So the day before yesterday I went to Mount Takao in order to do some sightseeing. I just meant to pretend to be the athletic-type for a while but after 20 minutes of climbing I was already being surpassed by old couples, mothers carrying babies on their back, men with strollers and so on. D: But, it was surely worth the strain, and that’s why I’m going to make a guide-like post since this period of the year is the most recommended to go and it can be helpful for those of you who want to see momiji (red/orange maple tree’s leaves) without going too far from Tokyo :3
I’ll try to be as accurate as possible and put lots of pics so it will be a long post, please bear with it!
高尾山 (たかおさん Takaosan) is a mount situated in the city of Hachijouji, at just one hour by train from Shinjuku.
This Mount is part of a protected park and is sacred to japanese (a sacred mount?? in Japan?? so rare!) for being related to Tengu 天狗, a creature of japanese folklore with both characteristics of a human and a crow-like bird, which is said to live on mountains and forests.
Being it inside Tokyo prefecture, the cost of the train ticket to reach Takaosan is surprisingly just 390 yen one way! With Keio Line the train (almost 1 hour with semi-express) goes directly from Shinjuku (we took it from Higashiguchi, the one in front of Studio Alta) to destination: Takaosanguchi 高尾山口.
I do not own this image. Please watch the original animated version on Keio website.
All the websites I checked told that Takaosan is most crowded during weekends and especially during the 3 weeks from the end of november till the start of december since the mount is one of the most cherished destination in order to admire momiji, so it would have been better to go during week days. Guess who went on a sunny Sunday in full momiji period?? YES, you guessed right. It was crowded, indeed. Oh and as you can see there are different paths, but the most chosen one is path 1; at first I wanted to go with the I-won’t-conform-to-the-crowd attitude, but in the end I had to settle with the fact that it is actually the one with most attractions, moreover the path is paved. We decided to take path 1 for climbing, with a little deviation on path 4 to see the hanging bridge (it’s not indicated on this map) and then descend using path 6 to see the Biwa falls.
Once arrived at Takaosanguchi take the road on your right once out of the station. After some minutes of walk you’ll arrive to the square where the cable car and chair lift station is, the price for any of them is 430 yen one way, in 5-10 minutes they bring you to halfway the path, Keio Line provides discounted ticket for people who take the train’s round trip ticket + ticket (one way or round trip) for either the cable car or the lift. We decided to be brave (or stupid??) and climbed along the whole path 1.
After a while (a long one :D), at about halfway through, you’ll get to the arrival station of the cable car and chair lift, there you’ll also find drink vending machines (around 180 yen per 500ml, but if you just need water I suggest you to wait because at another 5-10 minutes from there is another rest place with a fountain where you can fill up your empty bottle for free :DD *queen of saving jingle*) as well as some yatai selling dango, ice cream and such…there are also some plastic tables for people to rest and eat (we did bring some onigiri with us) and you can enjoy a beautiful panorama.
At this time you’ll reach the turning point and approach the Monkey Park and Wild Plant Garden, you can enjoy the view of cute little (?) monkeys taking out fleas one another at a modest 400 yen price. If you’re like me: poor and with monkeys as house mates, and consequently you’re not interested, don’t worry because you can go on without entering the Park, or you can also do a tour around it by deviating on path 2 (I wanted to follow path 2 for a while and then rejoin path 1 but I actually didn’t find it :O). Not too far, another “attraction” is tako-sugi, a cedar’s root with the shape of an octopus, but it didn’t really look like an octopus to me so I didn’t figure out what it was, instead everyone was happily brushing the head of an octopus statue near there, I didn’t really figure out why but since everytime you have to touch/brush/rub/stroke things it is usually because it brings luck be sure to go for a little stroke if you pass nearby.
