If I had it all to do over again, I’d do it so differently. My day on Mount Takao (near Tokyo, Japan) started off as a lovely hike and ended up as a minor disaster. Please. Don’t do what I did. Here’s what not to do on Mount Takao.
First, A Bit of Info
Mount Takao is considered the best day trip from Tokyo, and from the top you’ll get great views of both Tokyo, as well as layers of mountains (including Mount Fuji in the distance). Located at the end of the Keio train line, you can get there in less than an hour from Shinjuku station. Although it’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere, Mount Takao is a great chance to get out into nature for a beautiful hike.
There are about eight different trails to the top of Mount Takao from the Takaosanguchi train station, most of which take about 90 minutes to ascend. You can make the climb even easier by taking a cable car 2/3 of the way up.
Around the base of the mountain behind the railway station, there’s also a well-known onsen (public hot spring) called Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu,, and a free museum. (Click here to find out why I didn’t go to the Onsen).
Okay. You’ve got the basics. I’ll fill you in on the other important details in my “what not to do” instructions below.
Don’t go to Mount Takao on the Hottest Day of the Year.
I learned, after the fact, that temperatures hit 37 degrees (Celsius) that day (and with Tokyo’s characteristic 90%+ humidity in summer, 37 degrees feels like about 37 billion degrees). This explains why I got heat exhaustion, which is the main reason why the day turned out so hellishly. I was so determined to go on a day with no rain that I neglected to look at the temperatures.
If You Do Go in Summer, Don’t Suffer. Bring a Towel.
It wasn’t long into the hike that I became completely drenched, with sweat dripping off every part of me. I disgusted myself, and probably everybody around me, who had ingeniously brought hand towels to delicately mop the sweat from their brow. In weeks prior, I’d seen people in Tokyo with these hand towels around their necks, and I thought nothing of it. Silly, silly me.
Don’t Miss the All-You-Can-Eat Restaurant.
I missed the all-you-can-eat restaurant. I thought it was at the top of Mount Takao, and I hiked up with a spring in my step, excited to experience the famed Takaosan Beer Mount, with a reputedly wide range of excellent food and drink, and even better views.
It’s not at the top of Mount Takao. It’s at the top of the cable car station (which is not the top of the mountain), which the main hiking routes up the centre take you by. I took a random trail because it’s more naturalistic and takes you by a pretty waterfall. Except I couldn’t see the waterfall because of a locked gate. I saw this instead:
Had I not taken another route entirely off the mountain (more on that mistake in a minute), I could have enjoyed a sweaty sunset meal at this restaurant on the way down. But no. Sigh.
Don’t Go to Mount Takao on the Weekend.
I actually got this one right! I went on a Tuesday, so I could avoid the renowned weekend crowds. 2.6 million people visit Mount Takao every year, and in the already ridiculously crowded city of Tokyo, it takes some planning to get away from it all.
Problem was, this stroke of brilliance in going on a Tuesday backfired on me….keep reading.
Don’t Take an Obscure Side-Trail if you Don’t Have a Clue.
I decided if I was going to hike in Japan, I wanted to hike. So instead of doing what most people do and descend Mount Takao the way I came up, I opted for one of the many trails along the ridge of mountains to the next peak. I mention the name of the peak in my video below, but I have since blocked it from my memory, so you’ll have to watch the video if you want to know where I went.
Although this detour to another peak afforded even more majestic views of Tokyo and the neighbouring mountains than I got from Mount Takao (pictures above), it also dehydrated and exhausted me even more. And the fun was just beginning.
Don’t Use a 15+ Year Old Guidebook.
My 15+ year old Lonely Planet Hiking Japan guidebook suggested this is a “lovely” alternative to simply hiking up and down Mount Takao. In about three hours, I could hike up Mount Takao, hike over to this peak-that-shall-not-be-named, and then down off the ridge from there to some other train station on the JR Chuo line that could take me back home. Lovely. (Spoiler alert: the hike took me six hours, not three).
I didn’t realize the guidebook that was lent to me for this adventure was 15+ years old, so I loved the simplistic instructions and assumed it would be a simple hike. Problem is, a lot can happen in 15 years, including the changing of trails and the ripping down of signs. What signs remained were entirely in Japanese. So I spent the afternoon correlating my overly-simplistic-and-ridiculously-outdated guidebook map with the terrain. It didn’t match up well.
And, because I had the brilliance to hike on a Tuesday, what few people I might have encountered on this trail on a busy day were nowhere to be seen.
So there I was, suffering badly from heat exhaustion, lost, frustrated, and completely alone. Despite my general proximity to civilization, I could have died on that trail and it would have been days before I’d have been found.
Perhaps this is a bit dramatic, but this was among the many scenarios that floated through my heat-affected brain as I was desperately trying to find my way to this bloody train station from the side of a mountain, with absolutely no energy in reserve.
What NOT to Do on Mount Takao, Vlog Ep. 18
Sounds like an adventure, huh? Yeah. I did everything wrong. Like I said, don’t do what I did.
However, I did do something right – I turned on the camera, and the result is actually pretty funny. Check out the good, the bad, and the ugly side of Mount Takao in this week’s vlog!
Click here to watch this video on YouTube.