Autumn Colors at Mount Takao

Last week my friend Miho invited me to join her on a hike to Mount Takao, a popular hiking destination on the outskirts of Tokyo. I eagerly agreed to join her, since previous attempts to hike Mount Takao got rained out. So on a beautiful Friday morning Miho and another friend Svitlana picked me up, and we set off.

I really enjoy visiting sites with Japanese friends. When it’s just my immediate family, I spend a lot of time figuring things out on my own as I drag the four of us out and about. Though it’s gotten easier the longer we have lived here, speaking only a little Japanese and reading almost nothing means that I spend a lot of time flying blind. So I happily settled in to the outing while Miho decided our route and explained things as we went.

The slightly boring exterior of the 599 Takao Museum….

We started our day with a visit to the 599 Takao Museum, which gets its name from Mount Takao’s elevation of 599 meters (1965 feet). It’s easily the nicest nature museum I have ever visited. Though the building looks rather unremarkable from the outside, the stunning, airy interior features open spaces, lots of light, and gorgeous displays that highlight the flora and fauna of Mount Takao. We checked out the stuffed animals, insects, plants–and poops. Then we set out for the trailhead.

….led to a stunning, airy interior

Miho decided on a rather rugged route that gained elevation quickly. We started our hike and quickly shed layers as we climbed stairs, enjoyed the autumn colors, and dodged trail obstacles and other hikers.

Here we go! All smiles at the trailhead

Whew, she made it! Svitlana conquers a path-blocking tree like a pro

I noticed the distinctive mountain fashion that afflicts hikers and climbers all over world. In Japan, fashionably dressed female hikers pride themselves to be yama garu, or mountain girls. We saw plenty of examples of the highest in mountain fashion, both on the women and the men.

Yama Garu, or mountain girls, in their hiking finery

Eventually we reached the summit, where we were met with the well-earned, peaceful isolation of a strenuous climb.


So much for a peaceful summit experience. And are those….vending machines, on top of a mountain? Of course they are, because we’re in Japan.
Still smiling at the summit

We immediately faced hundreds of visitors who reached the summit via cable car. I was stunned by the size of the crowds considering it was a weekday. I can only imagine the mayhem on a weekend.

As for lunch, never mind handfuls of trail mix or packed lunches. We had our choice of restaurants, then settled on ramen.

Our lunch spot, and the delicious dango roasting out front

After lunch we visited a cluster of shrines. Miho explained the intricacies of each feature, whether the worshipers asked for love, or good health, or fortune. Luckily we happened upon a procession of priests headed for…actually I have no idea where they were heading. I happened to stand right in front of them as they started their procession, and no one cleared their path. They simply charged ahead, knowing that the crowd would part. And we did.


Once we passed the queue for the cable car ride down, the crowds eased. Instead of the morning’s rugged climb over dirt paths, we opted for a quick descent down a steep paved road.

Victorious after our hike, we celebrated with mochi and green tea along the shopping street at the trailhead–then headed home.


Sunday Morning in Tokyo: Museums, Shoe Shopping, and Food

Tessa has joined a drama program in Tokyo. So cool! Less cool is getting her there and back, since the program runs from 9AM to 1PM every Sunday until April. The commute involves roughly 75 minutes and three trains, or one hour and two trains if the trailing parent takes pity and drives the commuters to a slightly more convenient station. Eventually we hope that she will take the train there herself, but for now a parent accompanies her.

So this week was my turn! I was excited at the thought of four hours to roam free. But I quickly learned that Sunday morning activities in Tokyo proved harder to find than I expected. Most museums and even large stores open around 11AM. Mark googled “things to do in Tokyo on a Sunday morning” and the number one answer was “sleep in.”

Mori Tower, with The Mori Art Museum on its top floors

So I dropped Tessa off at 9AM and returned to the subway. After a coffee and newspaper interlude to await my first stop’s 10AM opening, I headed to the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills. Admission included two exhibits, Fujiko Fujio: The Exhibition and Catastrophe and the Power of Art. I visited Fujiko Fujio first and learned that FF is the pen name of a manga writing duo. I didn’t recognize A, the primary character featured in these exhibits. Later I learned that the duo created Doraemon, who I know. [And did you know that Doraemon is a cat-shaped robot? I didn’t until I learned that in Japanese class!]

IMG_0539IMG_0531IMG_0532IMG_0536I wandered the Tokyo View floor of the museum, with the exhibits displayed before floor-to-ceiling windows that offered amazing views of Tokyo. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Fuji  97 km (about 60 miles) away, but not with today’s hazy skies.


This next artwork proved quite popular with the crowd. What appears as a black canvas in regular light reveals its image with the flash of a smartphone.


Next I headed up to the Catastrophe exhibit. Not surprisingly the exhibit focused on Japan-centered disasters, such as the earthquakes in Kobe (1995) and Sendai (2011). But the exhibit also featured other works, including images of war zones from around the world and 9/11 related art from New York.


The final room featured a large installation by Yoko Ono. Guests are handed shoe covers and a small tray with smeary Cray-Pas crayons (remember those?), then invited to write on any surface he or she can reach. The most common theme, hands down? Love.



After my dose of culture, it was time to go shopping! I headed for Omotesando, a fancy shopping area in Harajuku. After some obligatory photos in the mirrored entry of Tokyu Plaza…..


….I headed straight to the Onitsuka Tiger flagship store. After rockin’ a pair of silver Mexico 66 kicks for over two years, I was dangerously close to actually blowing a hole through the soles. I seriously got my money’s worth! I briefly checked out the fancy/artsy/not-for-sale shoes on display, mulled my viable options, then decided to replace my silver pair with the same thing. I already own another pair of yellow and black Tigers, so sticking with the silver pair seemed wise.


I already own the yellow pair shown along the wall; since I don’t really wear yellow clothing, yellow sneakers have proven far more versatile than I would have guessed
I ended up buying the silver pair in the back
So fancy! But alas, not for sale
Can’t buy these either

And just like that, four hours flew by! I headed back to pick up Tessa, and we grabbed a quick lunch of soba noodles for her and soba and tempura set lunch for me. Then it was back to Yokohama, only to repeat the drill next Sunday.