For a day hike, nothing beats the area around Mount Mitake (御岳山), if you ask me. The mountain is surrounded by Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, a large area of forested mountains, deep valleys and small settlements. You don’t have to be in peak condition to hike here. It’s only a short train ride away, and is easily accessible by cable car.
In fact, a cable car will take you to the top in 6 minutes for approximately ¥600. On a clear day you’ll be rewarded with stunning views, and even on a lousy day there’s a lot to enjoy. I love that we can take a train to go hiking. No car required. To start out, you might just walk around the top and over to the Mitake Shrine, which takes about half an hour. The paths are mostly paved and well-marked in English, so you shouldn’t have much trouble. For a longer walk, follow the well-marked path from the shrine to the ravine known as the “Rock Garden”. The walk to Rock Garden is especially lovely in November when the leaves turn red, orange and yellow. The path takes you down to the river and then proceeds up the river, crossing back and forth to a large waterfall. (See photos below of Rock Garden in the fall.)
If you do anything more ambitious, you’ll want to get a trail map (i.e. climb nearby Mount Odake at 1267m). These are for sale at the visitor center near Mitake Station, where you get off the train. I imagine they’re also available at the visitors center on top of Mount Mitake. (Perhaps someone could check and comment below.) Bring a water bottle, clothing for all possible conditions, some yen and perhaps a snack. The top of the mountain has a few stores and ramen restaurants, and even a vending machine, so if you forget you won’t probably won’t perish.
It is said that Musahi Mitake Shrine is more than 2,000 years old. Legend has it that a warrior hero was buried here with a stash of weapons. The shrine has a display of ancient treasures including armor from the 12th century, and a warrior’s saddle with mother-of-pearl inlay from the 13th century. Both of which you can see for a small admission fee. The shrine also has some kind of blessing for pets. Or so I was told by a couple of other visitors. I think they’re right, because you can see a cage, apparently for pets, next to the stairs going into the shrine sanctuary. And you can buy a ticket for your dog to ride the cable car. Just go to the ticket machine and push the button with a picture of a dog on it.
For a more advanced walk, I suggest Mt. Mitake (御岳山) to Mt. Hinodeyama (日の出山). You can return the way you came, or continue down the other side of Hinodeyama to the Hinatawada train station (日向和田駅) and catch the Ome line home. This route takes you past Yoshino Baigo, a lovely place to see plum blossoms in March.
Three important pieces of advice for advanced hikers, and hiking in general if you don’t read Japanese. First, do not attempt this hike without a map. A bilingual map is best. Second, carry your destination and landmarks written in Kanji. Third, take photos of signs. When you start down a trail, the signs are often in English and Japanese. Take pictures of these signs with your phone or digital camera. As you get further from civilization the signs are often in Japanese only. You may not be able to read a sign, but you can play “match the Kanji” if you have a known sample to compare it to.
Interested in more hikes? Check out White Cloud Mountain or Mount Takao. Happy exploring! – Liz Ruskin, updated Michelle Nexon, Sarah Straus; 2013; photos Michelle Nexon; fall photos Sarah Straus Nov 2013.
TRAIN DIRECTIONS: From the Fussa train station, catch an Ome-bound train. If your train terminates at Ome, cross the platform and catch the train to Okutama. Get off at Mitake station. As you leave the station from the sole exit, you’ll see a building to your left, before you descend to the street. You can buy a map here, but hurry because you don’t want to miss the bus. Descend the stairs to street level. Turn left and cross the street. About 50 meters down the road you’ll see a green bus stop sign. The bus is infrequent but seems timed to accommodate the train schedule. The bus actually stops a little further down, on the other side of the vending machine. You may be able to follow the parade of brightly attired hikers from the train to the bus. The bus accepts the Suica Card or coin. It will shuttle you to a bus stop just downhill from the cable car. Flash your Suica again to ride the cable car, or you can buy a ticket from the machine in front of the station. Once you’re on top, go right to admire the view, then walk back to the terminus and go left down along the wooded trail.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS: At the Terminal Gate, set your odometer to zero and turn right out of the gate. Stay right to go under the overpass. Turn left onto Ome Kaido aka Route 5 at 2.8km (signposted Hakonegasakinishi Intersection. McDonalds is on far left corner). Near Higashi-Ome station, 8km, veer right, following the blue highway sign for “Central Ome.” Just past the Hinatawada train station (13.6km) you’ll see a blue sign for “Mitake” and “Tachikawa” that points left to Route 199. Take that left and cross the river. Drive two lights, to the end of Route 199, and turn right on Route 45. Stay on Route 45 until 20.2km, where you’ll turn left onto Route 201, signposted for Mount Mitake. Drive under the large red torii gate at GPS coordiante: 35.802204, 139.174437. Route 201 ends at the Mount Mitake cable car station. There’s a pay lot behind the station, or there are private lots that charge about ¥1000. There’s one immediately before the bus stop, at GPS: 35.79667, 139.162971.
Rock Garden; November 2013 by Sarah Straus