Mt. Takao, or Takao-san in Japanese, is probably the most popular mountain in Japan after Mt. Fuji, at least in terms of visitor numbers. This mountain and its many hiking trails make for a great day trip to anyone who gets an urge to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo. In less than an hour from Shinjuku station, you can be surrounded by lush forests and beautiful scenery.
When I first heard that there's actually a proper (albeit humble) mountain complete with hiking trails, beautiful temples and an impressive lookout point on top, located within the city limits of Tokyo, I was blown away. If anything, this is a testament to the massive contrasts one can experience in this fantastic city.
Mt. Takao stands 599m high and is located in Hachioji city in the western part of Tokyo, just at the border where the urbanized part of the Kanto plain ends, and the Kanto mountain ranges begin. The distance from Shinjuku Station is about 40 km as the crow flies, and getting there will take you less than an hour by train.
I first visited Mt. Takao in 2008, and have returned countless times since then. While hiking snobs might shake their heads and mutter something about that there are many better hiking trails available that can also be accessed on a day trip, the accessibility and popularity of Takao is perhaps also one of its charms.
Don't get me wrong, the popularity is also something of a curse, as this mountain can get annoyingly crowded at times. Don't even think about visiting on a weekend during peak autumn leaves season as the hiking trails will be packed and the crowds at the lookout point will remind you of Shibuya Crossing. But with some planning, the crowds can be easily avoided, and the mountain will show itself from its best side.
One of the best things about Mt. Takao and the reason that keeps people coming back are the many hiking trails that run along the mountain. There are six different hiking trails that vary in difficulty, meaning that there anyone from complete beginners to more experienced hikers is sure to find one that suits them. So, just how long does it take to climb mt. Takao? The hike from Takaosanguchi station to the lookout point on top of the mountain is about 4 km in length and takes slightly less than two hours to complete. But it depends on what hiking trail you choose, some of them are longer or steeper and will take you even longer. If you just want to reach the peak as soon as possible, we recommend taking the Cable Car as that will shave of a big chunk of time needed to reach the summit. Once you're there, there are also several trails that will take you even further into the Kanto Mountain range. So if you want to visit another peak or two you just have to keep on walking! Detailed information about all the hiking trails, including some near/around the mountain, can be found at the Takao 599 Museum Website.
Cable Car & Chairlift
As Mt. Takao has a long history as a popular escape for the population of Tokyo, the infrastructure around and at the mountain is top-notch. There are even two means of transportation that will shave off a big chunk of the hiking time for those who won't walk as little as possible yet enjoy the impressive views from the top. A mere five minutes from Takaosanguchi Station you'll find both a lift and a cable car. The cable car even has the bragging rights of being the steepest one in all of Japan! Both will take you more than halfway to the top, and the cable car will do so in a mere six minutes. The lift takes about twice as long, but in my humble opinion, it is also twice as fun compared to standing in the often crammed cable car.
A one-way ticket for either cost 490 yen and a round-trip ticket will set you back 950 yen (prices are current as of the October 2019 consumption tax hike). There are also discount tickets available that include both the train ride from Central Tokyo as well as the cable car or lift, you can read more about those at the end of this article.
Shortly after you've arrived at the upper station of the cable car and lift, you will reach the Takao Monkey park. I've never bothered to visit it, so I can't give you an honest opinion about it, but if you want to watch live animals there are probably better places for this. Anyway, besides 60 living monkeys, the park also has a plant garden with around 300 different kinds of wild plants, as well as a bird-watching house. Please let me know in the comments below if you've actually visited the monkey park, as it would be interesting to hear an honest review from someone who has been there.
One of the highlights of climbing Mt. Takao is to visit the Yakuo-in Temple, located roughly 15 minutes before you reach the peak. This temple was established in the year 744, and its most striking feature, besides the beautiful temple buildings themselves, are the many long-nosed tengu statues, that have become something of an iconic character to the entire mountain.
The temple grounds span over a wide area and is really pleasant to walk around and contemplate at, but remember that the weekends can get uncomfortably crowded and are best avoided. I strongly recommend that you take your time here, the many carvings and paintings on the temple structures are truly impressive and worth to take a closer look at.
One detail that many people are unaware about is that you can take part in a fire ritual called "ogoma-shugo" at the temple. Unfortunately this isn’t very well adapted to non-japanese speakers and very little information about it is available in English. There's also the option to enjoy a vegetarian "Shojin-Ryouri"-meal at the temple (meals start at 2800 yen). Prior reservations are required, however, and these can also only be made in Japanese. Have a look at the official homepage of the temple for detailed instructions on how to make a reservation.
On October 17th every year, an autumn festival is held at the temple, where people climb the mountain wearing traditional clothing. Other noteworthy events at the Yakuo-in Temple include an annual bean throwing event during Setsubun, on February 3rd. There are also firewalking events held on the second Sunday of March every year.
