Forest Bathing at Mt. Mitake; A Serene Day Hike in Western Tokyo

The Japan News
Red maple leaves are seen on Mt. Mitake on Nov. 3.

Ask about hiking spots in Tokyo, and you’ll likely first be directed to Mt. Takao. But for the slightly more adventurous there is also Mt. Mitake, a 929-meter-high peak north of Takao. When I visited on a national holiday last week, the mountain was crowded with hikers there to see the maple leaves, which were already turning red. The autumn leaves even have their own festival on Mitake, the Momiji Festival in the Sky, which is being held through Nov. 23.

To get an easy start up the mountain, take the cable car operated by Mitake Tozan Railway. The car’s Takimoto Station, at 407 meters above sea level, is a 10-minute bus ride from JR Mitake Station. The funicular, which costs ¥1,130 for a round trip, runs up the steepest slope in the Kanto region, with an average gradient of 22 degrees. Naturally, this makes for superb views from the window as the car climbs higher and higher. After 6 minutes of transit, you’re at Mitakesan Station, 831 meters up. On a clear day, you can see the skyscrapers of central Tokyo and Tokyo Skytree.

But this is just the start. A short way up the path lies Musashi Mitake Shrine, which developed as a sacred place for mountain worship. From here, there are several well-maintained hiking trails where you can enjoy the Japanese art of “forest bathing,” or boosting one’s wellbeing with a stroll through the woods. Since bear attacks have spiked across Japan of late, many people were wearing bear bells.

I chose a three-hour loop for my hike. First, I headed for Ayahiro Falls. The path was relatively flat, and when I arrived after about an hour, many people were taking pictures. The stretch of trail from here is a popular area called the Rock Garden. For 1.5 kilometers, a clear stream runs beside you, flowing between moss-covered rocks. The hardest part, however, was the leg for Nanayo Falls. The waterfall is located at the bottom steep stairs, and from there it is a steep ascent. It took me about an hour to make the climb, which had me out of breath the whole way, but I finally made it. There are clean restrooms on the trail, and if you avoid the steeper paths, the hike can even be fun for families.

The Momiji Festival in the Sky will feature a free violin concert on Saturday, a geisha dance performance on Sunday, and a monkey show on Nov. 23.

For more information, visit the festival website.