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A photography blog about Tokyo, run by Australian photographer Rohan Gillett

A hike up Mount Takao for a sunset

My mate Derek told me he was going to hike up Mount Takao and asked me along.  He wanted to experience some of the “nature” Tokyo offered, and also try to see some stars.  It sounded like a good idea, because I hadn’t been up the mountain in a few years and, had never been there to see a sunset.  Even though it wasn’t autumn, the best time to enjoy hiking in Japan, I thought I should go in a season without an insanely large crowd there with me.  And with the weather forecast being sunny, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It proved to be a great day and the sunset, after a stutter or two, proved to be extremely good.

One of the tengu at the top of Mount Takao

The entrance to Trail 1, just a short walk from Takaosanguchi Station

We got the Keio Line from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi which took about fifty minutes, followed by soba for lunch, and then headed off to find our trail.  There are ten trails on Mount Takao and we chose Trail 1. It didn’t seem overly difficult and, according to the information on the internet, offered some good views from various spots along it.  It is recommended for beginners, but we found a few parts of it to be very steep.

It was a good climb and we enjoyed it a lot.  Yes, some parts left us a little short of breath, but nothing overly taxing.  With so many jizo statues and small shrines along the way we often wondered what life might have been like in ‘the old days’.  In the end, the climb took less than two hours, even with me taking lots of photos on the way. We were just happy to breathe some fresh air.  And being a week day, it was nice to be somewhere with few people. Compared to your average downtown Tokyo street, Mount Takao was practically deserted, and the people we did meet gave us a friendly: “Konnichiwa”.

All over the Mount Takao, you’ll find lots of these little shrines, torii and jizo statues

It was great to reach the top.  Walking around the temples and shrines was good fun, as we got some nice shots of the buildings and tengu.  There was a lot to explore. However, there can be a lot of stairs depending on which turn you take and that can be hard on the legs.  

Some of the stairs can be very steep

The top, was what we came for.  Upon arrival we were a little surprised to see very few people on the viewing deck.  We soon saw why. In direction of Mount Fuji was nothing but cloud. But it was our plan to stick it out to the bitter end, as Derek wanted to see some stars.

One of the guardians at a gate

A couple of Mount Takao’s famous tengu

It worked out well for us.  As we were standing there, we could see the cloud cover thinning out.  Eventually, Fuji’s head started to poke its head out. Soon enough half of it was uncovered, and it was easy to see that strong winds were pushing the clouds around.  And as the sun continued to set, the colours of scene changed as well. All the different shades of yellow and orange you could imagine. It was very beautiful.

Fuji put on a great display.  Just before the sun finally went down some clouds formed into a shape that looked like a dragon coiling itself around the peak.  It reminded me of the painting by Hokusai. For us it was a great way to enjoy that last bit of sunlight.

And when the light finally faded, what of the stars?  Well, they were pretty underwhelming to be honest. A few points of light appeared, but not too many nor too strongly.  Maybe it was due to light pollution? We needed to return to the bottom to get a train, and couldn’t wait any longer.

On our arrival at the peak, this is the view we had, very cloudy in the direction of Mount Fuji

The trip back down from the top to the cable car, was an experience.  The path was pitch black as there were no lights. We had one flashlight and one iPhone to show us the way.  It wasn’t the best situation, as the path isn’t all paved and it can be quite steep in some areas, with one or two areas around the older buildings are locked up at night and you have to follow the path around them.  Still, we got down in one piece and enjoyed the ride down in the cable car with some people who had been enjoying the beer garden on the mountain.

Derek at the top of Mount Takao

Mount Fuji finally visible

I think it would be fair to say that we had a great time that day.  The hike up was very enjoyable, as was the time at the peak (clouds included).  If I had to make any complaints about Takao, it’s that the vegetation in front of the viewing decks need to be trimmed.  Some of the trees and bushes are extremely high and they definitely interfered with some of the views. The other thing that would be nice is for some illumination along the paths near the peak, which would make it safer.  Lights would surely bring more people to something that should be a major tourist attraction. Still, as it is, Mount Takao is a great place to spend some time with friends and enjoy great sunsets. Highly recommended!

Can you see the dragon coiling its way around Mount Fuji?