Day 3: Mount Takao – Shinjuku – Shinjuku Awaodori

(WARNING: picture heavy – Click to enlarge images)

On this day I went to climb Mt. Takao (or Takao-san 高尾-山). Being just 599m tall it’s very easy to climb and is a popular tourist destination. The mountain itself has six main trails to follow, each route varying in terms of walking effort and sights to see. It’s easy to spend a whole day or more here exploring the different trails since there is something new to see each time – if you are healthy enough of course lol 😀  I bet most of you aren’t really outdoors people and think it’s a waste of time. Well normally I would think so too but I’ve been encouraged by a little anime series called Yama no Susume ヤマノススメ (it’s English name is ‘Encouragement of Climb’ xD).

Aoi (left) and Hinata on the train to Takao-san
Aoi (left) and Hinata on the train to Takao-san. Each episode of season 1 only lasts 5 mins, I highly recommend it for those who like moe-blob anime.

In the show, the main character Aoi is a wimpy little midget who doesn’t like to go outside much and prefers to do craft-related hobbies at home. Her friend Hinata wants her to break out of her shell and arranges a series of mountain climbing trips to make her more active. Towards the end of season 1, they arrive at Takao-san, a place for leisurely hikes where even babies like Aoi can climb. The great thing about this whole trip is that unlike other anime pilgrimages or holy sites (real life locations where anime are based and are visited by Otaku), the whole mountain rather than one little area is the visiting site. There are plenty more introduced in the anime and I plan on visiting the rest someday (even Mt. Fuji!). In fact, on my seventh day I go on another YnS related hiking trip. I think anime fans should join forces and claim all pilgrimage sites by invading them throughout the year mwahaha! Even Reina (Hibike Euphonium) thinks mountain climbing is cool..

"..no one else would be crazy enough to hike up a mountain on a festival day right?" ~ episode 8
“..no one else would be crazy enough to hike up a mountain on a festival day right?” ~ episode 8

So on with the actual trip!

We started out by heading to Shinjuku which, as expected was freakishly busy in the early morning. We planned to take the Keio line direct to Takaosanguchi Station 高尾山口駅. Unfortunately in our rush to dash on, we didn’t get the direct train (didn’t notice at the time) and had to make a switchover somewhere down the line. Luckily I paid attention to the monitors and announcements and we jumped off in nick-of-time to make it to the other platform.

At the station there is a large map of the different trails, and a path to the side that everyone walks down to go straight to the base of the mountain. There are a few quaint looking tea-houses along the way but unless you’re an old geezer you probably wont need to stop this early on. We shortly arrived at the junction between the cable-cars and the paths. Two of my sisters took the chairlift to go up halfway while my other sister and I took Trail 1.

0If there’s any advice I can give would-be trekkers, it’s to take it easy. You will get to the peak within an hour so there’s plenty of time unless you want to take multiple routes. It’s much easier to soak in the sights when you’re alone too mind you. Less talking = more breathing and concentrating. Also, on a 23 degree Celsius sunny day it was probably a good idea not to bring too much clothing  -_-‘

1I tell you now, Trail 1 is not easy. The climb to the cable-car checkpoint is tough and very steep at some points. I’m able to run 5 miles (8 kilometers) without stopping on a treadmill at the gym so I consider myself “not-unhealthy”. Even then I found this to be a bit challenging.  Bring proper running shoes ’cause you’re going to need that grip to resist gravity on the way up! My poor sister and I were sweating like hell – remember to bring tissues, drinks, and a bag to carry your litter in!

2I think we reached the (halfway) cable-car point after about 20 mins. At first we went at a steady pace. But I felt slightly embarrassed to be plodding side by side with an old age pensioner we kept meeting on the way up (who seemed pretty damn sturdy for his age!). I stubbornly refused to lose and walked with all my might. Despite all the sweating and breathlessness going on we still managed to appreciate the greenery around us, taking breaks from time to time. The trees surround the trail like a wall and grow strangely upright on mega slopey slopes. It’s a sight you can’t quite capture on camera because the depth doesn’t show through very well.

