Looking back at my experience with New York, this time I decided that four days in a big city is all I can take and that I would definitely need a nature retreat after that.
A quick search revealed that there is a cool mountain called Takao just an hour by train from Tokyo center, with a number of hiking trails up to the summit and cherry trees that bloom later than in Tokyo thanks to the altitude.
How to get here
A Keio-Takao train would bring you right to the beginning of the trail. Unfortunately, this is not a JR train so your JR Pass has no power here. If you want to make maximal use of it, you can take JR Chuo line to Takao station and then change to this one. However, it is also possible to walk this last stretch, and you even get a bit of cherry blossoms as a reward.
Since Takao is a holy mountain and home to multiple Shinto shrines, its entrance is easily spottable thanks to a huge torii gate:
It’s so tempting to turn right after the gate… This old little shrine is so cozy.
We even thought that’s where the trail begins, so here’s a little hint for you: this is not what the official route should look like…
Climbing the holy mountain
To find the actual trails, walk left after the gate until you see the visitor center. Here you will find all your pointers, as well as a detailed map of all the trails and sights.
Shortly speaking, there is a number of trails of different difficulty that all lead to the summit. Trail #1 was the simplest and had the most stuff to see, so we followed it.
It takes a bit over an hour to climb all the way up, and you can cut the time in half by taking a cable car. If your goal is not hiking for the sake of hiking, I could recommend doing that because you would barely miss any sights.
The most interesting place on this part is a viewpoint a bit aside from the main trail (which is marked by grey dots on this map):
But, as I have already mentioned, going there is highly optional, since the same view is observable from the cable car station itself.
Here you can have a lunch break in a restaurant though the food is quite mediocre, especially for Japan. Another attraction is a monkey park which I personally did not like: the area is super small for such a large crowd of monkeys, and there is literally no natural vegetation for them to play with =(
After the cable car there are again trail options. The newbie track would bring you to a big temple area with numerous buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines.
A few more minutes – and we are at the summit. Unexpectedly, the cherry trees were not fully blossoming here yet. Apparently, a week after full bloom in Tokyo is still a bit early for Takao.
On the other hand, Mount Fuji is there at all seasons.
As you might have noticed from the pictures, there were not too many cherry trees on the way (even if they were fully blooming). Don’t be concerned though, as the biggest concentration of sakura on Takao is located not on the summit itself, but about half an hour from there.
There is a lot of panoramic views along the path, and on a good day you might be able to clearly see Mount Fuji in a frame of trees and herbs. Even though I had closer views of Fuji on this trip, these pictures are still among my favourites.
At the end of the path you will find a couple dozen cherry trees, a Fuji view point, and some picnic tables. I was kind of disappointed with sakura viewing there, but maybe full bloom would leave a different impression.
From here, one can go even further and continue the path for hours and hours on top of the mountain ridge.
In our case, the Sun has already started to decline, so we turned back. This time we chose a different path between the summit and the cable car station (I think it was Trail #4, but I’m not so sure anymore). The trail here is not asphalted and looks more like a proper hike.
And it’s always nice to walk a suspension bridge, even such a tiny one.
Am I spoiled by Switzerland? The trail did not seem very interesting (why did I even take my hiking shoes?). The views were nice, especially Mount Fuji, but nothing extraordinary. The area around the trail was quite developed, and the trail itself was covered with concrete, so there was no great feeling of unity with nature (partially fixable by picking a different trail).
As a result, “hiking” on Takao was quite nice for a break from the city, especially if you treat it as a park walk rather than a real mountain hike. But I certainly would not put it as a must see side trip from Tokyo.