Visit the Tengu: Mt. Takao
(Tokyo / Beginner level course)
Located in the suburbs of Tokyo and standing at 599 meters above sea level, Mt. Takao ranks as a 3 star sightseeing location in the famous Michelin sightseeing guide (also known as the Michelin Green Guide). Yes, there actually are places like this where you can enjoy the open air of the great outdoors so close to the metropolitan area of Tokyo. From the mountain peak, you can enjoy a view of the Tokyo landscape and even see as far as Mt. Fuji. Mt. Takao is extremely popular among foreigners visiting Tokyo as well as being famous as a “power spot.” In fact, Paul McCartney of the Beatles is among the illustrious people to climb this mountain.
You can get there in about an hour from Shinjuku on a Special Express (Tokkyu) train on the Keio Line, which is a private railway. After getting off at Keio Takaosanguchi Station and walking about ten minutes along an entrance path featuring places to eat and souvenir shops, you will arrive at a cable car station called Kiyotaki Station. About six minutes on this cable car will take you to Takaosan Station, 476 meters above sea level. Or, you can ride the lift from Sanroku Station, which is near Kiyotaki Station, and reach Sanjo Station in twelve minutes. The lift is great for families. If you go on foot, there are a lot of great courses to choose from, like the Inariyama Course with a beautiful view along the ridge-way, pathway No. 1, which is good for beginners, and pathway No. 6, known for pleasant hiking amidst the sounds of flowing water. All of the courses will take you to the top at about one and a half hours at a leisurely pace.
In days of old, this mountain was a site for ascetic practice and training among the mystic mountain hermits called “yamabushi.” It is home to the Buddhist temple called the Yakuoin Temple. Passing through the temple on your way to the summit, you will come face to face with a sculpture of an oddly long nosed creature. This is a “tengu.” Tengu are fantasy creatures with a long history in Japan. They are said to live in tall trees deep in the mountains and delight both in imparting wisdom to humans as well as playing mischievous tricks on them. Keep your ears open when deep in the nature of this mountain, and you just might hear the laughter of the tengu.
Hiking up the mountain tranquil mountain path a bit more will bring you to the top. If the weather is nice, you can see Mt. Fuji to the west. If you are hungry, stop into the eatery for a serving of the famous “tororo soba” (tororo is a paste made from shredding raw yams) featuring the wonderfully healthy yam. A trip to Mt. Takao serves up a healthy portion of abundant nature and Japanese tradition.
A million dollar night view from the summit — Mt. Rokko
(Osaka/Kobe: Beginners course)
Spanning between Osaka and Kobe and standing 931 meters above sea level, Mt. Rokko provides one of the most famous hiking experiences in the Kansai region. Enjoy mountain hiking and hot springs all in one day. Ok, let’s get going. Take a thirty minute train ride to Ashiyagawa Station from Umeda Station in Osaka on the Hankyu Kobe Line, which is a private railway. After getting off at Ashiyagawa Station, head towards Koza no Taki (Koza Waterfall) and enjoy a walk with a view of the Ashiya River to your right while strolling through one of the Kansai region’s most preeminent high class residential areas. You have reached the beginning of the mountain path. Have a pleasant stroll through the forest path with sunshine filtering through the trees up to Amagatoge (Amaga Pass). Looking back, you can see the dazzlingly beautiful azure waters of the Seto Inland Sea past the city of Kobe.
After a break at Amagatoge, an hour climb up a steep slope will bring you to the summit. The top of Mt. Rokko is one of the Kansai region’s most prestigious resort areas, with hotels, summer homes, and golf courses. It is about a two hour hike from Ashiya. When you reach the top it is fun to visit “Rokko Garden Terrace,” a British style resort where you can enjoy gazing down on the port town of Kobe while having a bite to eat. The view of Kobe from here at night is an incredible “million dollar view.” Enjoy fun for the whole family with activities that are great both for kids and adults at “Mt. Rokko Country House,” featuring fishing, put-put golf, and go-carts. On the way down, head for Arima hot spring, said to be Japan’s oldest hot spring. The downward path isn’t steep at all, and takes about an hour and a half. You’ll definitely want to try a relaxing dip in the traditional baths at Arima hot spring. It will refresh you after the climb. You can use hot spring facilities for low prices without staying at a hotel or ryokan (inn). To get back into town, the buses from the Arima Bus Terminal to Osaka and Kobe are convenient.
