or want to shop, I highly suggest doing so before hiking, otherwise, you might be too tired to do any of those things after.

Again, I cannot emphasize this enough, but you’ll be walking a lot. If you need to change your footwear, you should do so now. I’ve worn tennis shoes up that mountain and absolutely destroyed them.

Mount Takao

3. Kasumidai Observation Deck

Whether you hiked up here, or used the cable car, you will find Kasumidai Observation Deck. Here you can take very scenic pictures, depending on the weather and cloud coverage. There’s also telescopes along that deck that you can use to get a closer look at what exactly lies in those mountains.

If you used the chair lifts, you can walk on over to the decks. They aren’t too far away.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

4. Monkey Park and Wild Flower Garden

Not far from the observation deck, you will find the Monkey Park and Wild Flower Garden. You’ll need to pay a fee to enter, but I can only recommend it if you are fascinated with Japan’s wildlife. It’s especially beautiful during the fall when the colors of the trees are changing.

The Wild Flower Garden contains about 300 native species of flowers that once blossomed on Mount Takao. Some of these flowers cannot be found anywhere else in the world, and the Garden was constructed to preserve these flowers.

You can view Japanese macaques, which is a very rare site anywhere close to Tokyo. The macaques are in a glass enclosure, so you don’t have to worry about being approached by them as seen at other tourist attractions in Japan. Macaques have distinctive gray fur and red faces. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a monkey in a hot spring that matches the description mentioned, that’s a Japanese macaque!

Each macaque in Monkey Park has a name. Some of them answer to these names and come to the Park’s staff when called.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

5. Tako Sugi

Just around the corner from the Monkey Park and Wild Flower Garden is Tako Sugi. This tree can be easy to miss but can be spotted by its massive octopus-shaped base. According to local legend, the tree wrapped its roots around itself, just as an octopus does with its tentacles so that it could not be cut down by a local farmer.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

6. Yakuo-in Joshinmon

After passing Tako Sugi, you will see a large wooden gate known as Yakuo-in Joshinmon straight ahead. From here, you can either go up the stairs to see Shinpen-yama and Jinbendo, a Shinto shrine with many statues, or continue on Omotesando Trail through Yakuo-in Temple.

A good thing to note is that if you skip Shinpen-yama, you can visit the shrine on the way down from the summit if you take the stairs. If you decide to continue down through Yakuo-in Joshinmon, you will pass through an avenue of ancient cedar trees called Tako-san no Sugi Namiki before arriving at Takao-san Yakuo-in Yuki-ji Temple.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

7. Yakuo-in Temple

Mount Takao has been considered a sacred mountain for centuries, and the Yakuo-in Yuki-ji is the mountain’s main temple. More famously known as Yakuo-in Temple, this structure was built all the way back in 744 C.E. by Gyoki Bosatsu, who was famous for taking part in the construction of the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple in Nara. The temple persisted under the religious practices of Shungen Daitoku, a famous Buddhist monk from the sacred mountains of Kyoto.

Shungen established Shugendo, which is a form of mountain asceticism, followed by monks today. He also enshrined Izuna Daigongen who is the main deity of the temple. Because of his efforts, Yakuo-in is now considered three of the main temples of the Shingon Buddhist sect of Japan.

As you explore this temple, you’ll notice many winged statues with beaks or long noses. These figures are known as Tengu, a winged demon of Shinto mythology, said to be the messenger of the gods and bringers of good luck. The fans they hold are called uchiwa, which they use to drive away misfortune. This temple is also dedicated to them and their good luck.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

The etiquette for visiting Yakuo-in Temple is a bit different. You don’t need to bow at the gate before entering. Instead, you bow before the statue of Shungen Daitoku. There is also a cleansing and praying ritual that you can partake in if you are interested in that.

After offering a prayer, you can visit the other halls and buildings throughout the temple grounds. If you are interested in historic architecture, take notes because Yakuo-in has its own style unique to Takao.

Yakuo-in Temple holds festivals all-year-round. One of these festivals takes place during the Setsubun on February 3rd, where people throw beans at people dressed as demons to cast way misfortune. There is also a very famous fire-walking event in March, where monks will burn away their impurities by walking barefoot on smoldering coals while chanting.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

This temple also holds a daily ritual at the main hall. Goma sticks that represent people’s impurities and sins are cast into a purifying fire within a brazier. Goma sticks with people’s prayers are also cast into the fire so they can be fulfilled by Izuna Daigongen. Afterward, participants are given wooden tablets called gomafuda, which are considered the incarnation of the Izuna, and must be enshrined at their homes.

