Trekking Takao: Tokyo's closest mountain beckons during the autumn months
Venerable Mount Takao, located just an hour by express train from downtown Tokyo, has long been known as a quick escape -- pretty much the quick escape -- from the concrete jungle. But not even its most devoted fans considered the well-trod peak a world-class destination. That all changed in 2007, when a surprise three-star rating in the Michelin "Voyager Pratique Japon" guide lifted the reputation of this homey little mountain to new heights.
Easy access plus spectacular views of surrounding mountains, including good ol' Fuji-san, has always made Takao a popular destination. Currently more than 2.6 million people visit Mt. Takao every year.
Mt. Takao makes a beautiful day-trip year round, but there is no better time to make the peak's acquaintance than in autumn, when the changing leaves paint the trails in the crisp yellows, reds and oranges of fall.
Mt. Takao features seven hiking trails, most of which are paved and an easy trek even in sneakers. (Hapless, overdressed women attempting the climb in high-heels are a common sight as well.)
Trail 1 is the basic course -- a straight shot up to the peak that takes you past the mountain's main attractions: an observation deck doubling as a beer garden during the summer months, an active Buddhist temple complex and a monkey park. The truly dedicated usually tackle Trail 6 or the Inariyama Course, a beautiful forest hike that follows -- and at some points enters -- a creek snaking down the side of the mountain.
For those who prefer a little assist or are in a hurry, a chair lift and cable car (actually a funicular railway) are available to ferry visitors up to the halfway point.
The summit is famed for its unparalleled views of distant Mount Fuji. Not to mention the handy arrays of vending machines to either help you rehydrate (Pocari Sweat) or dehydrate (beer) after the long hike up.
History to contemplate while hiking the trails
This may be an escape from the city, but it isn't exactly an escape from your fellow man. But don't let that scare you: Takao is no tourist trap. The mountain's history runs deep.
Considered one of the sacred peaks of the mountain-worshipping religion of Shugendo, the entire mountain is a part of a Buddhist temple called Takao-san Yakuoin Yukiji Temple, still active today more than 1200 years after its founding.
For those with a taste for the supernatural, the area is also said to be home to two species of "yokai," the Longnose Tengu and the Raven Tengu, statues of which are found throughout the mountain. Don't worry -- there haven't been any reported attacks on hikers in centuries, and they are considered lucky guardian spirits today. Not to mention the delicious baked sweet buns featuring their faces, which are a local staple. Look for them in shops near the beer garden at the top of the lift and railway station.
Soba is another local delicacy. Shops selling various concoctions of the buckwheat noodles line the promenade leading to the trailheads, perfect for a quick bite on your way up or down this sacred -- yet satisfying -- peak.
To access Takao: Take the Keio line to Takao-san-guchi (高尾山口) station. Takes a little less than one hour from Shinjuku.