Mount Takao: The Everyman Hike

The Breakdown

  • Difficulty: Easy – family friendly
  • Height: 500 meters
  • Time: 4 hours, or a leisurely 5 to 6.
  • Views: Whilst the mountain is beautiful, and gives a sneak peek of the folding mountain sides of Japan, the view of Fuji is misty and distant. On most of my visits I’ve not been able to see it at all.
  • Gear: Nothing special. You could easily walk this in normal trainers; I’ve even seen a few girls in sandals and platforms but I don’t recommend that.
  • Best time to go: Avoid weekends and bank holidays as this is a very popular mountain and it will be very crowded, especially on sunny days. The best views of Mt. Fuji will be had in the cooler months but the mountain is particularly beautiful in spring and summer.
  • Access: You can take the Chuo or Keio Line from Shinjuku but make sure you get off at Takaosanguichi Station, and not Takao Station; the former is the stop for the mountain and the latter is for the neighbouring city.
  • Website: The Mount Takao website is brimming is information in English, be sure to consult it properly before going: http://takaotozan.co.jp/takaotozan_eng1/index2.htm

 

The Hike

Mount Takao is the family friendly, not-too-far-from Tokyo, hike with plenty of route options to suits your needs. If you need it there is the added convenience of taking the funicular or chair lift past the steepest part of the ascent, which is at the bottom. This hike also comes along with a good dose of Japanese temples, Mount Fuji and Tokyo viewing spots and good restaurants along the way, all of which are thoroughly signpost and listed on the map. A fair warning; I think of Mount Takao as the slightly commercialised, and therefore easily accessible and well serviced, mountain in the surrounding Tokyo area. I wouldn’t let this put you off as there are many Nature Study Trails and other Japanese experiences to have. But don’t expect a quiet, undisturbed walk as this is a busy mountain catering to many tourists and locals on their family day out.

However, Mount Takao is the beginning of the Tokai Nature Trail so you can use this as your starting point for a much longer and challenging hike.

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Gravestones near Yakouin Temple.

Views and To Dos

Mount Takao is family friendly in many ways besides having easy access routes to suit most people. 7 of the 8 routes have been sign posted to make them Nature Study Trails so whilst you’re making your way up you can keep a look out, or go searching with the kids, for whatever animal is signposted. Some do not have English translation but the pictures should be enough to give you a clue. There is also a Monkey Park (for a fee), Yakouin Temple, waterfalls, a suspension bridge and viewing spots of Tokyo and Mount Fuji.

You can grab detailed information about the attractions at the website link at the top of the page.

Food

One of my favourite things about visiting Takao is the food. There are many places to choose from, along with a lot of traditional Japanese snack food, so there is really no need to bring a picnic, unless you really want to. Below are my two favourite restaurants.

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Grilled mochi on a stick. Mochi is made of a particular rice that has been pounded into these small cakes. This process is considered a traditonal Japanese artform.

 The Beer Mount Garden

This is right next to the funicular and chair lift which is perfect because it’s all you can eat and drink – so if you can’t handle walking down the remainder of the mountain you can jump on one or the other and ride away. This is where I go with large groups of people, especially visiting friends, as it’s pretty accepted you can be loud and cheery, and properly relax. I recommend sitting on the top deck and staying until nightfall as you get a pretty amazing view., but be wary of the time if you’re getting the funicular or chair lift down – they close up shop pretty early. The trains back into Tokyo do function reasonably late.

Takahashiya Soba Shop (高橋屋)

Closer to the summit than The Beer Mount is a well reputed soba shop that does a Takao region speciality of adding Japanese yam to the soba. I was recommended to stop by there by several of my colleagues and I was glad I did. After a hot day of walking around I had cold soba, with unlimited green tea, whilst looking over the folding mountains and city scape. It was a calm end to a leisurely walk around the mountain. You can either go full Japanese and sit inside, shoes off, on the Tatami mats, or head outside and around the back to sit at the breakfast bar style table running the length of the restaurant, overlooking a pretty steep precipice. Either is beautiful, but the latter is especially good if you’re hiking alone, or as a two.

Routes

Mount Takao has many routes that you can mix and match to get some good views and see some interesting landmarks. None of them are overly pressing for hobbyist hikers but will be a push for people out of shape. Luckily, it’s just 500 meters so がんばれ! (Do your best!) But bear in mind that Takao San is often used as a starting point for those hiking the Tokai Nature Trail, which is a 50 day hike that stretches to Osaka – so don’t freak out when you see Japanese hikers fully kitted out with walking poles and the rest, they’re most likely doing a section of the Tokai Trail.

Upon arrival at Takaosanguichi Station, I highly recommend visiting the Information Desk on your left as you exit the station. Every time I’ve visited a kindly old Japanese man has been there ready to show off his English skills by insisting on creating a hiking route for me. He knows the mountain extremely well and will no doubt give you a route prescribed to what you want to see – be it the excellent soba restaurant, the river beds, or just a short and easy walk with toilet access.If he isn’t around then head on into the Information Office where they’ll hand you an English map with everything mentioned above, and more,  and choose your route. Take note that the colour coding on this map doesn’t match the massive billboarded map you face as you exit the station, nor the one I’ve linked to below this. So try to remember the number of the route and not the colour. You can find an English version of the map on the website or check it out here: Takao course_map

Takao all_course

I often mix and match my trails to cover as much as of the mountain as possible. The easiest access route, which is paved but still very steep in places, is Trail 1 (the Omotesando Trail) but the route I roll out for visiting friends is going up the ridgeline trail (Inariyama Trail) and coming down the Omotesando Trail to see all of the temples and attractions after.

Once you’ve chosen your route, and you’re standing in front of the massive billboarded map mentioned earlier, turn right and keep walking until you reach the square at the foot of the mountain – no more than a 5 minute walk. Here you will find omiyage shops, selling interesting cakes and keepsakes, and transport to the top if you’re taking it. Most of the routes upwards start from this area too but not all – be sure to check this before you start. You can use this area as a pit stop to get ready before you start your hike as public toilets are available and not all of the routes will have toilets.

Couldn’t help but point out the similarities between the view from the back of the funicular and the scene where Chihiro leaves the tunnel having found her parents. 

Mount Takao, whilst made convenient for children and families, holds a lot of beauty and wonder which changes in its own way as the seasons march forward. If you want a relaxed and worry free exploration of the famous misty mountains featured in so many Japanese artworks then be sure to check it out…on a weekday, and definitely not on a bank holiday. Enjoy!

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