Climbing Mount Takao

Summit of Mount Takao

One pastime, which I acquired in Japan is the joy of mountain climbing.  England has a real lack of places to climb and for those who wish to try out the dangers of some serious rock-climbing one only has to go to Scotland to fulfill such an endeavor. For me though, I had always wanted to see what the thrill was of going up high (secretly I always dreamt of being Frodo on Mount Doom, cue dramatic music).  Even when I moved to Japan in 2009 I had moved to a part where there was relatively few hills, let alone mountains and although on a clear day you could see Mount Fuji as though it was only a couple of miles away, it didn’t satisfy my urge.  So when I moved to West Tokyo, I’d decided to take full advantage of my close proximity to Chichibu, famous for its temples and mountains. I went mountain climbing at least once a month, a straight train on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to a completely different world.

Mount Takao, which this post is about, is situated in Tokyo, it’s only 50 minutes away from Shinjuku on the Keio Line or the Chuo Line. I live relatively close to Mount Takao and I had never climbed it before so I decided to do so this week. The idea had crossed my mind a couple of times, but I was always too busy or there was something more pressing that I wanted to do.  Though when I eventually got around to doing so; I  wished I’d done it sooner.  The mountain is full of life and I don’t mean Japanese people paying their respects at the temple at the top of the mountain; I mean nature.  Nature is everywhere.

As I said in my previous article I am essentially an urbanite, but my time in Bath, Somerset made me appreciate the great outdoors. Somerset with all its green hills, woods and free roaming deer is probably my spiritual home. Now, I sound like a New Age Pagan, so moving swiftly on.  Mount Takao is also the spiritual home to many Japanese, it’s closely associated with tengu.  Forgive me, because my Japanese folklore has become slightly sloppy of late, but I believe tengu is depicted as a crow like creature who’s initial job is as a messenger to the deities and Buddhas. Tengu carries a fan to sweep away bad fortune and bring those around him good fortune, so not an oni (Japanese demon), but to be frank looks almost as terrifying.

Yakuo-in Temple

I have to admit something before I continue; I didn’t climb up Mount Takao, since time was limited I had decided to take the cable car to the half-way point.  However, I did walk all the way down and even though Mount Takao is relatively easy in comparison to the likes of Mount Fuji, you can get easily tired if you take it too fast. I took it quite slowly as I wanted to absorb as much of the visuals as I could. The path to the temple is rather underwhelming, since most of the way is concreted and heavily crowded, since I went during koyo (red leave) period.  Once you get on one of the nature trails though, it all becomes worth it. I was a little surprised to see how few Japanese people actually decided to go back on one of the trails, since one would think that’s why they went there. Alas, it seemed the majority only came for the temple as the trails were sparse with walkers.

A friend and I chose the Inariyama trail, not because we had been sensible and thought ahead; we were just being in the moment. We were lucky, the views and backdrop were breath-taking, sometimes a cliche is needed when words fail you. The trail was covered in deep forestry and although the path that laid before us was relatively easy;  if the casual walker didn’t prepare decent boots one could find it rather hard to maneuver over rocks and tree roots.   The trail starts slightly steep, but eventually evens out, so you can admire the panoramic view of the mountain range as you descend. In some ways, some would say it’s a more worthwhile hike than Mount Fuji.  I’ve been told Mount Fuji’s climb is comparatively dull, with rock and dirt being your companion for most of the way.

Warning of poisonous snakes.

The mountain is rich with wildlife. During our walk, there were plenty of signs to inform us about the plantation or poisonous snakes. Once we got to a mid way point, we decided to take a rest.  It wasn’t because we were tired, but more due to the fact that we kept stopping to take pictures of  the woods or the views from the edge of the trail.  I thank God we live in an age where we can easily capture a memory, yes I know a rather cheap sentiment, but sometimes the brain with all it’s marvelous functions still hasn’t evolved enough to give us a photographic memory. We got to a split in the road, and though I’ve been studying Japanese for almost 4 years now, I still couldn’t make out the Chinese characters. Fortunately, there was a nice Japanese family who directed us on the right path.

One of the pathways.

When we got our rhythm back,  it was a straight down direction.  As we neared the base of the mountain, towards Kiyotaki Station, which loosely translates as “clear waterfall,”  we found that the steepness was getting the better of us as we started to trip over large tree roots and forgotten walking sticks.  Momiji trees line the walk down, and one could forget that the heart of Tokyo was only a couple of miles away. As we walked over the bridge, which signaled the end of our trail; I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, not because the walk was a let down in any way, but because it took me so long to realise that there was such natural beauty right on my doorstep. I had been too involved in the delights of modern day living, that I forgot all about simple pleasures like this. The train station across the bridge shook me back to reality, a little victory pose was needed as it marked completion of our hike and then we were on our way.