Mount Takao is the ideal spot to enjoy nature within Tokyo. There are 8 hiking trails that wind their way up the mountain each with their own attractions. Want a more relaxed pace? Take the cable car or chair lift part way for great views and don’t miss visiting Yakuoin temple or a soak in the natural hot spring pools.
As much as we enjoy spending time in Tokyo we also love to plan day trips and nature breaks out of the city centre every few days for a change of pace. We recently shared our tips for exploring Todoroki gorge which I highly recommend especially if you only have a few hours to spare but Mount Takao is also a fantastic destination where you can easily spend a day or more if you have the time.
Table of Contents
Why visit Mount Takao
This trip we visited during the autumn leaves viewing season (koyo in Japanese). This is a lovely time to experience the mountain trails, views and temple do be aware that it’s also the most popular time of the year to come out here. Mount Takao is one of Tokyo’s top koyo spots so you will NOT have the place to yourself, it can be quite busy but to be honest we timed it for mid week when many locals were at work and it was no where near as busy as we expected. We easily got seats on the train and didn’t wait at all for the chairlift on the way up and less than 10 minutes for the cablecar coming back down at the end of the day.
There are multiple ways to enjoy Mount Takao depending on how much time you have available, your fitness and the type of experience you’re after. The main attractions for visiting are the hiking trails and nature, views, seasonal attractions of cherry blossoms and autumn leaves and the temple.
At the base of Takao-san is the Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu, offering a variety of natural alkaline hot spring baths. In typical Japanese onsen style the baths are communal and gender segregated, tattoos even if covered aren’t allowed. The onsen is open until 11 pm so can be a nice treat for a weary body after a day spent on the mountain. Entry is Y1000 – Y1200 for an adult and you can hire towels or bring your own. There’s a restaurant at the onsen and a few other options to eat nearby. Most of the other bath-houses we came across in Tokyo were sento not onsen so this can be a really good option to try a natural hot spring bath in Tokyo if you’re looking for the healing benefits or just relaxation and the experience.
There’s also a monkey park not far from the top cablecar station that we choose not to visit. It’s a personal decision but if you want to see Japanese macaque monkeys we highly recommend the snow monkeys in Nagano, it’s a longer day trip from Tokyo but really worth it especially if you have a day left on your JR pass.
Getting to Mount Takao from Tokyo city
Mount Takao is in greater Tokyo, while not in the city centre itself you can still get out here by train from Shinjuku in under an hour and for less than $5, making it an easy and inexpensive day trip from Tokyo.
For the detailed timing and cost we use Hyperdia a free online resource for finding all your Japan transport information. While you can download the app in Japan we don’t find it as good and prefer to use the website on our phones too.
The cheapest and most straightforward option is to use Keio Railways, a local train company that leaves from downstairs in the Shinjuku JR station and ride it all the way through to Takaosanguchi station at the foot of Mount Takao. It took just under 50 minutes and cost Y390 for a ticket.
If you want to use the JR pass you can do part of the distance on JR and then switch to Keio Railways for the last section but it will only save you Y210 (around $2), the trade-off is it will take just a little longer and may require an extra transfer.
Exploring Mount Takao
You can see Mount Takao looming up above you as the train pulls into the station and it’s a short walk from there to the base and ticket station.
There are 3 ways to get up (and down) Takao-san. Firstly of course you may walk the whole way. There are 8 different trails and while some are more stenuous than others it’s an uphill walk not a climb so with the right shoes, fitness and available time that is an option for most people. The other two options do have a small cost associated with them and deposit you just over half way up the mountain.
There’s a chairlift and cablecar option, both cost Y480 one way or Y930 return and you can go up on one and back on the other with the return ticket option which we did.
The Mount Takao chair lift
The chair lift we took on the way up would make Australian safety officials a little stressed, it’s an old style design that opened in 1964, the year of the last Tokyo Olympics and is still going strong. I believe it was a single chair system originally but you can now have two people to a seat.
Like a ski lift you get on while it’s moving and there’s no bar to hold or keep you in place. It rocks to a slightly reclined position so you don’t feel like you are going to fall out and on the sections when you’re higher above the mountain there’s a drop net. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s a sedate ride taking around 15 minutes to make the ascent with great views along the way. If you have younger children, a lot of gear with you or struggle with moving quickly into position you may prefer the cablecar option, I’ll cover that a bit later.
Taking your seat is particularly entertaining if you speak limited to no Japanese. There was a lot of pointing at the seat, your bottom and the big drop in the ‘saftey talk’ as you take your seat. All up a lot of fun and strongly suggest you take it one direction or the other. I enjoyed the autumn leaves on the way up but in hindsight it might be even better on the way down if it’s a clear day as you’d see out to Tokyo and Yokohama.
The Mount Takao hike
At the top station you might want to use the facilities, it’s a mountain and toilets are in short supply, use them when you can. It’s only a few minutes walk from here to the cablecar station and about 5 minutes until you come to the Beer Garden, one of the few food options on Mt Takao.
