In today’s nonstop, high-tech world, you sometimes get so busy you just want to pack up and disappear into the mountains — at least for a few hours.
Fortunately there is Mount Takao, only about 2,000 feet above and less than an hour away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo. But it’s worlds away at the same time.
Mount Takao is home to the Yakuoin Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 744. Its history goes back centuries and is closely tied to the tengu, or mountain gods, who are depicted in statue form in various places on Mount Takao.
At the base of the mountain, only a short walk from Takaosanguchi Station, you are presented with a variety of options to get to the top. There are several walking trails, each between three and four kilometers long.
For those pressed for time, or who just don’t want to do as much walking, there are two mechanical options — a cable car and a chair lift. Both cost 900 yen for a round-trip ticket, but each gives you a different view as you head up the mountain. The cable car is probably the more exhilarating, as the jam-packed train car slowly creaks up the 31-degree slope pulled by a single cable.
Taking the cable car or chair lift doesn’t get you out of walking for the day. There are still a few paths and lots of stairs leading to the Yakuoin Temple and the mountain’s summit.
Before setting out on your trip to the top, it’s worth checking out the monkey park just a short distance past where the cable car stops. It’s only 400 yen to get in, and it’s worth every bit to see dozens of adorable Japanese macaques running around in their manmade habitat.
Walking through the dense evergreen forests, you will see a variety of statues and shrines, each devoted to elements of Japanese folklore and religion.
The sound of drums and chanting and the scent of incense fill the air as you pass through the area that houses the Yakuoin Temple. The temple itself is stunning, and it’s hard to believe such a structure has been around for more than 1,200 years.
One of the best parts about Mount Takao, especially in the fall and winter when the air is clearer, is the awesome views of the nearby countryside and of the vastness that is Tokyo. On really clear days, you even can see all the way to Yokohama.
The time around Christmas and New Year’s is a particularly special occasion at Mount Takao: the sun sets directly behind Mount Fuji, creating the famous “Diamond Fuji” sunset.
It’s all very simple and serene. And even with the occasional drink vending machine or power line popping into view, it’s easy to get caught up in the spiritual nature of the mountain, which has been drawing people for more than 1,000 years.
If You Go
From Yokota Air Base:
Take the JR line from Higashi- Fussa Station to Hachioji Station. Exit the JR Hachioji Station and head to the nearby Keio Hachioji train station. Take the Keio line to Takaosanguchi Station, the final stop on the line. The Keio Line also runs directly from Shinjuku Station to Takaosanguchi Station.
• Cable car or chairlift: 900 yen round-trip for adults, 470 yen one-way; 450 yen for children, 230 yen one-way.
• Mount Takao Monkey Park: 400 yen for adults; 200 yen for children.