If you want to really experience the ascetic monk life, you can make a reservation with the temple to eat Shojin-ryori, the vegetarian staple diet of the monks. These reservations can only be made in Japanese, so you should learn some of the language or have a friend who knows to help you out.

After exploring Yakuo-in Temple, you can start climbing to the summit.

Mount Takao
Hachioji, Tokyo / Japan – December 02 2016: Mount Fuji View From Top of Mount Takao (Takao-San).

8. The Summit

The path will start to become steeper as you climb up the mountain.

Once you hit the summit, you’ll start to see a small plaza of restaurants, restrooms, and a viewing deck. More importantly, there is a marker that you can take a picture with as photographic proof that you conquered Mount Takao. There is also a popular shaved ice stand that is a great refresher if your day is hot and sunny.

On a clear sunny day, you will have a great view of Mount Fuji from Takao. During the winter solstice in December, the sun passes the peak of Fuji as it sets, which can create a great opportunity for photos or special moments. This phenomenon is called Diamond Fuji, and Takao is considered the best spot to see it.

Mount Takao is also a great spot for Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing during the spring. The trees on the mountain bloom for only a few weeks after the trees in Tokyo do. If you are serious about viewing Hanami from Takao, the best spot for this is at the Itchodaira observation deck, which is a 30-minute hike from the summit. There is also a grove of cherry blossoms around the viewing deck known as Takao-san Senbonzakura.

However, despite all of the seasons boasting beautiful sceneries of the mountain, fall is by far the best time to visit. Like many other places in Japan during the fall, Mount Takao is filled with resplendent yellows, oranges, and reds. This is definitely worth viewing if you are visiting Tokyo in the fall.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

9. Descending Down Mount Takao

Descending down Mount Takao is much easier than climbing up. As mentioned before, you can take the stairs down to Shinpen-yama. However, if you have time to spare and aren’t too tired, I highly recommend taking a different trail back down the mountain for the full experience.

Trail 4 will take you back to Takao-San or Sanjo Stations, but will give you a different view of the mountain.

What Can You Do At The Base?

Before heading back to the city, why not spend some more time at the other attractions near Takaosanguchi? If you want to soak your bones, and familiar with Japanese onsens, you can rest at Onsen Gokuraku-yu. If you are looking for something unique to Takaosanguchi, you can visit the 599 Museum and the Takao Tick Art Museum.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

1. Onsen Gokuraku-yu

Onsen Gokuraku-yu is the perfect spot to rest your legs and feet after a long hike. Most of the water used to fill the baths come from Takao’s natural hot springs. There are different types of baths and rooms such as a sauna, outdoor baths, cold baths, and hot baths. Typically, onsens forbid people with tattoos from entering, and if you can cover yours, it won’t matter here since this onsen won’t allow you to cover them.

If you are hungry, you can enjoy a great meal from the restaurant in a traditional tatami room. I recommend trying their specialty: tororo soba, or buckwheat noodles with grated yams.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

2. 599 Museum

Takao 599 Museum is just a five-minute walk from Takaosanguchi. This museum focuses on the natural history and culture surrounding Mount Takao. There’s plenty of interactive exhibits that include resin replicas of seasonal flowers, trees, and animals. This museum also uses projection mapping and monitors to showcase the four seasons of the mountain.

For young visitors, there is a small replica of Mount Takao that they can climb up. There is also a café and a souvenir shop.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

3. Takao Trick Art Museum

Across from Takaosanguchi is the Takao Trick Art Museum. You can’t miss it, because this building sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the town. You’ll know it by the Grecian columns and the Egyptian mosaics that can easily be seen from a mile away. If you are someone who is fascinated with optical illusions and 3D paintings, this is the place for you.

This building is huge with plenty of rooms with paintings that will make you look as if you are being attacked by a gorilla, a vampire trapping you in a wine glass, or even part of Alice in Wonderland. There will be plenty of pictures to take to save as memories or share on social media.

The staff there are friendly and would be more than happy to take your picture if you are traveling alone, or wanting to take a group photo with your family and friends.

Mount Takao — 12 Best Things To Do At Tokyo's Most Sacred Mountain

A Gem Waiting To Be Hiked

There you have it, one activity-packed day at Mount Takao. Just a gem waiting to be hiked and explored by you. Mount Takao is typically skipped out on by tourists, but I cannot stress how much of a magical place it is that would make any trip to Japan awesome. Nature is almost nonexistent in Tokyo, but getting to Takao will give you a real taste of Japanese beauty and nature.

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