I finally got to see the mountains! About two months into my stay in Japan, my roommate and I at long last made the trek west, out past the endless boxy suburbs and into the mountains that exist beyond the special wards. We were headed to Mount Takao, called Takao San in Japanese, for a day of hiking and visiting the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that dot the mountainside.
We’d read about Takao San online; its well known for being a fairly easy hike, not the arduous all day or all night slog of Fuji, and for being a highly doable day trip from Tokyo. It only took us about an hour to get to Takasosanguchi station at the base of the mountain from Shinjuku Station.Hachioji seemed a world away from the frantic pace of Shinjuku we’d left behind. The base of the mountain was crowded with both hikers and small restaurants and shops, but the world seemed to move at a decidedly unhurried pace. Hachioji and the entire region are still part of Tokyo prefecture.
The path up the mountain was steep, much steeper than we were initially ready for, but it was also, to our surprise, paved, with a van going up or down every once in a while. This, we found out upon our arrival at the top, was because along with various shrines and temples, Takao San is home to a few small restaurants, a beer garden, and a monkey park (!), and the path has to be paved in order to get food and supplies up the mountain. Even though it was a cool, rainy morning, we were sweating like crazy by the time we reached the first observation point, about halfway up. The view of the endless sprawl of the suburbs and the Tokyo skyscrapers off in the distance then proceeded to take our breath away, as if we weren’t already winded enough. The view in both directions, looking out towards the city and then turning around to see the mountains was incredible, and definitely worth the climb.
One of my favorite parts of Takao San was the monkey park. While we were pretty disappointed that the monkeys turned out to be in an enclosure, and not just running around wild (which, upon further thought makes total sense), it was still great to get up on the observation deck and take a break from hiking to watch one monkey’s endless war against a rope that hung from a pole. He would sit, sulking and glaring at the rope for a few minutes at a time, trying to think of another way to go about what he was doing, before giving up and deciding that he’d had it right every other time he’d tried. Then he would spring up, shrieking and yanking on the rope as hard as he could, trying his absolute best to pull it from the pole, before giving up once again and going back to his sulking. One unexpected bonus of our time at the monkey park was when I realized I understood when the Japanese guide was explaining how old the monkeys were. It’s slow and hard coming, but I’m definitely picking up a bit of Japanese.