The beer garden has outdoor seating with a breeze and lovely views, on a clear day you might even be able to pick out the Skytree back in the city. It’s an all you can eat and drink restaurant where for 90 minutes you have your selection of Japanese and international dishes and a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. We didn’t eat here but did think it was a giggle that they have mens price and womens price, not something I’ve seen at a buffet before.
Another 5 minutes or so along and you come to some small stalls selling souvenirs, and a few drink and snack options. Yakuoin temple is about a 20 minute direct walk from here but we took a detour along the way.
When the road branched we went left and climbed the stairs then being unable to resist the unknown and having the focus of a squirrel we took the small less travelled path and stairs up the hill to the right to see where it would go. At the top was an impressive Buddhist stupa in the Tibetan style and some statues, we spent a little time up here but despite hunting around there and asking a few people later we weren’t able to find and translate any signage of when these were added and their significance remains a mystery. They seemed much newer than the other parts of the historic temple complex. Usually this style of stupa. like the tiered pagodas more often seen in Japan, contain the remains or artifacts belonging to someone very important to the Buddhist faith.
When the path joined later we realised that if we hadn’t taken the stairs and instead gone straight ahead we would have come back to the same point via a slope rather than steps. We went back down this way later and it might be worth knowing if you have any issues with your knees or just prefer one option over the other. There are also quite a few steps if you are going through the temple to the top of the mountain.
The legend of Tengu
We first came across mention of Tengu when we climbed Mt Misen in Miyajima, there are urban legends of hikers reportedly hear the sounds of his clappers ring out across the hills from time to time. On Mount Takao Tengu is far more visible or at least his statue is. They are found in several places including up at the stupa and they appear as the guardians in the main temple gate at Yakuo-in.
The legend of Tengu dates back to the 9th century but has changed substantially over time. Originally he was a mischievious demon like character who lived in the mountains tricking hapless people off the safe path into the woods with his music. Later he became associated with both Shinto and Buddhism as a messenger to the Buddhas and gods. At the temple on Mt Takao the role of Tengu is softened and depicted one who chastises the evil and rewards the good.
The most recognisable image of Tengu depicts a large human like form with a long nose but another version shows him smaller with a beak like nose similar to a crow. Both forms appear in the gate guardhouses at the temple on Mt Takao.
The head temple on Mount Takao is Yakuo-in. It was established in 744 during the Nara period on the orders of the Emperor as a base for Buddhist practice in eastern Japan. The founding priest was Gyoki who became a monk at the age of 15 in Nara but widely roamed the country. He is credited with bringing mapping to Japan determining boundaries and paving the way for infrastructure and temple complexes. He was involved in the project to establish the Great Buddha statue at Todai-ji temple in Nara and several of the ponds that you will still see there today.
During the 14th century the priest Shungen Daitoku from the Daigo-ji area in Kyoto carried out restoration on the temple. With his background in ascetic mountain practice he carried out an elaborate ritual dedicated to the deity Fudo Myo that involved burning 8,000 goma sticks. The sticks symbolise human desires, the root of suffering and the consuming fire, the wisdom of Buddha. During the ceremony he had a vision of Izuna Daigongen and enshined him at the temple. Izuna Daigongen is a local incarnation of Fudo Myo with the beaked features of the smaller Tengu.
It’s an interesting temple to wander through with many buildings. As we were walking around the Izuna Gongen-do hall towards the back of the main temple area a local pointed out to us how the elaborate frieze and panelling were reminiscent of the shrines in Nikko. I hadn’t immediately made the connection, just that they were familiar but he was quite right, there were a lot of similarities.
Climbing to the top of Mount Takao
After exploring the temple area you can climb the stairs and continue on to the top of Mount Takao. It’s a wide walking path the whole way and takes another 15 minutes or so uphill walking to the top. There’s a large flat open area at the summit with expansive views out to the city. While the views are less impressive when it’s hazy as it was the afternoon we went up the autumn leaves made it worth it. There’s a food outlet at the top and toilet facilities but mostly it’s about the views and bragging rights for making it all the way up.
Mount Takao cable car
The other way to get up and down the lower half of the mountain is the cable car. There was a bit more of a queue for that as we headed down late in the afternoon but it was only a couple of minutes wait to board. We were standing on the way down and it was quite packed but we did have a great view out the front. If we’d needed a seat we could have stood aside and boarded first on the next trip down. In hindsight for the fun factor I did enjoy the ride on the chair lift more but for a quick and easy transfer the cable car is a good choice.
One reason to use the cable car on at least one of your journeys is the little kiosk right before you board selling Hokkaido cheese tarts. You can get these all over the world now, our local shopping centre has a dedicated shop that sells a good version but there is something extra special about these ones. They are super fresh and can be enjoyed in the small seating area looking out across the tree lined hillside with birds flitting around in the trees below you. There are two types of tart they sell here, warm and cold. The cold is smooth and delicious, the type I’ve had before in Hokkaido and other places but the warm ones had a different texture altoghether. The pastry was buttery and flakey and the filling was melty and soft. I would describe the flavour as more ‘cheesy’ it really was delicious and well worth making time for trying them with a cup of coffee at this surprising little spot.
Inspired? Save to Pinterest to refer back to later