When we travel, we like to find somewhere a little different to visit, so with this in mind I googled “unusual things to do in Tokyo”. My search found classes in calligraphy, Ikebana and Tea Ceremony, but it was “mountain temple walk” which caught my attention. Some more research revealed that the mountain was Mt Takao, the temple was Yakuo-in, and both were located in Meiji Memorial Forest Takao Quasi-National Park. With the added attractions of a cable car, a chair lift, and hiking tracks this seemed like the perfect day trip for us.
We travelled by train from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi Station, a 50 minute journey through the suburbs past temples, shrines and cemeteries, schools and homes to the western edge of Tokyo. A shaded footpath which wound its way along the river bank led us to Kiyotaki cable car station. The six minute cable car ride was the beginning of our ascent of Mt Takao and we rose steeply through the forest to Takaosan Station.
From the station we began our uphill walk, passing food stalls and souvenir shops until we came to Tako-sugi – the Octopus Tree. The roots of this 450 year old cedar tree have wound themselves tightly around the stones at its base like the legs of an octopus. Legend tells how the tree roots which blocked the path moved themselves rather than be chopped away; today the tree is symbolic of a path leading to good fortune.
We continued upwards, the track lined on one side with red lanterns and prayer walls and an avenue of giant cedars on the other, until we came to the gate to Yakuo-in Temple.
The entrance to the temple was guarded by several tengu, long-nosed mystical beings who drive away evil and welcome the good. Beyond the gate was the temple complex with Yakuo-in, established in 744, at its centre. The area around the Buddhist temple was busy but the atmosphere was one of peace and prayer, with people making offerings at tiny fountains and buying charms at the colourful stalls. Worshippers fanned the smoke rising from the enormous incense burner towards themselves in the hope of absorbing some of its reputed healing powers.
The walking track circled behind the temple and continued uphill, mostly shaded by the forest with the occasional gap in the trees revealing tantalising glimpses of distant mountain ranges. We sat on one of the many benches along the track to eat our picnic lunch, the cool shade giving us some respite on this warm autumn day.
After a rest we ventured on, signs pointing the way up a final flight of steps, until suddenly, we stepped out of the forest into the open air at the summit of the mountain. At an elevation of 599 metres, we could see where the outer edges of Tokyo met the forest while far away in the distance the skyscrapers of the city were softened by the heat haze of midday.
A short walk to the northern side of the mountain revealed the majesty of the Tanzawa Mountain Range, and there, nestled amongst the blue-tinged line of mountains was Mt Fuji, delicately framed by a backdrop of pale cloud. Yoshi, our guide on our day trip to Mt Fuji, had said the mountain top is only free of cloud an average of two days each week and here it was; beautifully clear for the second time. Nowhere in my research had I read that Mt Fuji was visible from Mt Takao, so seeing the sacred mountain again was an unexpected surprise and the perfect reward for our uphill walk.
Reluctantly we bid farewell to Mt Fuji, retraced our steps from the summit of Mt Takao past Yakuo-in to the tree-lined path below. After hiking up the mountain we chose the easy way down, on the chair lift from Sanroku Station to Sanjo Station. It was only a 12 minute ride downhill, but it seemed much longer as we glided silently through the trees and caught our last glimpses of Tokyo stretching away into the distance.
Our day trip out of Tokyo was more than unusual. It had turned out to be the most memorable day of our holiday; a day filled with walking, temples, mountains and a breath-taking view – unexpected, unbelievable – truly a privilege!