Next we arrived to the temple, preceded by the Joshin Gate, but before going on we did a little deviation on path 4 (on your right just before the gate) to reach the hanging bridge, after another 10 minute-walk. Path 4 is narrow and not paved, there’s a huge ravine on your right, roots come out from the ground and people walk in both directions so..pay attention xD Walking on the bridge was scary, all the people crossing it made it shake like a little earthquake, but it was also funny someway xD Of course I’m not recommending it if you’re afraid of heights and don’t like “risky” situations in general. :O
After that we did path 4 backwards and came back to the Joshin Gate. Going on you can either continue climbing (on your right) or do the 百八階段 (on the left), a ladder with 108 steps to purify your heart and such. We, masochists, took the ladder and after that you can chose again, and we chose again the ladder. Either way, you’ll arrive to a square with the Buddhist relics stupa as well as other monuments and statues, such as the one of the deity Izuna Daigongen with two Tengu. Going back to the path, you’ll find another rest area with yatai where I bought some tasty kurogoma dango.
Finally we reached the temple, 高尾山薬王院有喜寺 Takaosan Yakuoin Yukiji, known as the Temple of Tengu. Since my graduation thesis was about yōkai but nobody read it, not even my parents (sigh), I’ll gladly write few lines about those creatures. They’re connected to shugendō, a doctrine followed by yamabushi: they were ascetic that abandoned their community in order to seek illumination by wandering on mountains, the place where deities are believed to live.
Being in contact with the otherness for so much time they were not fully considered as human beings anymore; moreover, their secret doctrine led also to suspects and insinuations. So it’s no surprise that Tengu are often represented wearing yamabushi vests or they can transform into yamabushi in order to deceive a human being. They also like to transform into Buddhist monks and that’s why they’re sometimes represented while carrying the ringed staff monks usually own.
Tengu were seen at first as evil beings, but with the influence of Buddhism and probably also the physical resemblance with the deity Garuda they are today seen as protectors of the temples and messengers of the deity. This “enlightened version” is represented with a human appearance, but with red skin and a way too long nose!
The temple owes much to the Buddhist priest Shungen Daitoku, considered like a second founder and deeply connected with shugendō, who came to the temple and performed a ritual in which the deity Izuna Daigongen (which combines elements of many deities such as Garuda) is said to have appeared to him; the deity, enshrined in the temple, protects devoted people from harm. The temple is amazing, so full of art, decorations and colours (here I found the reddest momiji so far)!
And there are many “curious” rituals, so funny that after a while I had the impression to be in a fun fair, some examples:
..and so much more! Of course I’m joking, most of these rituals involve fortune or gratitude to the temple and the deity
So…here we are! Finally! The SUMMIT! After another 2-3 sets of ladders and the last climb we reached our destination! I have to state something: the pamphlet-guide said that it took something like 1:30 hours to climb to the top, including some little pause. Well, we did it in 5 hours. I don’t know how it is possible..I mean, ok, we are italians…we take things slowly ò.ò We ate and rest and ate and took pictures and rest and bought sweets and took more pictures..but I swear that there’s no way a normal person could do it in 1:30 hours unless, maybe, if they’re well-trained and won’t stop no matter what! I think the average to reach the top is 2:30/3 hours??? Anyway we arrived at sunset, and it was great :)))
It was getting dark but we decided to climb down using the unpaved path 6. In order to reach it we had to take the Inariyama trail for a while, but we found that path 6 was closed so we went all along Inariyama trail. Well, we did a big mistake because soon it got so dark that we couldn’t see anything xD I mean, there were people totally at ease with climbing down practically blindly, but we, people of the city (???), had some difficulties since roots and stones were everywhere, the ground was slippery and there were some rather high steps..luckily I had with me a flashlight and with that and smartphones’ light we did it someway. xD But, it was also fun! (<- my kneecaps are saying "NO."). Oh, we did it in 1 hour by the way, hurrying like mad (*time gaps*).
The end of the path will lead you back to the square with the chair lift and cable car station, from there in less than 10 minutes you’ll reach Takaosanguchi to get the train back, along a road full of omiyage shops and restaurants. Oh, try agepan from one of the shops in the square, it was sooo good!! And…that’s all! Hope you’ll get to go to this beautiful place because it’s sooo worth it! :3