Friday, April 3, 2009

First trip out of the big city

Last Monday was a free day at school, so we decided to take another teacher's recommendation and take a day trip to Takaosan, or Mt. Takao. Originally, the plan was to go on the Saturday, but as it was one of the first nice weekends in spring, people told us not to go on the weekend because it would be completely packed with other visitors and hikes.

So, with a day pack of snacks, inigri (triangle-shaped, seaweed wrapped rice with a tasty filling), and water, we made an early start and rode the train for about an hour, looking out the windows at new areas of Tokyo. Wow, it is a big city and goes on and on...

Once at the mountain, we found ourselves on the map and starting hiking up the rather steep trail. At approximately 600 meters (1800 feet), 'mountain' is probably and overambitious word to use for Takao, but it is still tiring to get to the top. There is a ski lift and a cable car that will take visitors halfway up. As the majority of people take these, we quickly left behind the sounds of people and machinery. It felt wonderful to climb through the quiet forested hillside, listening to different birds and the wind blow through the tall cedars. The views of the city were dramatic at the overlook spots.

Halfway up or so, the trail met the cable car and ski lift, and the tourism begain: snack bars, souvenier stands, and toilets, oh my! However, there was a great deal of history as the mountain has been a destination for religious visitors for over 1,200 years. The Takaosan Yakouin Yukiji Temple is there and is dedicated to Yakushi Nyori, the Medicine Buddha. One thing we had not seen before was that all the statues of Buddha had crocheted red hats!

One of the religious elements of Mt. Takao is the long nosed goblin or tengu that is said to inhabit the mountain. He, or it, is a kami or supernatural creature, and originally tengu had been viewed as disruptive or harbinger of war. They are now seen as protective, yet still dangerous, spirits of the mountains and forests.

At the top of the mountain, the views were spectacular, and we stopped for a quick picnic lunch. However, as it was quite crowded and noisy, we took a dirt trail that followed the ridgeline to another mountain top about an hour away. Quickly it became quiet again, and we only saw a few people along the trail. Most of them were elderly people with backpacks and trekking poles. Further looking at the map revealed there was an extensive web of trails up into the mountains with wooden sleeping shelters. We are already making plans for train trips deeper into the mountain valleys and longer day hikes, perhaps even some overnighters, although we did not bring any camping gear with us.

At the top of the next 'mountain,' we found what I called a 'hillbilly cafe': a rough and tumbled place with homemade picnic tables, hot food, and cold drinks. Again, the views were great, and we'd like to go back for a meal. While standing there looking around, we saw a cat. Joan made the universal cat ' kiss kiss' sound, and kitty said, "Bring it on!" So, Joan got some serious cat lovin' on the mountaintop. Don't tell Gooby or Yezik, please. It would be awkward.

By the time we made our way back down Mt. Takao, it was early evening, and the crowds had thinned significantly. We were tired and footsore, and the train ride back was long and sleepy, but it was well worth it. When you come to visit and if you are up for a good hike, we'll happily take you there...

For the full photo tour, click on this link!

Hive Mind link photos

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