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.

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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.

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….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.

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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.

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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.

Kidding!

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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.
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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.

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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.

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