Tokyo can be a tricky one, especially as a solo foreigner, you’ll wanna avoid the peak hours for public transport. Then, you gotta take into consideration that the sun sets really early in autumn and winter, which leaves you with limited time for activity in between.
Now, I’ve never heard of Mount Takao before, but I had a day to myself in Tokyo and wanted to do something different from the usual shopping and temple-hopping. While researching for options via the awesome Japan-Guide, I came across Mount Takao, a mountain in Tokyo that’s 599m tall. 50min by express train from Shinjuku, this mountain is really popular with the locals, especially in autumn!
Getting to Mt Takao
At Keio Shinjuku Station (which is actually Shinjuku Station but at Keio’s side), I purchased a package (Mt. Takao Discount Ticket) from Keio Railways, using the ticketing machine right before entering. The package includes round-trip train tickets from Shinjuku to/fro Takaosanguchi Station, as well as 2 tickets (up & down) for cable-car &/or chairlift. Which explains the 4 tickets dispensed for each person. This package works out to be a good deal, costing 1,380yen instead of 1,710yen. I saved 20%, oh yeah!
You can choose the English interface via the machine.
Making my way over felt a little like déjà vu, reminiscent of the time I made my way to another day trip in Tokyo, to Kamakura, almost exactly a year ago, in the same season.
–> Read Also: Stunning Autumn Blooms at Kamakura, Tokyo
The mountain in Tokyo that lets you see Mount Fuji*
(* in clear weather)
The good news for visiting Mount Takao is, you don’t have to hike all the way from the foot to the top of the mountain (599m). You can take a cable car (actually a tram) or chairlift to the middle of the mountain, and continue hiking up. Mount Takao has 5 hiking trails.
50 minutes later, I arrived at Takaosanguchi Station in perfect weather! Cold temperature with the sun illuminating everything =)
Once you leave the station, follow the crowd, turn to the right, and head upwards to get to the foot of Mount Takao.
Autumn foliage in Japan always takes my breath away!
Taking the Cable-Car up Mt Takao
This photo above was the extremely long queue to take the cable-car. Since I already have my ticket, I didn’t need to buy them at this station. At the gantry in front, someone will validate your ticket to let you through.
If you wanna take the chairlift, stick to the right and walk past this crowd. It’ll lead you to a different platform to take the chairlift.
I expected a half-hour wait but this cable-car queue took 50min -.-”
Promptly boarded the tram and stood along the aisle. Towards the top, the ride turned crazy because the inclination became really steep and I was struggling to hold myself upright while still taking video with my iPhone! Caught sight of a sign outside that this is Japan’s steepest cable-car, with a 31-degrees inclination. It sure felt more than 31 degrees though!
12.15pm: I got off the tram and we’re halfway up Mount Takao by now. Check out this view of Tokyo!
Initially, I thought I’ll skip lunch and make do with the snacks in my bag if I get hungry. But I walked past this udon restaurant and decided to check out its menu. The prices were reasonable (less than 1000yen for udon), but it was something that was beyond the food that convinced me. The restaurant has some amazing views outside their windows on the other side! With outdoor seats! I Must Eat Here!
There were no vacant outdoor seats when it was my turn, but I told the waitress (who looked super busy but being Japanese, always polite and smiley) that I’ll wait. When she had a seat for me, I ordered by pointing to the item I want from a photo of the menu I had snapped (#languagetravelhack #traveltip: take a photo of the menu and show it to order!). Afterwards, when there was an available seat outdoors, she politely ushered me there. You’ll understand why I insisted on eating and sitting outdoors….
Lunch with a window-less view!
I was besotted… My udon arrived really quickly, but it took a long time to begin my meal, because first, #LetMeTakeASelfie!
The udon was piping hot. The air was chilly, people were just chatting softly in Japanese around me, while I took in all the sounds of nature in the distance. I wished the bowl was bigger, just so I could take a longer time to finish my food. The udon was delicious by the way!
So glad I stopped for lunch here! Because the hike afterwards took me longer than I’d predicted. If I hadn’t eaten this udon, I would have been famished with limited energy.
Trail 3: Starting my Hike
1.10pm: After leaving the restaurant and walking on, the majority of people were strolling up Trail 1 – a well-paved, concrete road. Having done my research and deciding on Trail 3, I deviated to the side and began my hike. It’ll be 2.5km to the top of Mount Takao.
Was a little apprehensive because it looked kinda secluded, but how many people do I expect to be hiking with me anyway?! Trail 3 turned out relatively well-maintained, though there was uneven ground because this is nature, or the path can turn very narrow, etc. To the left of the path, it goes a deep way down. How deep I do not know, but I didn’t really wanna think about it, nor imagine having a heart-attack and collapsing the wrong way blah blah. Practise mindfulness, just stay in the moment.
Sometimes, a tree trunk will cut through your path. Of course that tree gets right of way!
