March 26, 2017
By Brent Olian
While Mt. Fuji reigns supreme in the mountain arena in Japan, there exist many worthwhile challengers. One such is merely an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo – Takao-san (Mt. Takao). An avid mountain fan myself, I knew I couldn’t skip out on such a nearby adventure.
Thankfully visiting before Japan’s rainy season kicked into full swing, I was accompanied by moderate sunshine and clear skies. To reach the summit of 599 meters (1,965 ft), there are myriad options. If you are short on time you can opt to take the cable car or lift which drops you off at a location roughly 30 minutes from the summit. If you want the full experience, there are six trails of varying difficulties and lengths.
I chose trail #1 and its 90-minute length for my task. While 99% of the ascent is obviously at an incline, I would give the hike only a 2/5 for difficulty as the majority of it is paved or highly manicured – you are not faced with too much raw, intimidating nature here.
Being a popular destination due to its proximity to Tokyo, there are plenty of vendors and shops once you pass the cable car/lift stations roughly 60% of the way up. While these shops are nice, it can make it difficult to truly immerse yourself in nature.
Thankfully, I was able to find a way to do just that. Since there are six different trails available, it is possible for your descent to differ greatly from your ascent. As such, I went with trail #6 on the way down as it featured the most amount of untouched nature and was appeared to be frequented by fewer people. This turned out to be true as on this trail I saw in my opinion the best spot on the mountain- Biwa Waterfall. Just in front of the waterfall is another small shrine complementing it perfectly. The descent, of course, was a bit quicker and was even faster than the stated time of 80 minutes. I got a little muddy here as it had rained within the past week (then again it has almost always rained within a week in Japan).
After arriving at the base of the mountain, it was time to leave this land of elevated greenery and head back into the towers of Shinjuku. Takao-san is a great place to go if you are looking for a nice day trip from Tokyo, however if you are a more serious hiker looking for a challenge it may leave you wanting more.