For people in Tokyo looking to enjoy the autumn foliage, visit Mt. Takao this weekend. I was there last week with friends, and we felt this weekend would have been better.Takao-san is one of the closest nature recreation spots to Central Tokyo. The nearest station, Takaosanguchi, is 47 minutes from Shinjuku （one way fare is ￥370). Try to get there early (we got there at about 9:30a.m.), as it is a very popular destination this time of year.
There are six trails leading to the top of the mountain, so you can choose one that matches your hiking ability. There is also a cable car, and a chair lift that will take you half-way to the top. The cable car is the most popular way to go up, the tracks were built to give visitors the best view of the maple trees. We took the chair lift up this time, and it is not recommended for the faint hearted. You can get one-way (￥470) or round trip (￥900) tickets. Taking either the cable car or chair lift up, then walking down would be the easiest and most practical thing to do, maybe.
We walked from the station to the Monkey Park, where we learned a few facts about Japanese monkeys (ticket price ￥400). From the Monkey Park, we walked through Trail No. 1 to Yakuou-in Temple. The Temple was said to have been founded in 744 by Buddhist saint Gyoki in 744, upon the order of Emperor Shomu, to show reverence to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing. Mountain worshippers have come here over the centuries to venerate nature, and even today a number of esoteric exercises, like meditating under cascading water, are practiced throughout the year. It is said that people who show reverence here will have good luck and avoid serious adversity. It is well worth a visit.
It took about 25 minutes from there to the summit, which was as beautiful as it was crowded. People were picnicking and enjoying the kouyou (紅葉, red maple leaves). From there, you can see Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and a few other mountains. Typical of Japanese mountains, there were also several tea houses, small snack houses and vending machines at the top, and on the way there, too. The culinary specialty of Takao-san is Tororo Soba, noodles made from a mixture of Japanese yam and buckwheat.
Mt. Takao has long been a sacred mountain. There is an ancient legend that Tengu the long-nosed goblin lives on Mt. Takao. Even today his presence is highlighted at Takaosan Yaku-ou-in Temple, and at a number of spots on the pilgrims’ trail to the temple. Visitors can also avail of various omikuji (おみくじ, fortune readings) and omamori (お守り, good luck charms). Also, while we were at Takao-san, we had the chance to witness a ceremony of mountain worshipers, we were not sure, but they might have been yamabushi (山伏, basically Japanese mountain ascetic hermits).