I hiked at my own pace, pausing constantly for photos and to revel in the raw beauty and quietness of the forest. I was also slightly amazed that most of the time, I was alone and that I could actually do this on my in a foreign country! #solotravelachievement
It is not as secluded as you think. Once in a while, fellow hikers will pass by from the opposite direction or overtake me from behind if I stop for photos. Sometimes, the path is too narrow to accommodate more than 1 person, so someone will step/lean to the inner side and let the other party pass. It’s also a kind of ‘practice’ that hikers say hi while passing by, in this case, “Konnichiwa~”. There were also hikers asking me things in Japanese, so I had to express that I can’t speak Japanese.
Eventually, I put my camera and handphone away (my selfie stick broke after this photo because I was too rough lololl) in order to focus on the hike. And yes, I hiked in this winter jacket and more layers underneath without breaking much of a sweat! It was wonderful being able to connect with nature in this kind of temperature.
Towards the end of the trail, it was upslope with many steps, until the path emerged into this area! I love all the sun flares, can you believe I took these flare photos with an iPhone?
2.20pm: I reached the summit!
It’s so bright, and chilly, with plenty of people around (not in the annoying way).
I sighed, it’s so lovely to be here.
At the summit, you’ll find restaurants selling Japanese food, vending machines, and modern washrooms. I wondered how the staff makes their way to work every day! And the delivery of food ingredients? Amazing.
3pm: Descending Mount Takao
This time, I chose to take Trail 4 as it comes with a suspension bridge somewhere along the trail. This trail had a “Slippery” warning sign because of leaves and so on.
This was my path, lol. Don’t underestimate those leaves – they really can make you slip if you’re not careful!
Couldn’t get a nice photo of the suspension bridge and there were significantly more people on this trail leaving Mt Takao. Hiking down was much faster though. In no time, I was back near the cable-car platform. Nearby, there’s this place selling a mochi-like snack, made of steamed and hulled rice flour, roasted over fire, then coated with sweet, sticky sauce.
I sat on a chair eating my mochi balls while facing this view. Life is awesome! Right? Until… A fruit-fly decided to fly to my snack and get itself stuck on the sticky sauce. -.-”
Taking the Chairlift down Mt Takao
Getting onto this chairlift involves walking onto a moving conveyor belt and then sitting your butt down courageously on the chair when it looms up behind you. This means you can’t carry your backpack behind, but in front. The staff are very professional and efficient. There’s no handle-bars to secure you to your seat, FYI. You can grasp the metal handles at the side of the chair! Don’t worry, the ride is pretty smooth. Just don’t rock your chair.
I risked dropping my stuff just to take these photos and video for you guys!
In no time I was back at the foot of the mountain. Before I left Takaosanguchi, I decided to go to the onsen facility (Onsen Gokurakuyu) beside Takaosanguchi Station, and soaked inside all the pools before I left! There’s also a Takao 599 Museum (free entry) that you can visit.
–> Read Also: Beginner’s Guide: How to Use Onsen in Japan!
This day hike was easier than I thought, coming from someone who’s not really into outdoor activities nor did much hiking before (I had a really tough time hiking Mt Batur in Bali). The different trails Mt Takao has meant you can choose according to your preferences and fitness levels. Each trail offers different experiences and sights, ranging from Biwa Waterfall (perhaps even a monk training under the waterfall if you’re lucky), to a monkey park, Yakuo-in Temple, etc. I enjoyed hiking through the quiet forests for Trail 3 – the silence through the forests was a welcome delight. That path also gently forced me to stay in the present moment and focus fully on my journey.
Glad I did this day trip!
- Decide ahead which trail you’re keen on. Trail 1 is mostly paved concrete road, is friendly for kids, parents with strollers, even the elderly.
- Get a bilingual, paper map at Takaosanguchi Station if you can find. I didn’t manage to get it and still proceeded as I already had the digital version of the map inside my phone.
- Buffer time for queuing for the chairlift/cable-car especially in autumn! You can easily queue for an hour.
- Note emergency numbers, just in case.
- Note the last available timings you can take the chairlift/cable-car to leave the mountain.
- Eat something before hiking the trails because you won’t find food along the way till you reach the summit. There are eateries outside the cable-car station, then at the summit.
- Bring at least a small bottle of water. In summer weather, a face towel for wiping sweat will be useful.
- If you’re not taking Trail 1, it’s important you wear proper shoes (hiking shoes or non-slippery covered shoes (I wore leather boots)). The nature trails might be slippery from the soil/mud/leaves/streams.
- Take your trash with you, don’t leave it on the mountain.
- For the cable-car, it can climb to a very steep angle so if you’re standing along the aisle, be sure you hold on to a pole or bar, and that you don’t have unsecured things that will topple onto others. For the chairlift, carry your backpack at the front before stepping onto the conveyor belt.
Have you hiked a mountain in Japan before?
Further useful links:
Mount Takao’s website • Japan Guide • Keio Line’s discount package details • Japan-Magazine • Summary of the different trails by Goin Japanese
Month visited: November
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