Just about an hour west of Tokyo lies the little paradise that is Mount Takao. It’s an oasis of sorts—a quick escape from the city with fresh air and real nature. With kids, it is especially exciting because it is a big, open area with plenty of room to run and climb and make noise. It has none of the confinements of a normal city life, so adults and kids alike can appreciate it. As a bonus, the impending autumn makes Mount Takao the perfect place to go to see some fall foliage and get a jump on the cooler temperatures.
Even though the Japanese refer to the mountain as ‘Takao-san,’ or Mt. Takao, my friend Steve likes to call it “Japan in a box” because it has all of the essential elements of a Japanese experience. The day starts off with a train ride through the suburbs and countryside, but then, if leaving from central Tokyo, visitors must transfer trains at Shinjuku station, often called the busiest train station in the world, an experience in itself. Once at the train station for Mount Takao, visitors can get Hello Kitty popcorn from a vending machine (as many people know, the Japanese have a love affair with Hello Kitty). Then, arriving at Mount Takao, visitors are greeted by a replica of an old-fashioned Japanese village with iconic shops, storefronts, restaurants and a quaint tree-lined street that lies at the entry to the mountain. Of course, as a nod to modernity, there are many coffee vending machines—both hot and cold—available. But the biggest modern convenience is the ropeway tram up the mountain. Not everyone is equipped to walk all the way up, considering the elevation is just under 600 meters. In general the trails go about 400 meters up, so the last 200 meters is not often climbed.
“The kids had a great time scurrying up the sides of the path, over a ridge, and through the trees”
However, visitors to the mountain can see all the splendors of nature, along with the seriousness of the gear the Japanese use when they go hiking. In Japan, anything worth doing is worth doing well, and with the correct equipment. There are eight trails up the mountain and there are about 2.5 million visitors every year.
There is a hut at top of the mountain serving ice cream and hot tea, along with outdoor food stalls along the way. Also at the top are a few temples and shrines in the incredible beauty of the natural setting.
I took my kids to Mount Takao in late April. The weather was overcast and chilly, but that can be great when climbing a mountain. The path we chose to climb up was paved, and it winded around and around through the trees as it went up. The kids had a great time scurrying up the sides of the path, over a ridge, and through the trees. We took the nature path down, which involved stepping from stone to stone through a brook that ran most of the way down the mountain. We were a little muddy afterward, but happy. It took about two and a half hours to do the entire trek up and down.
Dinner was a different type of experience. Via taxi, we went another ten minutes or so further west to a place called Ukai Toriyama. It’s a large tract of land with stunning landscaping—ponds, trees, paths, bridges, and about forty small buildings. Instead of eating in one building in one small room, each party has their own tatami room—and each little building has about three rooms in it. If the restaurant is full, they told us they can hold about 500 people. We spent about three hours in our tatami room, being served by three deferential, kimono-clad women who brought us hot tea, steaming vegetables and soup, sashimi carp, chicken on sticks to cook on grills in the middle of the table, miso and rice, and then mochi for dessert. It was a filling but light meal in an opulent setting. The kids loved it as much as the adults, and because we were alone in our own tatami room, they were free to play as they pleased, within the confines of the room.
All in all, it was the perfect day. We were outside of the city in the fresh air, with good friends, and the kids were happy. Mount Takao is the perfect day trip outside of Tokyo, whether with or without kids.
1. Bring cash; credit cards are generally not accepted at any of the vendors and most of the restaurants.
2. The kids will be tired after the climb, physically and mentally, no matter what age they are; plan for it and understand it.
3. If dining at Ikai Toriyama, bring a change of clothes; I wished I had.
4. Take time to stop and take photographs. The scenery is stunning.
5. Let the kids run and climb even off the beaten path. It’s safe and it’s fun for them to blaze new trails.
Words by by Aimee Weinstein
Photo by Barry Silver