Takao (高雄) is a remote mountain valley about 1 hour north of Kyoto. Famous for its three historic temples and beautiful natural scenery.
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The name Takao is used to refer to both the mountain valley, local village and wider mountainous area. A visit to Takao is great any time of the year, and should take from half a day to a full day. Besides visiting the famous temples, there are beautiful hikes to be made, especially during the autumn leaves season. The area is also less frequented by tourists and makes for a great occasion to enjoy some peace and quiet, or even zen!
What to do at Takao, Kyoto?
There’s plenty of activities to do at Takao, as mentioned it's easy to fill a full day, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly. The main things to do and see around Takao are historic Japanese temples and hiking the scenic forested mountains around Kyoto.
Visiting the temples
Kozanji Temple: Dating back to 774 the temple is especially interesting for those interested in Manga. As on display are Japan's oldest Manga drawings, possibly the oldest in the world. Kozanji is also a famous tea ceremony and is said to be at the origins of tea ceremony in Japan. It’s possible to visit the old tea plantation and try some of Kyoto’s finest tea.
Jingoji Temple: Is the most famous and visited temple at Takao, getting there is also a bit of a climb. A massive staircase up to the temple grounds where different temple buildings welcome the visitor. There’s an observation point overlooking the wider area, and one of the best shots to get during the autumn leaves season.
Saimyoji Temple: Called Japan’s first national treasure, Saimyoji dates back to the Kamakura period (1192-1333). Around the temple are over a 1000 maple trees, that are part of the temple garden. Saimyoji Temple is special as one of the few original buildings in Japan to survive difficult periods in history.
Hiking around Takao
There are different trails to hike around Takao, both accessible to beginners and more seasoned hikers. With different bus stops along the way, you can basically walk as much (or as little) as you feel comfortable with.
The most popular hike is going downstream from Takao to Arashiyama, through the small village of Kiyotaki. Following this trail are some of the best scenic views found in the Kansai area. The trail itself is about 11km long, and takes a little over 3 hours.
A good alternative is to go round Mount Atago, this trail is basically a circle that meanders up on the side of Mt. Atago and down on the other side Takao. This trail will take around 3 hours as well and can be combined with the walk down to Arashiyama, though be sure to get an early start if you plan on doing this.
Getting to Takao
Takao can be accessed by JR Bus from Kyoto station, in addition to several stops along the way in central and west Kyoto (including JR Nijo Station). The fare is covered by the JR Pass, in addition to a variety of JR-West passes, without the pass the fare is 530yen / one way.This bus stop is called Yamashiro-Takao 山城高雄.
Kyoto city bus line 8 also runs between Shijo Karasuma and Takao, with a flat fare of 230yen per ride.
Tips for visiting
There's also a Mt. Takao near Tokyo. While the name sounds the same in English, the characters in Japanese are different. 高雄 being used in Kyoto and 高尾山 in Tokyo. Just be sure not to confuse the two.
Check the weather forecast before going. While the area is beautiful on a clear day, it's not so much fun when it's raining.
There are different small restaurants near Takao serving local noodles, they make for an excellent lunch option.