After a daylong fit of inertia, sitting on my butt watching movies on my computer and staring out into the gloomy, rainy gray day through our wall of windows on Friday, I awoke to a blaze of sunshine on Saturday. It was blinding. And it was uplifting. And it filled me with guilt about the day before—along with an urgent desire to do something outdoorsy.
It was 9am and I convinced The Professor that we needed to get outside and enjoy the weather—despite the fact that it was the beginning of a three-day holiday (I have no idea for what).
‘We need to get out and enjoy this day,’ I said. ‘Especially since it will be gray and gloomy again soon. How about going to Mt. Takao and seeing the fall colors?’ It was one of the many near-Tokyo spots that was listed on the Fall Foliage Report.
The Professor agreed and then went on the computer to quickly figure out the route to get there. He read an article that suggested we be there by 9:30am to avoid the crowds—and it went on to warn of 30-minute waits for the cable car and that there would be swarms of people on any given day. Threatening The Professor before he could get engrossed in any more informative websites, I got him off the computer, refocused, and committed to the day.
Knowing that it takes at least two hours for The Professor and I to assemble ourselves and get out the door, that it was a beautiful Saturday of a three-day weekend, and that it was now almost 9:30 and we were still sitting in our pjs drinking coffee--we threw all logic to the wind and decided to still go even if it meant it would be crowded. I mean just how bad could it be? We lived in NYC and were now used to crowds, we thought. We were going.
Quickly showering and packing our day packs with whatever snacks we had, we were out the door in an impressive hour. Quite good time for The Professor and me.
Upon exiting the front door and waiting for The Professor to lock it I looked down and noticed bits of black fluttering from The Professor’s feet with each move he made. What was going on? We discovered that his hiking boots that have sat in his closet unused for these past few years had decided to disintegrate and the soles were decomposing right before our eyes. So back in the apartment we went so that The Professor could change his shoes.
Back out of the apartment a couple of minutes later, we were on to the next stop—which was to purchase food for our daylong trek. Filling our backpacks with rice balls and waters, we then headed for the train station next door. We were off.
We took the first route to the Shinjuku station where we needed to switch to another train line—the Keio Railways, headed to the Takaosanguchi station. Exiting the first train gates I realized I needed to get money added to my PASCO card as it was almost zeroed out—and this is when The Professor decided it was the time to purchase the other—more useful—Suica card since it’s good at more places. Getting this new type of card, however, meant hunting for a kiosk to purchase it. After much searching we found the kiosk, and after a few attempts at running the machine, we managed to purchase the new card for me. However, after doing this, The Professor decided that we should get more money. This meant we had to leave the train station in search of a post office containing the bank needed to get the money at no charge.
We followed Google Maps to the Post Office—to find it closed. We retraced our steps to a 7-11 and got money from an ATM. We then trudged the 10 minutes or so back to the train station to catch the Keio Line headed to Takaosan.
By now, it was past 11am. (It requires patience to hang with The Professor. Sadly, I have little.) Let’s say there were a few cross words bantered between us by now; but as luck would have it, we only had a few minutes to wait before the 11:07 Semi-Express train arrived, and we were finally on our way. Though we were shoved up against windows and standing the whole 50 minutes, it went rather quickly. The Professor got to read and I got to watch the countryside fly past. I had a great view standing there with my face shoved up against the glass. I managed to look around and saw there were quite a few people not so lucky. They were traveling the whole way staring at their neighbor’s armpit.
We got off at the last stop, conveniently located at the bottom of the mountain-Mt. Takao. Exiting the train we followed the huge crowds out the gates and into the gathering area where the Info office and a huge painted sign of the park were located. We got a small, free trail map in English and then fought our way through the crowd filling the pathways until we found an empty spot to sit amongst other families where we ate a bit of food and looked at the map before heading back into the mass of nature lovers.
After this brief respite of purchased pre-made tuna fish sandwiches, rice balls, and water, we decided to get a move on and entered back into the foray up the mountain. There was a mountain of people on the side of the mountain, and it divided up into three loosely formed lines.
