Staff Reports
Joe's Japan Travel Journal
by Joe, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Mitake

Sunrise on Mount Mitake

While mentioning the name "Tokyo" usually evokes images of a crowded, sprawling, concrete and glass jungle, there is literally another side to Tokyo that seems to be a world apart from the familiar metropolis. On the very westernmost border of what is technically Greater Metropolitan Tokyo, mountainous river gorges covered in thick forests, dotted with quiet, quaint villages make up the scenery. For those looking for a relatively accessible escape from the city into nature, this area offers much. And today, I made my way there to see what kind of autumn colors this place had to offer, too.

My destination today was Mount Mitake, located about an hour and a half train ride west of Shinjuku within the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. The mountain has been famous as a holy place for religious pilgrims to the Musashi-Mitake Shrine that sits atop the 929-meter summit for centuries, with a village built up around it to accommodate visitors. Hiking trails branch off in all directions from the shrine, traversing a network that spans much of the national park, making the village a perfect base to stay a night or two while exploring the area.

When I arrived yesterday afternoon, I was greeted with some still-nice autumn colors around the Tama River, at the base of the mountain. Continuing up the Mitake Cablecar, which takes visitors to the mountain proper, I found a good mix of red and yellow amongst the pine trees. But as it was a bit too late to do any hiking, I briefly looked around the mountaintop village and checked into my accommodation for the night.

Golden trees lining the Tama River, just in front of Mitake Station
Enjoying the ride on the Mitake Cablecar
The main village area of Mount Mitake has several small shops, restaurants and a bevy of traditional style accommodation

As most travelers to Mitake in older times were religious pilgrims, many of the lodgings in the village took to serving guests in the same style pilgrims staying within a temple complex would have. Meals are simple and traditional, consisting mainly of locally-sourced vegetables (though today most also offer fish and meat as well). Some lodgings today also even offer excursions to experience Takigyo, an old ascetic practice of standing in meditation beneath a waterfall. Most are quite small and family-run for generations. At my own "shukubo," the proprieter was very friendly and acommodating, giving me lots of advice for my hike the next day.

Lightly fried eggplant and pork at the small temple lodging-style shukubo I stayed at
Karamatsu, a river trout, salted and stuffed with sweet and slightly spicy miso
The ornate, temple-like entrance of Shukubo Komadori Sanso, one of many traditional-style accommodations around town
My room for the night

In the morning, I left early to hike around the trail circuit connecting some of the nicer parts of the mountain. My first stop was to the Musashi-Mitake Shrine itself, where I encountered what might have been the best autumn color for the day. The momiji trees (Japanese maple) around the shrine were arguably at their peak color today.

The main approach to Musashi-Mitake Shrine
The momiji (Japanese maple) trees lining the stairs to the shrine were at peak color
Great color around the shrine
The main building of Musashi-Mitake Shrine is currently under scaffolding for rennovations, but the temple grounds are also nice
Sake barrels stacked up like a croquembouche, meant as offerings to the shrine's deity

From the shrine, I hiked down into the forest. While the weather was still clear in the morning, I got to enjoy some nice colors popping out here and there on the surrounding mountains. While the colors beyond the village itself were definitely past their peak, they were still quite nice today.

As I made my way further into a deep gorge, I came across some beautiful scenery, including the gorgeous Nanayo Falls, one of a few falls in the area where Takigyo is practiced, and the Tengu Rock, a large cliffside boulder associated with the mischevious, mythical tengu.

The autumn colors on the mountainsides around Mitake were a bit past peak but still pretty
Some fresher colors popping out on the mountainside
The steep cedar-lined trail leading to the Nanayo Falls
Nanayo Falls, one set of falls in the area under which where ascetic meditation is practiced
A chain is fixed in the large Tengu Rock boulder for help hikers to scramble up to the top
One of two statues of tengu, a protective yet dangerous legendary mountain creature, perched atop Tengu Rock
The mythical tengu, looking slightly lunatical yet dignified

Perhaps the most beautiful part of my hike was an area just beyond the Tengu Rock which is known as the Rock Garden. The Rock Garden is a part of the trail that follows a small mountain stream at the bottom of a gorge littered with small moss-covered rocks. While the foliage in this incredibly tranquil area was mostly fallen, the carpet of leaves combined with flashes of red and yellow still on the trees was absolutely lovely and made for a peaceful, healing atmosphere. All in all, the trail was a great addition to the list of Tokyo's great autumn color spots, even if it feels like a complete world apart.

A hiker taking in the scenery around the streamside trail known as the Rock Garden
Much of the fall colors around the Rock Garden were found on the ground today, but the landscape was still serenely autumnal
Light green to reddish brown to barren and winter-ready
Leaves, leaves, all around
A bright green standout amongst the brown
Bright red in the gathering mist
Rain beading up on delicate spiderwebs

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List of Posts:
2018/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2018
2017/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2017
2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/03/24 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Mitake
2015/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Takao
2015/11/12 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/11 - Autumn Color Report: Fukuroda Falls
2015/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2015/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Northern Alps
2015/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2015/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2015/10/13 - Autumn Color Report: Hakkoda
2015/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2015/10/06 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/04/14 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Yoshino
2015/04/13 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Miharu
2015/04/08 - Cherry Blossoms 2015: Matsumoto Report
2015/01/29 - Crabs, Peonies and Castle Cruises in Shimane

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/16 - Seasonal Illumination: Osaka
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Kobe Luminarie 2014
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Ashikaga Flower Park
2014/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2014/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
2014/10/29 - Autumn Color Report: Shima Onsen
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/10/08 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2014/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/09/26 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2014/08/20 - Kusatsu Onsen Beautification