While spending the first few days of my summer studying in Tokyo at orientations was helpful and informative, it didn’t exactly give me a huge sense of being in Japan. Fortunately, we got to stretch our legs and get outside on the first big student activity: a hike on Mount Takao.
During the lengthy train ride (about an hour from Shinjuku, which was in turn 45 minutes from the dorm), we passed through more rural areas of Japan. Fields and small villages passed by, changing the scenery greatly from the dense urban sprawl, where both the men’s dorm and TUJ are located. We soon reached the end of the line: a small cluster of tourist attractions at the foot of a forested mountain. This was our destination: Mount Takao. The 1,965 foot tall behemoth is closely associated with tengu from Japanese folklore, and is home to a Buddhist temple. We didn’t get to see any of it, though, until we made the trek all the way up to the top.
Fortunately, while difficult, it was anything but a chore. Despite the hot day, it was still a gorgeous walk through the forest. It also didn’t hurt that we took a trolley up the first part of the mountain, making the trek considerably shorter. Even so, we hiked up and down a winding trail, up wooden sets of stairs, and across a suspension bridge. The mountain trail eventually gave way to the mountain top. Many hikes give way to gorgeous views, but this took it one step farther: beautiful views, and food! The top of the mountain held some small shops and vendors, and in the distance we could even see Mount Fuji!
After a quick lunch (and a brief stop for ice cream and some photographs), we began to head back down the mountain. While the hike was wonderful, the real meat of the trip was in the return. Rather than coming down through the forest trails the way we went up, we instead took a slight detour, down through Takaosan Yakuōin Yūkiji, a Buddhist temple built into the slope. Here I got my first taste of the storied and colorful culture and history of Japan: we passed through shrines and temples older than the United States, and saw beautifully carved statues and monuments.
It wasn’t all just ancient history, though. We saw both native Japanese hikers visiting the shrines and participating in worship rituals, and also had the privilege of seeing Buddhist monks marching in a procession through the temple. It was a good reminder that even though the temples on the mountain were thousands of years old, they were still actively used and maintained for both history and day-to-day culture. The temple was believed to have been originally built in the year 744, during the Nara period. In the intervening time, the temple has been used as an important place of worship, and that continues even to this day.
After passing through shrines and temples the whole way down the mountain, we boarded a chairlift and returned to the train.