There was not a lot of direction so we wandered to the front of the line closest to the sign that said Cable Car to purchase some Cable Car tickets. There are three ways up the mountain—one that requires a 90-minute hike up the side, one on a tram—or Cable Car as it’s called—and one using a chair lift. The Professor and I had decided upon the Cable Car as it would drop us about 45 minutes from the top and it was enclosed unlike the chair lift. We don’t do well in natural settings for too long so this was a happy compromise. I had suggested we buy a one-way but as it turned out, The Professor didn’t listen to me and instead, thankfully, bought round trip tickets.
We turned around with our tickets in hand (about $8rt per person) and started walking back to the end of the line. It was a long walk back. And just like the online story had predicted, we waited about 20-30 minutes before getting on the Cable Car. (Apparently, these cable car tickets can be purchased ahead of time along with the train tickets. We did not know this. It would have been a bit easier to do it this way as it would allow one to just stand in line with everyone else. Our place in line was a lot further back because we had to go up and buy our cable car tickets then come back to get in line.)
The Cable Car is brightly colored and quite cute. According to their website: At an inclination of 31.18 degrees at the steepest point, the cable car boasts the steepest incline of any cable car system in Japan, and it offers riders an awe-inspiring view through the windows.
It was very steep which made for a fun trip, and it goes up the side of the mountain 1020m according to their website. The ride was definitely worth it as it takes you right through the forest and is a really pretty way to go. It definitely beats a trudge on the trails surrounded by fellow hikers as we would soon find out.
Exiting the Cable Car around the area of Monkey Park, which we sadly did not enter, we hit the trail.
Hitting the trail with thousands of other Trail Hitters however, does nothing but allow one to fall into a slow Death-March-like trudge. We spent the next couple of hours at this pace surrounded by thousands of other Leaf Lovers, Trail Hitters, and weekend Nature Lovers. We are talking thousands. There was not one spot that was not filled with a crowd, with the possible exception of one of the first little shrines along the trail. I think after a series of stairs the sight of more stairs leading to this little shrine was a bit much for many people and many simply passed it by. After being goaded up the stairs by The masochistic Professor, I am happy to report the extra stair climbing was definitely worth it.
At the top of the stairs was a clearing surrounded by trees in all their fall glory—and the clearing was filled with stone statues of gods and various types of shrines. It was very pretty and relatively peaceful. We took a few pics, took a deep breath, and then plunged back into the crowded madness.
Following the crowd like lemmings we continued up the hill along the path—checking out more shrines, enjoying the fall colors, and pushing and shoving through the crowds on up to the pillar at the top of the mountain.
From here much of Tokyo can be seen in one direction and in the opposite distance, shy Mt. Fuji looms. There are definitely lots of beautiful views from here and well worth the climb.
We sat up here for a few minutes and had some more snacks and water and rested with hundreds of others. Thankfully, we found a place to sit for a few much-deserved minutes of recharging. By now it was about 3:30pm and beginning to get a bit gloomier on Autumn’s quick slide into early darkness—and we decided it was time to head back down the hill. Along with the hundreds of others with the same idea. About 60 minutes later we found ourselves back at the Monkey Park entrance waiting in line for the Cable Car—now with throbbing feet and aching leg muscles.
‘We made it. We climbed Mt. Takao and saw the fall colors. It was beautiful today, wasn’t it? I’m glad we decided to pull it off and not stay home—but I’m done. We did it, it’s done, delete from the list of things we didn’t know we wanted to do in Japan. I’m done with this crowd and standing and I just want to be home now.’ I said. ‘Sure glad I made you buy those round-trip tickets on this Cable Car. I am ready to get out of here!’
The Professor looked at me, rolled his eyes, and shook his head.
It was not the escape to nature we had, perhaps, expected. But it was an escape to nature—Tokyo-Style.
We are the climbers of mountains. Did it. Done it. And done.