When the excitement of Tokyo has gotten to be too much, head to the mountains to recharge in nature. My favorite mountain is Mt. Mitake, close enough to be accessed during a day trip from Tokyo yet still feeling worlds away. Originally a pilgrimage site for pilgrims to the Shinto shrine, Mitakesan has recently become popular as a hiking destination and has trails to satisfy all levels of climbers. Read on to discover the top spots in this one-day itinerary up to Mt. Mitake.
Lush, forested mountains so close to Tokyo!
Getting to Mt. Mitake
Getting to Mt. Mitake on a day trip from Tokyo is a journey in itself, but it’s easy to navigate. Depart Shinjuku Station in the morning and take the Chuo line to Mitake Station, changing trains at Ome, about 90 minutes. From Mitake Station, transfer to a shuttle bus to the Taikimoto Cable Car station at the base of the mountain. Athletic types might prefer the steep hike up, but personally I prefer to ride the charming cable car.
Once at Mitakesan Station, stop to admire the scenic overlook. While this mountain is still part of Tokyo, it feels worlds away from the city. If you are hungry, there are a few restaurants here and also on the shopping street near the shrine. If you prefer a bento or packed lunch, it would be best to buy this before leaving for your day trip from Tokyo, as there are no convenience stores or supermarkets up on the mountain.
Make your way away from the station and enjoy your first glimpses of the forest, pausing to admire the quaint rustic signs along the way. As you enter the priests’ village, you will see the Visitors Center to your right. This is an excellent place to get some local maps and ask any questions. The staff at the centre are knowledgeable about the best hikes, and also which seasonal flora is in bloom.
Quaint local signage with bird calls.
Marvel at Musashi Mitake Shrine
Before getting into any hiking, pay your respects at Musashi Mitake Shrine, the beating heart of this mountain community. To get to the shrine, you must first walk up a long flight of stairs, taking you to the very top of the mountain. From this vantage point, it’s easy to see how people long ago felt the presence of gods up here. The impressive main hall of the shrine does not disappoint. Periodically throughout the year, the priests perform a special ritual dance called kagura. Although this dance is performed during the evening, on those days the cable car runs later, so you can still catch it on a day trip from Tokyo. Check before you go!
Equally fun is exploring the smaller shrine buildings in the back of the complex. Legend has it that thousands of years ago Yamato Takeru, the son of the 12th emperor, was attacked by a deer demon on this mountain. He was helped by a white wolf. Because of this, the white wolf is the enshrined deity here, and wolf statues are all over the shrine complex. As a result, Mitakesan is a very pet-friendly area, with dogs allowed on the cable car and at some restaurants. There is even a small purification fountain for pets next to the one for people!
Hike Through The Rock Garden
Now that you’ve had your fill at the Musashi Mitake shrine, it’s time to go hiking! The best trail by far is the Rock Garden, easily accessible from about halfway down the stairs to the shrine. The Rock Garden trail is about a 2 ½ hour loop trail. We recommend tackling it in a counterclockwise direction.
Views from the Nagao-daira plateau.
From the trailhead, the walk is pretty easy-going, and after about 10 minutes you’ll come to the Nagao-daira, a plateau that offers lovely views of the surrounding forests and mountains. Along with the great views, there are also picnic tables and toilets. Next, you can choose to continue going down the Rock Garden Trail, or if you are up for the challenge, take the detour to the Nanayo-no-taki waterfall. The Rock Garden Trail itself is an easy walk, but going to the waterfall will take you down a seemingly endless slope of steep steps that are actually quite challenging. Once you finally come across the waterfall, almost hidden in the rocky mountainside, the pain is worth it! Be careful though, as the area around the waterfall is all rock, and can be quite slippery.
After the waterfall, the trail more gently meanders back up the mountain. It is here that you will enter the Rock Garden, a rocky trail that gracefully zigzags across a mountain stream. Take your time to marvel at the clear, cool water and tall trees that shade the path. If you need a break, there are more picnic benches and toilets here as well.
A Spiritual Waterfall
Even if you skipped the treacherous steps down to the first waterfall, you’ll be in luck. Past the Rock Garden, the trail leads to Ayahiro-no-taki waterfall. Marked with a torii gate, this waterfall is regarded as a spiritual place. Monks and other pilgrims come to Mt. Mitake to practice taikigyo here, an ascetic meditation practice that involves standing directly under the waterfall.
From this waterfall, the path back to the shrine village is pretty easy. If you still have some energy, consider adding the Shin-en-no-Mori trail, the Forest of the Gods. This 20-minute wooded path leads around the back of the shrine and is a road that is far less travelled than the more popular trails in the area.
Head Home, or Stay the Night on the Mountain
Once you’ve finished hiking, reward yourself with a meal at one of the restaurants in the priests’ village before heading back. Do note that the last cable car down the mountain departs at 18:30, so be mindful of your time if you are visiting Mitakesan as a day trip from Tokyo.
However, Mitakesan’s charms are best enjoyed overnight, when you can really appreciate the stillness and serenity of the area. We recommend staying the night at one of the guest houses, and then, instead of going back down the way you came, hiking off the mountain to nearby Tsuru Tsuru Onsen. To get to the onsen, follow the signs out of the priests’ village towards Mt. Hinode. Once you reach the public toilet, you will start to see signs for Tsuru Tsuru Onsen that will lead you gradually down to the valley floor. This hike is about 2 ½ hours, but is mainly downhill and shaded. Tsuru Tsuru Onsen is tattoo-friendly and the cost of admission is ¥860. After two days of hiking, your body will be ready for a soak in the onsen, and one last chance to relax before heading back to Tokyo.