Just about an hour west of Tokyo lies the little paradise that is Mount Takao. It’s an oasis of sorts – a quick escape from the city with fresh air and real nature.
Even though the Japanese refer to the Mountain as “Takao-san” or Mr. Takao, my friend Steve likes to call it “Japan in a box” because it has all of the essential elements of a Japanese experience:
- Transferring trains at Shinjuku Station, often called the busiest train station in the world
- Train ride through the suburbs and countryside
- Little village with iconic shops, storefronts, restaurants and quaint tree-lined street that lies at the entry to the mountain.
- Hello Kitty popcorn from a vending machine – Japanese have a love affair with Hello Kitty.
- Coffee vending machines – both hot and cold available!
- Nature (and seeing how serious the Japanese gear-up when they go hiking)
- The hut at top of the mountain serving ice cream and hot tea
- Temples and shrines
- Outdoor food stalls
- Ropeway tram up a mountain
Nearby, the fancy restaurant called Ukai Toriyama for dinner with bridges over brooks, sitting on tatami mats, waitresses in kimonos
The weather on Saturday was overcast and chilly, but that can be great when climbing a mountain. The path we chose to climb up was paved. It wended around and around through trees and up. The kids had a great time scurrying up the sides of the path, over a ridge and through the trees. We took the nature path
down, which involved stepping from stone to stone through a brook that ran most of the way down the mountain. We were a little muddy afterward, but happy. It took about two and a half hours to do the entire trek up and down.
Dinner was a different type of experience. We drove another ten minutes or so further west to a place called Ukai Toriyama. It’s a large tract of land with stunning landscaping – ponds, trees, paths, bridges, etc. and about forty small buildings. Instead of eating in one
building in one small room, each party has his or her own tatami room – and each little building has about three rooms in it. If the restaurant is full, they told us they can hold about 500 people. We spent about three hours in our tatami room, being served by three deferential, kimono-clad women who brought us hot tea, steaming vegetables and soup, sashimi carp, chicken on
sticks to cook on grills in the middle of the table, miso and rice, and then mochi for dessert. It was a filling but light meal in an opulent setting. The kids loved it as much as the adults.
All in all, it was the perfect day. We were outside of the city in the fresh air, with good friends, and the kids were happy. We arrived home tired yet exhilarated.