Hiking in Takao (Kyoto); Kiyotaki, Mt Atago, and the Takao to Arashiyama hike
Takao (高雄) is a small village nestled in Kyoto’s Kitayama mountains, to the north-west of the city proper (its apparent namesake Mt Takao in Tokyo is actually written with different kanji characters, 高尾山). It’s set along a picturesque river valley, is host to a few famous temples, and is (deservedly) known for being one of Kyoto’s best spots for the autumn colours.
Takao to Arashiyama hike
The Takao to Arashiyama hike follows the river downstream from Takao via the small village of Kiyotaki (清滝). This course forms part of the Kyoto Isshu Trail, and if you walk the Kitayama Nishibu course and Nishiyama course of the Isshu Trail you’ll be covering this hike in the process.
(See the Japan Guide Takao page for more background & access information for Takao as well as details for visiting the temples)
Takao is reached from Kyoto station (or Nijo staton on the JR Sanin line) by bus number 8, which takes about 45 minutes. Your goal for the hike can either be Kiyotaki (from where there are buses to Arashiyama), or you can keep going all the way on foot to do the full Takao to Arashiyama hike – you can play this by ear. Kyoto’s highest mountain, Mt Atago, is located above Kiyotaki, so if you allow enough time you can also include an ascent of Atago in your itinerary for the day (see below)
After getting off the bus in Takao, you need to take the steps down to the river. If you’re here in mid-November to early-December, the momiji (Japanese maple trees) you pass under should be blazing a fierce red. When you reach the bottom, go over the bridge. The hiking trail to Kiyotaki is a left turn after crossing the bridge.
But before you head to Kiyotaki, take the steps going up the side of the gorge in front of you – a short, steep climb will bring you up to Jingoji temple (神護寺). This temple is one of the absolute prime spots in Kyoto for the autumn leaves, and due to the slightly higher altitude the colours change a touch earlier than in most of the city. So, if you’re in town a bit too early for those, try Jingoji. But the real reason I like Jingoji so much is the custom called kawarake-nage (かわらけ投げ)
This involves throwing small clay discs from a high vantage point in order to carry your bad karma far, far away (and perhaps directly into the head of a passing hiker below… must’ve happened at some point, though the discs are extremely light so you’d probably be okay…). This practice isn’t unique to Jingoji and is done at various temples around Japan though I’ve personally only seen it here. The throwing platform at Jingoji is a nice viewpoint looking down into the Kiyotaki river valley you’ve just climbed out of; if you throw the discs incorrectly, they just wobble and plop down into the bushes hugging the cliffside – but if you get it just right, they absolutely fly!
We tried baseball-style pitches, underarm, a cricket-style run-up and over arm action, and various others, eventually settling on a couple of steps’ run up with a baseball-ish pitch action. See how you get on – just watch your wallet, as the discs are bought from the temple and they ain’t that cheap – the temple makes a tidy little income out of it, and you’re literally throwing your money away! I’ve done this twice, and while I don’t know if it helped my karma situation it is a good bit of fun (obviously, I don’t suggest climbing over the handrail to do this… but if you look at the shrubbery on the cliff top there are plenty of discs which people have fumbled right at the top and which could be safely reached for some freebies. Doing this may or may not ruin your karma, but will certainly ruin the impression you make on any watching locals)
Once you’re done with photographing the pretty buildings and leaves and lobbing clay discs into the valley, head back down and turn right at the bottom of the steps to follow the Kyoto Isshu Trail – look out for the Kyoto Isshu Trail boards which look like this:
…to aid in your navigation (but be aware that the little maps fixed to each post are schematic and not to scale). This is the Isshu trail’s Kitayama Nishibu course, which ends at board 94 in Kiyotaki. The Isshu trail’s Nishiyama course then starts from Kiyotaki, continuing on to Arashiyama and beyond.
Look out for flying karma discs while you’re in the firing line! Following the trail along the river will bring you to Kiyotaki in around an hour. From there, you can hop on a bus to Arashiyama (taking 15 minutes; there’s only one bus stop, on the edge of the village), or continue along the Kyoto Isshu Trail’s Nishiyama course to Arashiyama via the river and then up & over the ridge:
This latter option takes another couple of hours; start from Nishiyama trail board 1 in Kiyotaki, and you’ll reach Hankyu Arashiyama station at trail board 24.
Another interesting alternative here is to end your hike at the enigmatic Hozukyo Station (the location of which you can see on the map at top) by continuing along the river rather than hiking up & over the ridge to Arashiyama (Hozukyo Station’s one stop from JR Arashiyama). At Nishiyama trail board 5-1 you’ll see this bridge:
If you go over the bridge you can continue along the road to Hozukyo Station.
(For more on the Kyoto Isshu Trail, how to use the trail boards, and where to buy the official maps, click here; the Nishiyama map covers everything on this page)
Side quest: Mount Atago
Although I hiked Takao to Kiyotaki and Mt Atago (starting and finishing from Arashiyama, see here) as separate hikes, you can definitely include a summit of Atago as part of the Takao to Arashiyama hike. The time from Takao to Kiyotaki is around an hour, and the time from Kiyotaki to Arashiyama is around two hours. An ascent and descent of Atago will add something in the region of another 3 hours to your hike, depending on your speed. Just take those times into account and make sure you get an early enough start if you want to include Atago.
The main Atago trail starts from Kiyotaki village at a red torii gate which marks the start of the trail (there’s a warning sign about not climbing in the dark and giving a total time of 5 hours up & down. I found this to be absurdly conservative, getting up & down in half that time). That isn’t the only trail up though, and there’s another more minor trail you can turn up before reaching Kiyotaki – this trail goes up via Tsukinowa-dera temple (月輪寺) which huddles along the mountain path, and from the top you can then descend via the main trail to Kiyotaki. This will save you re-treading your steps and allows you to see different trails when going up and coming down. The trail to the top via Tsukinowadera splits from the Kyoto Isshu Trail at trail board 93 (Kiyotaki is trail board 94), and from memory it might not be very obvious – if you’re not sure, you can just continue a short way to Kiyotaki and take Atago from there.
Access information for Takao and Kiyotaki
To reach Takao, take the bus from Kyoto station or Nijo station. At Kyoto station, go out of the main (north) exit and you’ll see a forecourt with a big cluster of bus stops in front of you. This is hard to work out and hard to describe, so just ask one of the staff which bus stop for Takao! From Nijo station, you need to exit the station building by the east exit (東口) and go to the bus stop on the main road (just to the left when you come out of the station). I don’t remember if the bus stops there have any English information – if not, look for 高雄.
If you want to do this hike in the opposite direction starting from Kiyotaki, you can take bus number 64 or number 94 from Arashiyama (sometimes the number is 62, 72, or 92, I think those are route variations prior to the bus reaching Arashiyama from elsewhere; but from Arashiyama they all go on to Kiyotaki). There are three train lines by which you can reach Arashiyama; Hankyu, JR, and Keifuku. There’s a bus stop immediately outside both the Hankyu and Keifuku stations (for the latter, you should cross the street for a northbound bus), but if you arrive to JR Saga-Arashiyama station you’ll need to walk for ten minutes or so to Keifuku Arashiyama station. The bus takes about 20 minutes and, at time of writing, costs 230 yen. (Also remember you can access Kiyotaki by walking along the river to/from Hozukyo Station, which is one stop beyond Arashiyama on the JR line)
Have you done the Takao to Arashiyama hike, or climbed Mt Atago? Any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
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