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I’ve never been more happy to see steps in my life! Trust me, they’re far better than climbing slopes!

At some point along the way we came across a rest point where the views of the surrounding area must have been stunning. Not that I could tell, being short sighted…

Top image, from anime Yama no Susume.
Top image, from anime Yama no Susume.

We finally met up with others, who lazed their way up on the ropes within minutes & started eating and chilling out (grumble). There’s a nice little food stall nearby selling cold drinks and dango at very reasonable prices. Dango are basically blobs of mochi skewered on a stick. They do not contain fillings whereas mochi do (for those of you who don’t know, mochi are super popular treats in Japan made by pounding sticky rice into a smooth paste with sugar and flavoring. It’s typically set in a ball shape and has a soft and bouncy, yet firm consistency. Something any weeb can try by going into the local Chinese supermarket). The kind owners of the stall will spread some miso paste on the dango for you, so don’t go grabbing one off the stand like a gaijin! (ahem)

Top image: the stall as seen in the Yama no Susume
Top image: the stall as seen in the Yama no Susume

The salty miso paste and the mild ricey flavor makes it a savory combination. An interesting experience but I do prefer a sweeter taste. In any case I scoffed it down all the same. Very yummy – hiking makes you freakin hungry. We had another short rest outside the Monkey Park where there are ice cream vending machines (passed, since I don’t like monkeys).

Top image from Yama no Susume. Bottom: half eaten dango, observation deck
Top image from Yama no Susume. Bottom: half eaten dango, observation deck

6.1On the way to the top we came across a souvenir stall. You might see a certain furry little bastard being sold here…watch the anime I keep blabbing on about, you’ll know what I mean 😉

7We continue on our way with it being easier now. The paths built with families in mind, making it suitable for old and young. You’ll notice many of the same spots that come across in the anime. I don’t cover them all in this post but the level of detail and accuracy is impressive.

Rubbing the octopus head...
Rubbing the octopus head…
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When my sister asked why we were racing up the steps I replied by saying “For the sake of NOT BEING OUTDONE BY GRANNIES!” – seriously, old people are too healthy in this country…

8.1From this point on to the peak we saw loads (I mean loads) of shrines and praying altars (including fountains to cleanse your hands & face, and to bless coins). Also, the more superstitious of you will be happy to find trinkets and charms at the souvenir stalls. It’s a nice and calming feeling to walk among the shrines (even without being religious). You know everyone around you is praying for things like peace and safety for their families. I’m sure Buddhists and most oriental families will enjoy a place like this.

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The red Tengu mask at the top right corner of the shrine makes an appearance in Yama no Susume too
The red Tengu mask at the top right corner of the shrine makes an appearance in Yama no Susume too

At the peak, there are yet more food stalls around to take advantage of your hunger and tiredness (also restrooms). It was just midday and not too busy. The view of surrounding landscape was very pretty. There are tourist boards and signs up and about with details on what mountains are where. And since it was a lovely clear day, we managed to spot Mount Fuji too (click on the image and see if you can find it…)

In the distance towards the right...
In the distance towards the right…

After a victory celebration, I parted ways with my sisters. They headed down Trail 4 past the suspension bridge and back to the cable-car point, whereas I stayed true to the anime path and took on the toughest route – Trail 6. Instead of going back down to the station though, the more adventurous of you might want to tackle the trek to Mount Jimba over 18km away! I initially planned to do this but realized it just wasn’t feasible. It takes approximately 6-7 hours depending on your level of fitness, and there is no guarantee you won’t get lost and miss the last bus service at the base of Mt. Jimba. Not to mention, you’ll be knicker-knackered for the rest of your stay in Japan!

fall 11

Trail 6 is perilous. The ground is uneven and many times winding, the steps are crooked and all paths are entwined with bumpy roots ready to send you over the edge when you’re not concentrating. I was so glad to be heading DOWNWARDS. I felt sorry for those guys going up thinking “where’s the peak?…how long is it going to take?…will it get easier towards the top?..”. Oh boy. The answer to that is “far away… ages…it gets painful” lol.

