Mt. Takao – Face To Face With A 1/2 Bird, 1/2 Human

Upon the eleventh time in Tokyo, I was again finding an excuse to escape the exuberant concrete jungle.

You can do anything in Tokyo, from seeing huge bluefin tuna auctioned at 5am in the morning to sampling neon-coloured food at kawaii monster cafes. This time I wanted to hike a mountain. And believe it or not, there was one an hours train journey away from Shinjuku.

Mt. Takao stands at 599m tall in the West of Tokyo, at the end of the Keio Line. It’s popular, with 2.6 million people hiking it annually. There are festivals held here quite often too!

Omotesando Trail (1)

I prepare myself for hiking with some water and dip into to the information centre next-door to the station. A kind lady gave me a trail map and suggested the Omotesando (1) Trail up and then the Suspension Bridge (4) Trail down. More Mt. Takao hiking trails can be found on the Takao 599 Museum’s website.

Mt Takao Cable Car Station

If you don’t fancy the intermediate 110 minute hike up, you can take a cable car or chairlift up to halfway, and the start of a much gentler path to the summit.

Into the mist…

The paved trail up thick wooded forest instantly satisfied my itch to get into nature, it was like stepping into a Ghibli movie, the soft rain turning to mist floating through the trees, making it smell sweetly of pine and cedar wood.

Cable Car Top Station

For the first 20 minutes of my hike I was left alone on to enjoy the peace at the base of this mountain, but as I neared the top of the Cable Car, more activity opened up.

Matcha Cheese Tart

There are a couple of stalls here to enjoy some quality Japanese snacks, such as matcha cheese tarts, or soy sauce covered mochi.

This path turns into a gentle walk, accessible for all ages, and even dogs were spotted along the way. They weren’t the only cute furry creatures up here, as I passed a monkey sanctuary.

Octopus Cedar Tree

This is located next to an ancient octopus-shaped Cedar, which has a statue recognising it’s irregular shape. I started to feel like I was back in touristy Japan again, full of attractions, atop this blissful mountain.

Ferns to be burned later as an offering to Tengu

Moving onwards up thousands of steps, I am met with a beautiful temple which has Tengu statues aligned behind a large bundle of cut and tied ferns. I have read that if you climb Mt Takao in the evening you may be lucky enough to witness the monk’s ritual, creating a bonfire and praying to the Tengu.

Yamabushi Tengu Statue

Tengucomes from the Kanji meaning celestial dog. As the slayer of vanity, it is considered as a God or yōkai (supernatural being). Its form took on a bird-like goblin, and was frequently encountered in Japanese folk-beliefs, literature and pictorial depictions.

Nature Route 4

In other explanations, the name derived from the Chinese mountain god Tiangou. They are seen as transformations of yama no kami; mountain guardians associated with tall trees. Appropriate for Mt. Takao, with its sky high cedars.

Tengu are of two physical types:

Karasu Tengu guarding Mt Takao’s Shinto shrine

Karasu Tengu identifiedby a bird’s head and beak.

Kamabushi Tengu guarding Shinto shrine

Konoha/yamabushi Tengu distinguished by a human physique with wings and a long nose.

Sign indicating the entrance of a Tengu Temple

Both of these were seen guarding the large Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine here. I actually really liked the drawings depicting this long nosed, red faced grumpy man. But why the long nose?

From an article on Tengu:

“The long nose relates to the Tengu’s hatred of arrogance and prejudice. Priests with no true knowledge, prideful individuals, those attached to fame, and those who willfully mislead or misuse the Buddhist cannons are turned into the long-nosed Yamabushi Tengu after their deaths. […] Tengu are thus seen as protectors of the […] Buddhist law, and punish those who mislead the people. Over time, the folklore of tengu and yamabushi become intertwined, and even the Karasu Tengu began wearing the robes and caps of priests.”

Karasu Tengu face on the side of the Shinto shrine

They are found in some form guarding every temple here.

Buddhist Temple on Mt Takao
5¥ offerings

After passing the temples and paying my respects, one of which is to tie a 5¥ coin to a red string to this shrine, I neared the summit.

View from the Cable Car top station

On a clear day there are some spectacular views of Tokyo, and the Kanagawa mountains on the west side.

View from the summit

At 599m the summit opens up to a nice picnic area with stalls selling ice-cream, soba noodles and beer. The lookout is picturesque and I was really impressed to see the misty mountains in the distance from here.

Suspension Bridge

The suspension bridge trail (4) is definitely one I recommend to escape the tourists and for a more challenging terrain. It is still maintained very well it’s just a wooded path with plenty of chances to enjoy thick forests and spot some animals. The flying squirrel has been known to glide between the trees at night here.

Down the trail on route 4, the Suspension Bridge Trail

After a good 3 hours of hiking, I was ready to hop onto an easy straight-through train back to Shinjuku.

If you have more time here and fancy giving your body some TLC, there is actually an onsen in the Takaosanguchi train station… you’re welcome 😉

 

 

Traveller’s Tips:

Mt. Takao is just an hour away directly on the Keio Line, which can be taken from Shinjuku Station.

390¥ one-way journey (can use Passmo, Suica, Icoca) to Takaosanguchi Station. 5 minutes walk to the Cable Car station from here.

Here is a map to Takaosanguchi Station: 

There are several hiking trails to the summit of Mt. Takao, ranging from Beginner to Advanced and have something for everyone to enjoy. Information on these routes and some other really cool stuff can be found here on the Takao 599 Museum’s website.

It’s free to hike the mountain trails, but to go up by cable car or chairlift there are two prices:

  • Cable car. Operates every 15 minutes.
    Ticket: Adults one-way 480 JPY (round trip 930 JPY), Child one-way 240 JPY (round trip 460)
    Operating hours: 8 a.m.- (Closing time is from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. depends on season.) *Close at 9:15 p.m. when Beer Mount is open.
  • Chair-lift. One-way is 12 minutes.
    Ticket: Adults one-way 480 JPY (round trip 930 JPY), Child one-way 240 JPY (round trip 460)
    Operating hours: May to November 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., December to April 9 a.m. – 4p.m. (Closing time on weekends and holidays is extended depends on the situation.)

For more information on Tengu, Buddhist Deities and wonderful folk lores check out this website.

 

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