Mt. Takao or a Walk in the Crowds
November 27, 2010 by sevenbrane
Have you ever stood in a queue on top of a mountain in order to go back down the stairs? Well, I have. Another very Japanese experience.
We finally went up Takao-san (高尾山), Tokyo’s favorite mountain escape. Located West of town, it can be reached conveniently by train from Shinjuku. Given that the autumn leaves are at their peak, what could be better than a trip to the wooded hills? Not an original idea, of course. Thousands had had the same idea at the same time.
Like going upstairs in the subway
Given its popularity, Takao is rather well developed and boasts apart from a funicular and a ropeway, lots of restaurants and food stalls, also a network of hiking trails
. We walked up the number 6 trail which follows a small stream, hoping to escape the masses. Apart from the last bit which is a bit steeper, the ascent is rather gentle and pleasant. The trail is rather narrow and is in fact one-way at this season (ascent only). You cannot overtake people except at some resting points. Result: we did the ascent in Indian file stuck in a group consisting mostly of retirees and families with young children. Even so, it took us only 70 minutes, as opposed to the 100 minutes the signboard said (I really wonder what they base their estimates on). Once we reached the top where all the trails converged, it looked more like going upstairs in the subway.
Picnic at the summit
Since the summit (at 599m) was extremely overrun, we did not spend much time there. To go down, we chose the number 1 trail which passes by Yakuoin Temple
. This trail is a true highway, it is paved and rather wide. Of course all of the less-in shape retirees and families with small children choose that one. And this is, where the queuing to go down the stairs came in. The temple and its surroundings are very beautiful. It was the part I liked best about the whole trip. After the temple, one passes the stops of the funicular and the chair-lift. From there, there are some views towards the urban expanse of greater Tokyo, a fascinating, if somewhat disconcerting sight. The last part of the road becomes rather steep, but the trail is really very easy.
As for the red leaves, around the temple, the maple trees are very impressive. One doesn’t see too many of them during the hike since part of the forest is evergreen (cedars etc), but there are a few more on the summit. The changing colors of the hills look maybe best from the village below.
My overall impression was that Takao-san is overrated. Being the nature escape of all of Western Tokyo makes this hill notoriously overrun. And somewhat less of an escape. Of course, going on a weekend during the peak of red leaf season did little to alleviate this. It is possible I am not doing Mt. Takao proper justice. On a weekday without all the crowds it probably would have been an entirely different experience. There is a number of trails to choose from, and those we did were comfortable. If you want to give it a try, I have only one advice: avoid the weekend.