The summit of Mt. Takao
Congratulations! You are now 599 meters above sea level and if you are lucky you'll be treated to views of both Mt. Fuji as well as the vast city of Tokyo in the distance. The summit of Mt. Takao is obviously another highlight of the mountain, and what most people come for. There's a small visitor centre located here where you can learn more about the local flora and fauna, as well as a handful of shops and restaurants where you can grab a bowl of Sansai- (Mountain) Soba, buckwheat noodles mixed with wild mountain vegetables. A humble beer or two at the peak, while gazing at the impressive views are my personal favourite though, and for some reason always bump into talkative groups of older men when I crack open a can of Kirin up there.
If you're really into beer, you might be pleased to hear that there's actually even a proper beer garden on top of Mt. Takao. It is located near the upper cable car stop, and for a fixed price you can enjoy both as much beer as you like as well as buffet-style foods. In 2019 the price is 3800 yen for men and 3600 yen for women. Or if you're feeling really fancy, you can splurge for one of their premium seats that offers a better view and improved service for 5000 yen per person. Senior and student discounts are available. More information is available at www.takaotozan.co.jp/beermnt
The beer garden is open from 13:00-21:00 every day during the season, from mid-June to mid-October.
Food and snacks
Depending on the season you will come across stands offering several kinds of foods and snacks during your way up the mountain. A personal favourite is Mitarashi Dango, a kind of skewered rice dumplings that are either seasoned with a sweet and salty sauce or with red bean paste on top. They're delicious and well worth a try. Another favorite is grilled Ayu fish that can is cooked slowly and enjoyed directly from the skewer. They may look a bit creepy but they taste oh, so delicious!
If you visit mt. Takao in December, and on a day when the weather gods are on your side, you can be treated to the sight of the setting sun aligning perfectly with Mt. Fuji. This view is commonly referred to as "Diamond Fuji", and something that many landscape photographers strive to capture. Make sure to bring a long lens (200mm or longer recommended) to the observation deck if you hope to capture it. Diamond Fuji can be observed from the peak at around 16:00 on clear days.
Don't miss the last Cable Car
One final tip of advice is to make sure that you study the timetable for the cable car carefully unless you're planning to hike down the mountain in the dark. Both the cable car and the lift closes for the day quite early, usually before 18:00 on weekdays, so make sure to make it back to the station on time to make sure that you don't get an unpleasant surprise.
When is the best time to visit mt. Takao?
As previously mentioned, this is a very popular destination and I strongly advice against visting on a weekend unless you really, really have to. Personally, I am a big fan of arriving at the mountain early, preferably before 09:00, as that's when you can enjoy the nature at its best, without noisy crowds or having to wait in line for the lift. But don't worry if you're not a morning person, later during the day is perfectly fine as well, but expect the crowds to increase progressively the later you arrive.
In terms of seasonality, Takao is a great destination all year round. Unsurprisingly, the cherry blossom season and the autumn foliage season sees the largest crowds, but as long as you stick to my previous recommendations - arrive early and avoid the weekends - you shouldn't have too much of an overcrowding problem.
If you're planning to hike mt. Takao during the hotter, summer months you might want to remember to grab a bottle of water before you hit the hiking trails. Packing a small towel to wipe the sweat from your forehead is also recommended, as well as comfortable shoes. As mt. Takao is located outside of the densely populated city centre, temperatures there during the summer can be a degree or two cooler than in downtown Tokyo.
How to get from (central) Tokyo to Takao
The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get to Mt. Takao from central Tokyo is to simply hop on the Keio Line at Shinjuku station. Make sure to grab an express train and that it is bound for Takaosanguchi and NOT Keio-Hachioji or Hashimoto, as those trains will require a transfer. A one-way trip costs 390 yen and the first direct train to Takaosanguchi station leaves Shinjuku 05:29 in the morning.
There are discount tickets available that will give you both the return trip from Tokyo as well as the cable car or chairlift. Purchased as a package, you will save 20% off the price compared to buying the tickets separately. A return trip from Shinjuku Station, including the round trip on the Cable car, will set you back 1380 yen.
Westbound JR Chuo Line trains are also a viable option if you're heading to mt. Takao, but then you'll have to transfer to a Keio Line train at Takao station to reach Takaosanguchi station, which is near the entrance to the hiking trails. Since this means you’ll be using two companies for the trip it also means that you’ll be paying more - this way of travelling to mt. Takao brings the cost of a one-way trip up to 680 yen. It is possible to walk from Takao Station, but it's a pretty boring walk that will take you around 30 minutes, not worth it in my opinion.
If you’re travelling from Yokohama or other places in southeastern Kanagawa prefecture, like Yokosuka, Kamakura or Zushi, your best option is to take the JR Yokohama line to Hachioji, change to the JR Chuo line to Takao and then finally transfer to the Keio Line for Takaosanguchi. The trip from Yokohama Station takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.