Mount Takao (高尾山, Takaosan, not to be confused with Kyoto‘s Takao, 高雄) is a small mountain (599m) located on the western edge of Tokyo and is the most convenient half-day hiking trip you can make from the Japanese capital. It only takes around an hour to get there from Shinjuku station and the hike itself only requires a couple of hours, so you don’t need an early start and you can be back in town in time for dinner. However, if you want to have the best chance of seeing the view of Mt Fuji from the top, earlier is better as Fuji is increasingly likely to be hidden by clouds as the day goes on. Whatever time you do it, be prepared for disappointment in the Fuji department – I’ve climbed three mountains (Takao, Kumotori, and Kuratake) in the Tokyo area which have Fuji views from the top, and never saw Fuji from any of them! Even if Fuji is being coy, you should still be able to enjoy the city views over western Tokyo, as long as it isn’t raining… and if it’s raining, don’t bother going to Mt Takao in the first place.
As well as the Fuji (hopefully!) and city views from the top, Takao is home to a neat temple on the upper slopes. Mt Takao is associated with the tengu, a race of bird-like forest and mountain spirits in Japanese folklore of an ambiguous and mischievous nature; the great warrior Yoshitsune learned his unsurpassed swordsmanship from the tengu king of Kurama (near Kyoto), and Japanese folklore is full of stories of tengu both causing trouble and helping noble souls. You definitely want to keep them onside, and so temples in areas associated with them usually have lots of tengu statues in their honour; Yakuo-in (薬王院) is no exception, and you can see both forms of tengu here (those being winged (usually red) men with very long noses, and winged men with bird heads).
The tengu of Mt Takao:
To get there, take the Keio line from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi station (the last station on the line). If you take the right express train, this takes just under an hour – as always, check Hyperdia for times (see here for an explanation of how to use Hyperdia). Shinjuku station is a nightmare – the Keio line platforms are located underground on the western side of the station, so if you take the JR Yamanote line to Shinjuku and transfer, go out of the JR West exit and then look for signs to the Keio line.
From the exit of Takaosanguchi station, turn right and walk along the path for a short distance until it reaches a small road. Over to the left, on the other side of the road, you can find the lower cable car and chairlift stations. These take passengers up to the halfway point of the mountain for a fee, but if you’re hiking it then follow the ‘road’ to the right. This is marked on the maps in the vicinity as trail 1 and is a paved path running steeply up through the forest; it’s pretty hot and sweaty work in summer (check out the map here, with trail 1 in red). It doesn’t really seem like it, but it is officially a road and a couple of cars did come past. It levels out in the vicinity of the upper cable car station where you can find a monkey park (which I didn’t visit and wouldn’t visit), cafe, vending machines, and so on. From here there are various options you can take to the top, but I recommend sticking with trail 1 as it takes you up via Yakuo-in temple.
Once you’re done at the temple, keep following the path up to the top and hopefully a nice view of Mt Fuji. To head back down, you can see the Inariyama trail (稲荷山コース) or trail 6 on the map which take alternative routes to the bottom, skipping the temple, cable car station, etc. The Inariyama trail is a narrow unpaved trail down through the forest, and it’s like doing a completely different hike to trail 1 and makes a nice change; I once saw a massive spider fighting a massive hornet on the path there, but I couldn’t work out who the victim was and left them to it.
Trail 6 is another nice quiet route down, with this secluded little waterfall shrine along the way:
On the map you can also see the Mt Jimba (陣馬山) trail from the summit to nearby Mt Jimba. I haven’t done this route, but apparently it’s a great hike and takes 4-5 hours from Takao (so around 6 hours total). The trailhead at the Jimba end is accessed by bus from Takao Station; see this hike report for details, and also some nice pics here of this route from the boys at Gaijin Gaming Bros.
Takao is especially popular in autumn as one of Tokyo’s most famous places to see the autumn colours – this means that hiking there in October / November is both very beautiful and very crowded. Weekdays are best – I would personally not go hiking there on a weekend in autumn! (In fact I don’t think I’d fancy it on a weekend in spring or summer either)
Have you climbed Mt Takao? How was it? Got any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
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For some other hikes in and around Tokyo see here, and check out my guide to hiking in Kyoto. For further Japan hiking inspiration, check out this great blog and this one (also see my pages on hiking in Taipei and hiking in Seoul)
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