The first thing that usually comes to mind when one thinks of Tokyo is Japan's busting capital city, packed with people making their way along busy, neon lit streets. While this is certainly a fair characterization of Japan's largest metropolis, many are unaware that Tokyo also has a much more tranquil side.

To the west of the urbanized area of Tokyo, visitors can find a perfect escape from the frenetic pace of the city center, and soothe their soul by viewing and hiking around lush mountains, exploring quaint traditional townscapes, and experiencing some of the deep-rooted spirituality that exists here.

One place where all this can be found in abundance is on Mount Takao. This beautiful mountain provides much in the way of escape from the hustle and bustle, and, incredibly, is reachable from central Tokyo by direct train in around one hour. Today, I was to experience this mountain about which I had heard so much for the first time, and enjoy its charms including some gentle hiking and temple exploring with a visit to a high altitude beer garden to round off the day.

Shinjuku Station
Heading through the ticket gates to begin my adventure

I began my day at Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo. This train station is the busiest in the world, serving around 3.5 million passengers daily. Contemplating the sheer number of people that pass through this station's ticket gates made me all the more excited to escape city to a beautiful nature spot on its doorstep. I boarded a train soon found myself in a completely different world, seemingly a million miles away from the skyscrapers that, only an hour ago, I'd walked in the shadows of.

Arriving in the beautiful Tama countryside
Winding lanes lead toward the cable car and chairlift station

The train station that best serves Mount Takao is Takaosanguchi Station, and after arriving here, I made the short walk through the town at the foot of the mountain, traversing a series of quaint lanes and a picturesque central street as I did so. I had food on the brain, and was eager to find a nice, traditional restaurant in which to enjoy lunch before my energetic journey at the top of the mountain started. Luckily, I found just the place in Takahashiya, a restaurant that specializes in soba, or Japanese buckwheat noodles.

Soba is a dish that is often found in the Japanese countryside, and is usually offered in both hot and cold varieties. With the heat of the early summer sun beginning to intensify as the morning wore on, I decided to slurp down a cold offering of soba accompanied by edible wild plants. Delicious!

Takahashiya
A traditional lunch of soba noodles and edible wild plants
A quaint town at the foot of the mountain

Satisfied and energized, I made my way out of the restaurant and walked a few steps to the cable car and chairlift station from where I opted to take the chairlift up the mountain. Both the cable car and the chairlift take visitors half way up the mountain, and with my legs dangling from the slow moving chairlift, I was able to take in some nice views as I ascended, especially near the top where turning around offered some great views down the mountain and of the urban sprawl in the distance.

Approaching the cable car and chairlift station
A steep and very picturesque ride up the mountain
Nice views from near the top
Looking out from near the chairlift top station

Upon arriving at the top chairlift station I began the short walk over to the first spot I was to visit on the mountain. One thing I appreciated immediately while walking was that, despite weaving around a mountainside, the main pathway, called trail number 1, was paved and well-kempt, making the mountain accessible not just to hardcore hikers but also to a wide range of other people.

Walking from the top of the chairlift or cable car to the summit along trail number 1 takes around 50 minutes and is a relatively gentle affair. There are other, unpaved paths that pass other parts of the mountain, and this collective network of paths is one of Mount Takao's special charms.

After a short walk I arrived at the Mount Takao Monkey Park and Wildflower Garden. I was particularly eager to see the monkey park, in which there are around 70 resident monkeys that visitors can observe from an elevated observation platform. I enjoyed watching the monkeys jump around and socialize, and relished the chance to feed them. For 100 yen I bought a box of monkey food and, tossing pieces down into the enclosure, watched on as the crafty scamps swept up the food as soon as it hit the floor.

Viewing the monkeys from the observation platform
A member of the troop relaxing
Being a monkey is thirsty work

Following the fun at the monkey park, it was time to stroll further along the winding paths of Mount Takao, where I eventually came to the main precincts of Takaosan Yakuoin Temple.

Scenes along the paths

Yakuoin is a temple dedicated to the practice of mountain worship, with over 1000 years of history. Mountain worship combines tenets of both Buddhism and Shinto, and this is beautifully reflected in some of the Shinto features that Yakuoin boasts on its grounds, including a large, vermilion torii gate in its upper grounds. Another very interesting feature of this temple is the heavy presence of tengu throughout the grounds.

Tengu are mythical, human-like creatures that are said to embody the spirits of the mountains and forests. Tengu are easily identifiable by their long noses, with some tengu even bearing bird-like beaks. It was a first for me to wander around a temple and see so many tengu statues, some of which looked decidedly menacing! I made my way through the pretty grounds of the temple and at the top found myself on the final stretch towards the summit.

Strolling through Takaosan Yakuoin Temple's Shitenno-mon gate
The temple boasts a heavy presence of Tengu
The temple's peaceful grounds
Yakuoin's Main Hall
Looking down after making my way further up into the temple
Izuna Gongen-do Hall in the temple's upper grounds
Pensive looking statues in a hidden corner of the temple

Following a ten minute trek further along the winding pathways I reached the summit of Mount Takao! I was greeted at the top by a marker which designated the height at 599 meters. A few steps further on from this marker is the main observation deck, from where those who have made it this far can enjoy views of the undulating landscape that surrounds Mount Takao.

On clear days it is possible to see Mount Fuji from here, however I wasn't so lucky today, as cloud cover made the mountain invisible. Regardless, the views from up here were impressive, and I took a few leisurely minutes to take in the views and relax before heading back down the mountain.

The view from Mount Takao's summit on clear days
A cute looking jizo statue greets those who make it to the top
Walking down towards the beer garden

Back down trail number 1 I headed, enjoying the tranquility as the path wound around the mountain with thick forest on either side, making for a very serene and atmospheric walk. I headed back through Yakuoin and then along more meandering pathways before arriving at the final spot on today's adventure.

A few steps from the cable car top station is the beer garden, called Mt. Takao Beer Mount. At 500 meters above sea level, it is the highest altitude beer garden in Tokyo and certainly among the highest in all of Japan! It is open annually from mid-June to mid-October, while for the rest of the year it serves as a regular restaurant.

Mount Takao Beer Mount
I couldn't wait to dig in after a fun day of exploration

The unique charm of this place is the ability to drink beer and eat delicious food while taking in spectacular views down the mountain of the urban landscape in the distance. After a day of hiking in the early summer sun, I couldn't wait to sit down to eat, drink and relax. I ordered a beer, and then took advantage of the buffet-style food stations, which have all manner of foods on offer from stone-baked pizza to Chinese sweet and sour, and yakisoba to French fries.

All in all, sipping ice cold beer and enjoying the food while watching the sunset wasn't a bad way to end the day. Replete and happy, I finally made my way to the cable car, which has extended operation hours during the opening of the Mt. Takao Beer Mount in summer, and made my way down the mountain and back towards central Tokyo.

Beer garden at an altitude
Nice vistas
The cable car back down the mountain

Access

From Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo, take a semi-limited express train on the Keio Railway direct to Takaosanguchi Station. The one way journey takes around one hour and costs about 400 yen.

Alternatively, take the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku Station to Takao Station (45 minutes by special rapid train or around one hour by rapid train, about 600 yen one way, frequent departures) and then take the Keio Railway from Takao Station to Takaosanguchi Station (3 minutes, around 150 yen one way, frequent departures). The section between Shinjuku and Takao is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but the section between Takao and Takaosanguchi is not.

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