Last week was spent trying to wrap up and see and do as many of the things around Tokyo that I had yet to accomplish. Since I haven’t been able to get to Mt. Fuji and won’t by the time I leave, I decided to hike to the top of another mountain, Mt. Takao, instead. I wasn’t really sure what was up at the top, but some of the books I’d read had said there were excellent views of the Tokyo area and surrounding mountains, including Mt. Fuji. Sounded like an excellent trip to me.
Getting off the train at Takao-san-guchi, I made my way through the little village to the base of the mountain. Takao, similar to Mt. Mitake, had a cable car to take travelers partway up the mountain. However, unlike Mitake, there were no trails leading elsewhere once you reached the top. The only trails started at the bottoms of the mountain and went to the top. With the whole afternoon and plenty of energy to spare, I took my chances with the Mt. Inari Course trailhead and set off.
Five minutes into my hike, I’d come across two rather annoying realizations. The first was that I absolutely hate spider-webs, especially those that span the distance between trees on either side of the path. Now, I’m not abnormally tall, but compared to the average Japanese person, I stand a good couple of inches higher. This equates to my forehead constantly being slapped with sticky spider strings that most other hikers are too short to have cleared out before me. Had I not been continuously wiping the webbing out of my face, by the time I reached the end of the trail I would have resembled something similar to a mummy swathed in bandages and such. On an hour and a half hike straight up the side of a mountain, this little annoyance can quickly turn into a giant frustration.
Dealing with the spiders would have been one thing, but couple that with my second realization, incredible humidity, and it makes for a loooong trip. It must’ve have been raining for most of the day before I got to the trail, for most sections were minefields of puddles and mud, just waiting for the opportunity to transform a misplaced shoe into a nasty swamp creature. The rain not only made the footing perilous, but the humidity was off the charts. Most of the trail was straight up, so the normal amount of energy required was quadrupled in the heat. Within the first few minutes of my hike, I was literally dripping with condensed water and sweat. That stickiness made it really hard to get rid of those pesky spider webs!
About twenty minutes up, I came to a little rest stop/overlook at the small peak of Mt. Inari. From here, I was able to look out over the sprawling area of Tokyo, settled beneath a cloudy blanket of gray hues. Seeing as how I was already drenched, I found no reason to rest at this place for too long and set out after a few minutes.
The next hour saw me scrambling up tree-root ladders, trudging up never-ending flights of stairs and overall doing my best to enjoy the empty pathways. I finally reached the top of Mt. Takao and was rewarded with excellent, albeit somewhat limited, views of the area below. Through the mist, I could make out the skyscrapers of downtown Tokyo on the horizon. On the opposite side of the peak, the sun had managed to break out of the cloud cover and was beaming yellow-orange over the city as it quickly sank. I’d made it to the top of Takao about thirty minutes after the cable car had quit for the day, so all the stores had closed and nary a soul was in sight.
The descent down the opposite side was much more enjoyable and visually exciting as the golden sunlight shone on the path. I came to the upper entrance to the Fudo-do sanctuary of the Yakuo Temple and was a little upset that the entrance had been gated and closed-off. It was only 4:30, and it made no sense to me for the shrine to be already closed. Silently cursing the shrine keepers, I continued my journey down the mountain. About five minutes later I came to the bottom, main entrance to Yakuo Temple, and was pleased to see that it was still open and completely deserted of other people. The temple was built in 744 A.D., and is still in excellent shape. I had an excellent chance to explore the various little buildings in the fading glow of the sun. I snapped a bunch of pictures and decided I’d better get moving before dusk was replaced by the quickly approaching darkness of night.
I’d been following a recommended path from a book called Day Walks Near Tokyo, and the author had done a decent job of pointing me in the correct direction throughout my hike. However, about halfway down the mountain, I came to a fork in the road and was left hanging. The description in the book reads “.” Now, maybe I’m overlooking some subtle hint, but I see no explanation of which direction to go. Thanks a lot Gary D’A. Walters! (pretty sure I now know what the D’A. stands for!). I chose the path to the right to check out the 108 steps (one step for each earthly sin) yet turned around at the top of them and headed back to the actual road, figuring if I got lost there’d be a chance to hitch a ride back to the train station. As I followed the road, I came to a spot where the two paths connected again, right at the bottom of the stairs I decided not to take. Well, now I feel like the dumbass! I had no idea they connected again, and in retrospect should have taken the stairs. Regardless, I still hold Walters responsible. All he had to do was add in a few words saying that either path would work and the confusion would have been averted.
In the time spent trying to figure out which way to go, the darkness had fully set in. I still had about two miles to go to get to the station and no streetlights to guide me back. With the dark forest canopy looming overhead, barely any light from the moon penetrated through to the road below. Luckily, there were no other roads branching off so I made it back without too many issues, aside from nearly being eaten alive by mosquitoes during the last twenty minutes!
On the train back home, I hopped off at Hachioji to try to take a few pictures of the city at night. This is the first place we partied at when I got here to Japan, so I needed a few things to be able to remember it. Lots of people were out in the streets beneath all of the bright, neon lights. Most people were dressed to impress and heading out for the night, leaving me looking like a schlub in my muddy shoes, shorts and sweat-soaked t-shirt! I’m pretty used to looking out-of-place by now!