高尾山 (Mt. Takao)

​I’m negotiating the sloped track quite easily. The trees around are majestic, and their roots grow onto the track almost creating a stair I can use. There’s just this one thing that slows me down. The huge crowd of Japanese tourists.

After one and a half years I’m finally back in Japan, and after some jetlag, some touristing and a night out in Shibuya, I feel that I really have to get out of Tokyo. Tokyo, together with Yokohama is the largest city in the world (close to 50 million), and you can find anything here, except big nature and mountains.

Armed with three hours of sleep, some hangover from the night before and a still ongoing jetlag. I decide I need some fresh air.

Mt. Takao is halfway to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo. It’s where the Kanto-plain (where Tokyo is built) ends, and the Japanese mountains start. Included in a lot of guidebooks as a good hiking destination, it’s no wonder that there’s many people going up the mountain together with me. The wonder might be that I see no other foreigners. Instead, the deafening noice of a Japanese army of schoolkids meets me as the hiking trail continues up a gully. They are of course, in typical kids fashion, trying out the echo.

Mt. Takao is the first top on a ridge that extends further away from the Kanto plain. There are hiking trails following the ridge all the way to Mt. Jinba. Tired of the crowds, but feeling quite energetic I decide to continue the ten or so kilometers to Mt. Jinba.

There’s a surprising amount of Japanese people that do hiking. Considering that they live in concrete jungles. Or maybe it is because of the concrete jungles. There’s also always a Shinto shrine or a shimenawa along the track. Sometimes with a sign telling the story behind a certain object. Yet sometimes you’re left to your own imagination as to what creature might be enshrined. Maybe the spirit of the mountain, maybe a fox with nine tails?

As it turns out, a lot of hiking trails was also used during the age of the samurai. Hiking in Japan is much more a trip in mythology and history rather than just a beautiful landscape. 

Just two kilometers from the top of Mt. Jinba my body reminds me of sleep and hangover. I’ve long given up on going back the way I came, instead I’ve realised there’s a train station on the other side of the ridge. A sign along the path also informs me there’s an onsen in the same direction. The bare thought of having an onsen after a days hiking makes my body want to run the last few kilometers. Turns out that downhill in Japanese mountains can be quite steep, and challenging to run. Who would have known?

Eventually I end up in a small mountain village. It turns out the onsen is a whole ryokan, a sort of Japanese spa hotel. Unfortunately it’s closed for cleaning, but after talking to the owner I’m offered to enter the onsen in return for a small fee. 

Since the men’s onsen is emptied for the cleaning, I’m directed to the women’s section. With the ryokan being closed I can relax completely alone as I watch the mountain view soaking in the hot volcanic water.

Day well spent. I fall asleep on the train back to Tokyo. 

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