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Mt. Takao—full of natural beauty, attracting the largest number of climbers in the world

    In Japan’s capital, Tokyo, where the Olympics will be held in 2021, visitors can find Mt. Takao, the mountain with the largest number of climbers in the world. The mountain attracts over 2.6 million climbers every year. In 2007, the Michelin Guide, which awards restaurants for excellence, gave Mt. Takao a three-star rating as a sightseeing destination, the highest rank that can be awarded.
    The reason behind its popularity is the richness in natural beauty and its proximity to the city center.
   Mt. Takao is inhabited by many wild animals, including the Japanese giant flying squirrel (musasabi), the masked palmed civet (hakubishin), and the raccoon dog (tanuki), as well as a variety of wild birds and insects. There are also over 1,300 species of plants that grow naturally, with over 60 species that were first found on Mt. Takao. This is the secret behind Mt. Takao’s popularity—it offers visitors the chance to encounter a rich, natural environment, while being close enough for a day trip from the city center.

Mountain trails that are made easy for beginners to climb

You might even encounter wild animals like tanuki and musasabi

Getting to Mt. Takao

    A one-hour train ride from the Tokyo city center will take you to the foot of Mt. Takao.
   There are multiple trails, but the mountain is only 1,965 feet in elevation, so no matter which trail you choose, you can climb it in about two hours. There are trails for beginners as well as trails that are a bit more strenuous to climb. Visitors can choose depending on which spots they want to stop by, or if they want to grab a quick food or drink on the way. Here, we’ll introduce Trail 1, which is the most well-trodden trail.

    For those who aren’t sure if they have the time or the stamina to make it to the top, a cable car or a lift is available.
    If you get on the cable car that departs from the foot of Mt. Takao, you can get to the part-way point (elevation: 1,548 feet) in just six minutes. On the way up, you’ll ascend the steepest slope climbed by any cable car in Japan, a 31-degree slope. It can take you almost to the top of the mountain in just a few minutes!
    The lift is recommended if you want to feel the nature of Mt. Takao more directly. It takes 12 minutes, so it’s a little slower than the cable car, but it offers a chance to really take in the spectacular natural beauty of Mt. Takao. There’s also a service available where you can get a photographer to take a picture of you while you’re on the lift.

The cable car and lift that take you from the foot of Mt. Takao up to the part-way point

The cable car and lift that take you from the foot of Mt. Takao up to the part-way point

Stop by teahouses and mystical spots before reaching the summit

    From the terminal station of the cable car and the lift, it’s about another 416 feet to the summit. Except for a short section near the summit, most of the trail is paved, so you can climb it easily wearing everyday clothes and sneakers.
    As you start walking toward the summit, you’ll immediately see Takao Monkey Park and The Wild Plant Garden. At the Takao Monkey Park, you can see about 70 monkeys along the hill in the park. Using the same admission ticket, you can also visit the Wild Plant Garden, where you can find about 300 species of the wildflowers of Mt. Takao.

Takao Monkey Park and The Wild Plant Garden

    As you go past the Takao Monkey Park and The Wild Plant Garden, you’ll find a cedar tree called Tako sugi. This massive, 450-year old tree has roots that stretch around the tree like the tentacles of an octopus (“tako” in Japanese, hence its name). There’s a legend that long ago, when the tree heard people talking about how they might need to cut down the tree in order to continue building the path, it decided to twist its roots around overnight so that they won’t get in the way. This legend led to the belief that this tree is touched with goriyaku, or the grace and blessing of the gods and Buddha, inviting many visitors to touch its roots.
    Today, in order to protect the roots from getting bruised, there’s a fence around the tree so that it can’t be touched. Instead, there’s a stone monument of an octopus called “Hippari Dako” that visitors can touch to channel the goriyaku.

Tako sugi on Mt. Takao

Kaiun Hippari Dako for good fortune

Goma dango sold in a teahouse on Mt. Takao

    There are teahouses along the trail where drinks and sweets are sold, so visitors can stop by to grab some goma dango (sweet sesame dumplings) or soft-serve ice cream on their way up the mountain. Goma dango is made by adding water to rice and other ingredients to be made into round balls, which are then steamed to make dango (sweet dumplings). After sprinkling sesame on the dango, they are roasted over a charcoal fire.

Yakuo-in Temple, a Buddhist temple protected by tengu

    Right around the midway point between the cable car station and the summit, visitors will find Yakuo-in Temple. Yakuo-in Temple is a historic temple that is said to have been founded in the year 744.
    In its premises, you’ll find the “Negaikanau Wakuguri,” a stone monument with a ring-shaped opening that is said to make wishes come true if you go through it, the “Aizen-do,” a shrine of en-musubi (love and marriage), the “Kurikara Ryu,” a dragon monument, the “Jimpen-do,” a shrine where you can pray for healthy legs and waists, and the “Rokkon Shojo Ishiguruma,” a stone monument believed to purify your sensory organs.

The premises of Yakuo-in Temple

Negaikanau Wakuguri stone monument

    When walking around Yakuo-in Temple, you might notice terrifying statues and masks of long-nosed, red faces.
    This is a yokai, a kind of demon, called “Tengu.” There’s the “Tengu,” with a long nose and a red face, and the “Karasu Tengu,” with a green face and large beak.
    Carrying a Uchiwa (fan) made of feathers, they are known to fly around and cause mischief, although they are also revered as gods of the mountain. On Mt. Takao, they are also believed to be the protectors of the Izuna Daigongen, the statue that is the principal object of worship in Yakuo-in Temple, making them an important symbol of the mountain.

Masks and statues of Tengu (left and center) and Karasu Tengu (right) that are found all over the premises of Yakuo-in Temple

A panoramic view of Tokyo and Mt. Fuji from the summit

    Yakuo-in Temple is located 1,706 feet in elevation. From there, it’s another 259 feet to the summit at 1,965 feet, which is about a 20-minute climb up a steep hill.
    The summit commands a scenic view of the Kanto Plain, which stretches out with Tokyo in the center. If the weather permits, you can even get a view of Mt. Fuji.

A view towards Tokyo from the east side of the summit of Mt. Takao

A view of the towering Mt. Fuji from the west side of Mt. Takao

    In the past, only certain people were allowed to climb Mt. Takao, including monks training at the temple. However, with the construction of the cable car in 1927, and with teahouses and visitor centers being built and paths being paved, visitors can now freely climb the mountain.
    If you have the opportunity to visit Tokyo, why not take a short trip to Mt. Takao?

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