Hike a World Heritage Site: Mt. Hiei
(Kyoto/Shiga: Mid-level course)
If you really want to experience the tradition of Japan with all your senses, you simply must visit Mt. Hiei, a mountain towering 843 meters above sea level between Kyoto and Shiga. The summit is home to the Mt. Hiei Enryakuji Temple, and is designated as a World Heritage Site. Enryakuji Temple was constructed in the 9th century to protect Kyo no Miyako (a former name for Kyoto, signifying that it was the seat of the Imperial Palace at that time). It is a central temple in Japanese Buddhism, producing many great monks of historical significance.
The mountain path has been trodden by many people from olden days as a form of ascetic training. Here stand tranquil mossy rock bridges and Shinto shrine gateways. Enjoy the ambiance of a vast Japanese forest amidst the chirping of birds.
Let’s try a course that will take us up the main route from Sakamoto on the Lake Biwa side and down to Yase on the Kyoto side. It takes about twenty minutes to go from JR Kyoto Station to Hieizan Sakamoto Station on the JR Kosei Line. After walking towards the mountain from the station, the mountain path starts at the Honzaka entrance. Hiking this path for about an hour and a half will put you at Konponchu-do Hall, in the center of Mt. Hiei Enryakuji Temple. Konponchu-do Hall stands amidst a giant cedar tree filled forest. Inside this dark main hall with one thousand years of history, a Buddhist ambiance still lives on even in the present day. Visiting this temple is definitely a must. Even today, Mt. Hiei is still home to the severe acetic training called “Sennichi Kaihogyo” (Thousand Day Mountain Walk) wherein practitioners walk around the mountain every day without days-off for one thousand days. To go back down the mountain, take the ropeway car from Hieizan Ropeway Station and enjoy the spectacular view of Kyoto. You will have to change to the cable car to descend down into Yase on the Kyoto side.
Aim for Japan’s number one mountain: Mt. Fuji (Yamanashi/Shizuoka: Beginner & Advanced level courses
Climbing Mt. Fuji on a trip to Japan just might be one of the ultimate dreams of travelers to Japan. The highest peak in Japan, Mt. Fuji stands at 3,776 meters above sea level. Climbing is limited to July through August. Even in the summer, the temperature is at least 20 degrees colder than ground level and the air is thin, so taking care of your body on the hike and being ready for anything is essential. It takes about five to six hours to hike to the top from the 5th station, meaning that climbing usually stretches through the night hours. Using a long wooden staff called a “kongo staff” will provide safety for your footing. If the weather is nice, the hike is an absolutely spectacular experience with a wonderful view of a star filled night sky.
When you reach the 8th station (3,100 meters), take a break at a mountain lodge and set off again to make the top before sunrise. When you reach the top, your field of vision opens up to 360 degrees, and you can see the sun come up over the horizon. This is called “goraiko,” which means that the grand sun is coming this way. This beautiful sight is sure to fill your heart with awe.
Because the level of hiking difficulty is high and hiking is limited to the summer season, there are other, more convenient ways to enjoy the splendor of Mt. Fuji. If you ride a bus to the 5th station, there is an alpine hiking route located at 2,500 meters above sea level. This course makes it easy for the whole family to enjoy the fun of Mt. Fuji.
Take a 2 hour bus ride from Tokyo and go from the Yamanashi Prefecture side to the 5th station on Mt. Fuji. There is a course that takes visitors through the alpine plant area called “Oniwa.” This area has incredible scenery only available at Mt. Fuji that lets visitors view the nearby peak of Mt. Fuji while gazing out upon the faraway Southern Japan Alps and down upon the “Fuji Five Lakes,” like Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Yamanaka. You will feel absolutely incredible strolling through the field of flowers blossoming from beautiful alpine plants like the seasonal “hakusan shakunage” (Rhododendron brachycarpum) and “maizuruso” (Maianthemum dilatatum).