Japan is a fascinating country one of the most advances nations on earth, but also one of the most traditional. The juxtaposition of high rise multinational corporations, moving billions in trade and products, next door to temples that stood when the rest was all forest.
Tokyo is the seething heart of this island nation with over 20 million people passing through it’s arteries. Wedged in on Tokyo bay and hemmed by the mountains, the forerunners to the Japanese Alps, Tokyo offers the intrepid traveler and vacationer alike a unique experience.
I’ve arrived in Tokyo greeted by the crisp night air of winter at Narita. The airport is functioning like a finely tuned military machine and the Narita Express is on time as one now takes for granted in this country. Tokyo central station is buzzing its many layers a labyrinth for the uninitiated.
I wake early and groggy, I’ve already got a well researched plan to experience the mountains and a great vantage point to gaze on Mt Fuji. My last sighting was from a high rise the day after a hurricane had cleared the sky. I could faintly make it out on the horizon and it’s majesty capture my imagination.
The sun is brightly shining but is no match for winters grips. It’s a beautiful chilly winters day, just what I hoped for. Navigating Tokyo Central I make my way to the heart of the shopping mecca Shinjuku, switching trains for Takaosanguchi.
Mt Takao and it’s associated peaks are located about an hours train ride out of Tokyo to the East. I achieve the impossible and make it an hour and a half misreading the train timetable and stepping aboard the stopping all!
As I leave the city limits, snow starts to appear, in little clumps at first but ever growing as we rise in elevation and leave the heat sync of Tokyo behind. Takaosanguchi station is located in a quaint little village at the end line and gateway to the mountain trails. There a 6 trails to the top and a chair lift, something for every age and ability.
I’ve come to walk and choose the longest of them, the Inariyama trail. Negotiating the slippery ice at the ticket office, with no spikes or poles I make my way on to the track. I’m the only one and I start wondering whether the locals know something I don’t?
Passing small creeks and temples, the chilled air a livens me. The towering pines make a beautiful back drop to the snow fall on the track with the sun pushing it’s way through the breaks in foliage.
I am always in awe of this beautiful world we have been gifted by a loving God and see his many faces in nature. The majesty of this solitary environment speaks to me and I respond in a song of thanks to my creator.
I’m reminded that we are all sinners and fallen short of the glory of God, but he made a way through his Son Jesus that we might be reconciled to him and our sins washed white as snow.
The gradient steepens as the trail morphs into a creek, the sun melting natures coat, drip by drip. Rock hopping transports me back to my child, playing on the island headlands frivolously trying to keep our feet dry from the incoming tide and relentless waves.
The chilly winds whip my face and draw me back to the present. The saddle makes a good opportunity for a snack. The ground here is covered in pine needles and looks like something from a fairy tale, complete with drawbridge to cross the castle
leaving this serene thought, I hearing the tumbling of water, like a falls close by, but alas it’s the snow melt streaming down the stairs, my drawbridge, this will be a wet one. My attention is quickly diverted as the towering white peak of Mt Fiji is glimpsed bathing in the sun.
Mt Fuji stands proud resplendent in it’s glory of white, no shrouds of cloud today. It dominates the landscape and commands the lens of the camera. Row upon row of tourists and amateurs alike snap away at it like fish in a feeding frenzy.
Morning is best as the sun reflects the contrast of its dark volcanic origins with the snow cap. I dream about walking it, but this trip is just too short! Unsolicited comments capture my ear, “it can be a brutal mountain, high winds and no refuge” the voice says as conversation strikes up over the perils of ascending its summit. It leaves me thinking the ill prepared would fail and I was ill prepared.
Mount Fuji (富士山, Fujisan) at 3776 meters is Japan’s highest mountain. Its near perfect shaped volcano has been worshiped as a sacred place from time in memorial. It is an active volcano last erupting in 1707. Fuji’s proximity to Tokyo has made it an extremely popular mountain to visit and ascend. Climbing season opens in July where the summit can still be below zero, despite there being no snow.
The summit of Mt Takao is well colonised, with a cafe, seating area and other shops, not quite my wilderness experience but a great place for lunch with the vista of Mt Fuji.
Most of the major signs are in Japanese and English with the minors only in Japanese, I soon learn to photograph any sign or map.
A steep set of iced stairs leads off the summit to a small saddle and path to a Japanese cherry blossom garden and sister peak.
Stairs as slippery as wet glass and no poles I take things very slowly, with little hand holds, one false slip and there is a good chance of broken bones. This is where my gamble not to bring poles didn’t pay off. Thankfully I make it down unharmed if not a little rattled.
Heading to the sister peak the path winds through forest and open spaces. Cherry Blossoms lay bare. Rotundas silent under a cover of snow awaiting the melt, the flowers and no doubt the throngs of people. Blossom season in Japan is a huge draw-card starting in Okinawa in January / February and finishing in northern Hokkaido in May.
Met with a totems looking scary enough to keep any visitor away I enter yet another colonised peak, this one complete with undercover area. I could just imagine how pleasant this would be in summer, all the picnic tables bathed in warmth.
Mt Fuji comes into view again, the sun overhead. A visitor in the foreground, boiling tea, sends wisps of steam in the air, the tiny particles caught in light rays, what a picture of tranquility.
I return via an alternate route, no less snowy but peaceful and away from the hum drum of day walkers (of which I am one!) and a good place to reflect on the journey so far.
Back at the first peak I discover the main trail, or more like road that crosses under the cable car. It’s sealed, steep and I’m glad I took the path less trodden if that is even possible in this city.
The road winds past some active temples, the Shinto-Buddhist belief is well represented in the mountains with many people stopping to pray to the mountain god, tengu. Shortly after the trail passes an impressively long prayer wall, before dramatically descending back to the village.
I catch up with another English speaking gentlemen from a US military base south of Tokyo. He share’s his stories of his time in Japan off base, it sounds like a different life to most of us. I thank him for his service. It’s men and women like him in our armed services that afford us the freedoms we enjoy today.
The little village is resplendent in the snow, torrents of water rushing down the main stream. There are plenty of little eateries and shops stalls with all sorts eclectic wares. It’s quietening now as us day trippers mill around the station for the train back to the hustle and bustle that is Tokyo.
I bid farewell to my new found mountain respite, wondering whether I will ever visit again? Was this just a fleeting moment, an opportunistic meeting in an otherwise packed schedule of engagements?
Back in Shinjuku I take in an awe of a different kind, the density of shopping. People, like an unconscious choreography throng the stores and streets. And there it is. If there were ever a temple for hikers this would be it. L-Breath nine glorious floors of outdoor equipment everything you could ever imagine and then some, need a bear bell? They’ve got it!
Useful information on Mount Takaosan can be found here – Japan Guide