Climbing Mt. Takao – Tokyo, Japan

We climbed Takao-San on our last trip to Tokyo, back in 2010, after seeing it on NHK’s Tokyo Eye program. While researching this year’s voyage Diana found out there was a fire cleansing festival due to occur not long after we arrived (it takes place every year on the second Sunday of March, more details here – http://www.takaosan.or.jp/english )

Takao is a gorgeous little mountain town about 40 minute train ride from where we’re staying, and easy to get to from central Tokyo – Just hop on the Takao Keio line from Shinjuku and you’ll arrive at Takaosanguchi station for a few hundred yen.

There should have been video to go with this post, but unfortunately  the card in my camera has decided to replace everything with lovely green bars 🙁 Still, Diana got some pictures and I took a few snaps on my phone to share.

Because our closest station is on the Chuo line we had to make a quick transfer. It was either that or a 2km walk from the next closest station and we remembered it was pretty steep so thought it was worth the little bit extra.

That said, we don’t remember it being this steep :S (Below is a map with our GPS watch, unfortunately it didn’t capture the elevation like usual – technology was definitely NOT on my side that day)

Heading up the first pass you’ll see people pushing prams and running. Lord only knows how they do it because we were struggling to walk! For those less inclined to do the trail you can get a cable car halfway up.

Takao-san cable car station

If you’re unable to climb (or just too lazy) get a cable car to the middle station.

At the foot of the mountain there are also shrines. Statues line the trail all the way up:

Statue at the entrance to the Takao San trail

 

One of many statues on the trail up Mt. Takao

The mountain is a reserve area and there are lots of signs pointing out local wildlife, although it seems this time of year is a bit cold for the flying squirrels.

Wildlife sign on Mt. Takao

The monkey park was open, and you do sometimes get them in the wild on the trail, but we were on a mission to see the priests at the temple walk through fire (well, over hot coals), as were hundreds of other people.

As you get about a third of the way up the mountain there is a station for the cable cars and here you start to find plenty of food spots and a gift shop. There’s also a viewing platform where on a clear day you can easily make out the skyline of Tokyo in the distance.

Lots of Tengu related gifts on display

Lots of Tengu related gifts on display

It wouldn't be Japan without some kind of Gachapon (capsule toy dispenser).

It wouldn’t be Japan without some kind of Gachapon (capsule toy dispenser).

Hello Kitty popcorn machine

Hello Kitty popcorn vending machine, for when only fresh hot popcorn will do.

Because the mountain is famous as a home for Tengu (one of many creatures from Japanese folklore) you can get a whole myriad of Tengu related products, including a ltd. Hello Kitty phone strapper and delicious Tengu shaped Taiyaki (kind of like a waffle with sweet bean paste filling)

Tengu Taiyaki. Lower Tengu have bird like faces, and they become more human with more authority.

Tengu Taiyaki. Lower Tengu have bird like faces, and they become more human with more authority.

Taiyaki sweet red bean filling

Continuing a little further up the mountain you begin to pass stereotypical Japanese religious artefacts. Trees wrapped with rope and warding charms, and rows of plaques filled with prayers. This is all leading towards a large impressive temple with shrines all around.

If you want a more lighthearted approach to learning about Japanese folklore and shrines, the anime Gingitsune is available on Crunchy Roll.

Because it was a weekend, and the weather was great, there were a lot of people around and all of the stalls were open selling charms and the like.

It was at this point we found out that the fire walking doesn’t take place here as previously informed, but actually it happens at the foot of the mountain (what was all that walking for?!?!). Oh well, we’d made it this far and figured we might as well continue to the top.

Carrying on up the trail from this point becomes a bit of a chore. People who know me will tell you I’m a bit of a fatty, but we both keep generally fit. The steps leading up through the temple are quite tough, but after this point the trail evens out and it’s not far to the peak viewing spot. The temple grounds are also quite large, so there is plenty of opportunity to “sight-see” and get your breath back.

Diana stands next to a Lion statue. A pair of 'Lion Dog' statues will often be found guarding the entrance to shrines and temples.

Diana stands next to a Lion statue. A pair of ‘Lion Dog’ statues will often be found guarding the entrance to shrines and temples.

When you get to the top you’re rewarded with the fantastic scenery of Japans mountains and a notice board tells you which each one is. Unfortunately it was quite hazy, but on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji in the distance.

If it was a clearer day, you would be able to make out Fuji-San in the distance.

If it was a clearer day, you would be able to make out Fuji-San in the distance.

At the top, as with the rest of the trail there are toilets and plenty of room to sit and take a break, so we ate the snacks we’d prepared and headed back down to the bottom, where we managed to catch the end of the fire cleansing ritual. Again, we took lots of video, but my card exploded 🙁 Diana managed to grab some good pictures though:

P1011254 Monks at the Takao San temple

Takao San is a beautiful place rich with elements of traditional Japan and fantastic architecture. I’d recommend it to any Tokyo visitor as a day excursion.

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