Get back to nature, just for the day
It may only be 599 metres high, but with 2.6 million visitors recorded in 2009, Mt Takao gets more attention than any other mountain in the world. Both autumn and spring have their own appeal – the November foliage is a real sight to behold, while the April cherry blossoms provide the perfect canopy for high-altitude boozing parties. Located only 50 minutes from central Shinjuku, it’s an obvious destination for anyone looking to escape the skyscrapers and get back to nature, but it’s certainly not the region’s only mountain. So dust down your walking boots, waterproofs and woolies, grab your smartphone and follow our guide to some of the area’s best hiking trails – no strenuous effort required.
Mt Jinba, located along the border of Kanagawa and Tokyo, stands at 857 metres, and is separated from the peak of Mt Takao by a westward trail that traverses two mountains and four passes. In a theme that you’ll see developing throughout this article, the mountain is one of the ‘100 Mt Fuji Viewing Spots in Kanto’, its summit offering not only a view of the country’s tallest peak, but also of Mt Tanzawa, Mt Dai Bosatsu, the Okuchichibu range, the Akaishi range (better known in Japan as the Minami Alps), the Nikko range, and even the skyscrapers in Shinjuku. In addition to the impressive view, the mountain’s peak is also home to a dubious, somewhat phallic statue of a white horse.
Each to their own.
To reach Mt Jinba, take the Nishi Tokyo Bus headed for Jinba Kogen Shita from the bus terminal one at the North exit of Takao Station (Keio and JR lines), and get off at the terminus. Begin your ascent at the entrance to the hiking course and follow the trail for approximately 90 minutes to reach the peak. If you want our advice, once you’ve climbed the mountain, take a second Nishitokyo Bus heading to Takao Station Kitaguchi, get off at Yuuyake Koyake and head towards Yuuyake Koyake Fureai no Sato for a relaxing bath (500 yen for adults, 300 yen for children until 4.30pm; towels are available for 200 yen each).
Revered as a sacred mountain, Mt Mitake stands at 929 metres, and is known for an annual explosion of around 50,000 purple rengeshoma flowers. At its peak is Musashi Mitake Shrine, home to a very cool suit of scarlet samurai armor (regarded, you’ll be delighted to read, as one of the ‘top three suits of armour in Japan’ – if it can’t be listed, it’s just not worth it). You’ll also find a ‘designated natural monument’ in the form of Jindai Keyaki – an ancient zelkova tree that measures 23m in height and 8.2m in circumference – as well as a large Japanese cedar known as Tengu no Koshikake Sugi, named because it looks like the perfect spot for Tengu, a long-nosed goblin who crops up regularly in Japanese folklore, to sit.
To reach Mt Mitake, take the JR Ome line to Mitake Station. From there, it’s about an hour’s walk to the peak, although there’s also a cablecar that can be accessed by taking a Nishitokyo Bus to Cable Shita, next to Takimoto Station. It takes just six minutes to be hoisted up to Mitakesan Station at an elevation of 831 metres. From there, there’s the additional automated option of a single seat lift to the observation deck. Mitake Tozan Railway, open daily, 7.30am-6.30pm; adults, 570 yen (round-trip, 1,090 yen), kids, 290 yen (round-trip, 550 yen).
Not strictly in Tokyo, but not too far off, Mt Oyama is located in Isehara, Kanagawa. Standing at a lofty 1,252 metres, on a clear day its peak affords impressive views across the Sagami Plain, the Boso Peninsula, the skyscrapers of central Tokyo, Mt Fuji, the Tanzawa Ridge, the Hakone Mountains, and Chichibu Tama Kai National Park. Surely, we hear you cry, such riches ought to be rewarded with a place on a list – and indeed they are: Mt Oyama is rightly considered to be one of ‘Kanagawa’s 50 Most Scenic Sites’.
At the peak stands Oyama Afuri Jinja, a shrine constructed by the tenth emperor of Japan, Emperor Sujin. There’s also a second lesser-known shrine at an elevation of 700m, Afuri Jinja Shimosha, that boasts holy water said to bring good fortune and longevity to those who drink it. The sakura blossoms are well worth the climb around the beginning of April, and the mountain plays host to the Oyamadera Momiji Festival in November.
To reach Mt Oyama, take the Odakyu Line to Isehara Station. From there, head to bus terminal four at the north exit of the station and board the Kanagawa Chuo Kotsu I-10 bus to Oyama Cable, the route’s terminus. It’s about a three-hour walk to the peak, though there is also a cable car that runs to Afuri Jinja Shimosha Shrine. Open daily, Mondays-Saturdays, 9am-4:30pm; Sundays, 9am-5pm; adults, 450 yen (roundtrip, 850 yen), kids, 230 yen (roundtrip, 430 yen)
Mt Nabewari doesn’t get its name on to any best-of lists, but it’s a beautiful hike nonetheless. 1,273 metres in height, at its peak you’ll find (what else?) Nabewari Sanso, a mountain hut that offers climbers a tasty and particularly popular nabeyaki udon. The mountain itself is heavily wooded, making for a pleasant walking environment throughout the year, whether you’re a fan of nabeyaki udon or not.
To reach Mt Nabewari, take the Odakyu Line to Shibusawa Station. From there, board the Kanagawa Chuo Kotsu Bus Shibusawa 02 and get off at Okura. It’s about a three hour walk from there to the peak: just follow the signs that lead from Okura to the Nishiyama woodland path and then to Futamata – the entrance to the Mt Nabewari climbing trail. From Futamata, you’ll come out along a ridge – head for Ushirozawa Nokkoshi and on to the summit.
One of the ‘100 Famous Japanese Mountains’ (and you thought we’d run out of lists) boasts the highest point in Tokyo, a staggering 2,017 metres, top to bottom. Located along the borders of Saitama, Yamanashi and Tokyo, Mt Kumotori is notable for its view of Mt Fuji and the Minami Alps. If you’re an inexperienced hiker, rather than trying to climb the mountain in a single day, you might find it easier to spread the trip over two days by staying a night in one of the mountain huts along the way. If you’re feeling fairly supple, however, the easiest option for a day trip is to approach it from the Yamanashi side.
To reach Mt Kumotori, take a Nishi Tokyo Bus from JR Okutama Station headed for Kamosawa Nishi, and alight at Kamosawa, in Tabayama Village. The entrance to the climbing trail begins here, though you should expect to walk for about four and a half hours to reach the peak. Leading through a Japanese cedar forest, the trail starts out relatively flat, though that doesn’t last long. You’ll put in some serious muscle work before the Nanatsu Ishiyama routes and Bunazaka routes diverge. Whichever path you choose – and both have their visual merits – take it slow and steady and watch out for wild animals along the way. Monkeys and deer are not uncommon.