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Some paths are literally just wide enough for one person, so if you meet someone along the way you might have to wait to one side. You may come across groups of older men and women or single teenagers/young people. Be polite and say “konichiwa” (hello) as you overtake them – the anime will teach you! Had I been wearing slightly inappropriate shoes on a wet day, I could quite easily imagine myself slipping over the edge into oblivion, lost forever into the abyss. Which is the reason why statues of gods are dotted around the place in order to protect people from harm. So guys, if you are planning to visit, just don’t be stupid like me, prancing around like a mountain goat till I realized how dangerous it was. A couple of old men even shouted out to me “abunai!” (look out! danger!).

Buddhas dotted around the mountain to protect travelers. Or more likely - remind you not to be careless.
Buddhas dotted around the mountain to protect travelers. Or more likely – remind you not to be careless.

Tricky though the path may be, it is very well signed, so the chances of you getting lost are next to nil. If in doubt, just take a break and someone will come along at some point.

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15.1
The stone steps are nowhere near as smooth as portrayed in the anime, please bring good shoes

Towards the base of the mountain, I saw mostly single young men or young couples. All very polite. I even spotted a high school girl (trip complete!). The paths become wider and paved.

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The trek down took me roughly 1hr and something minutes at a steady speed. Trail 6 leads into the cable-car entrance (with restrooms and cold drinks) which in turn leads directly to the short street lined with souvenir stalls – so don’t forget to bring ya wallet. There’s toys, charms, local snacks and of course, mochi. You’ll notice a lot of the stuff here is tengu themed. These are mythological supernatural beings that look like a cross between man and bird with a long nose. Like Usop’s nose from One Piece. According to folklore, they live in mountains and are wise/ powerful with varying temperaments and do not usually like to come into contact with humans.

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And thus, concludes my trip to Mount Takao. Overall, it was very fun and relaxing. More so since I was able to identify things I saw from Yama no Susume. I would like to return here one day following a different trail and taking my sweet time.

Next stop. Ramen in Shinjuku!

Yokohamaya 横浜家 ramen in Shinjuku. I'll cover all ramen reviews in a separate post.
Yokohamaya 横浜家 ramen in Shinjuku. I’ll cover all ramen reviews in a separate post.

I spent most of my time in Shinjuku just window shopping in the department stores since I was too tired (& poor) to do anything else. The point was to kill some time before meeting up with my sisters for dinner later, and with the prices being extortionate near the station it’s not like I could really do much. To be honest, I don’t know much about Shinjuku, except that it has the most insanely busiest station in Japan and is home to a massive business district. In retrospect, I should have stayed longer in Mount Takao.

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After all that walking there was no place in the big city to sit my bum down. Space is precious, so for resting there is no choice but to eat somewhere. I ended up in a coffee shop inside the station, the name of which I can’t and don’t care to remember. All I know is that the smoking there was nasty enough to stifle most of my ability to taste. As you can probably tell, I don’t enjoy Shinjuku that much. The only thing that saved my sanity that afternoon was finding a Gamers store in some random building on some random street. The cool air conditioning, merchandise, anime, & anisongs calmed my soul ❤

No English menu by the way. Just point.
No English menu by the way. Just point.

At long last I headed for a grand meal at the restaurant Shinjuku Awaodori 新宿 阿波おどり which was relatively easy to find. It’s actually more of an izakaya – which is like a cross between a pub and a restaurant, serving alcohol and relatively cheap food. Places like these generally have a relaxed and chatty atmosphere where workers can wind down after a long hard day at work.

awatadori 1This place is unique in that it offers entertainment in the form of traditional Japanese dancing (Odori) on stage while you eat. To my pleasant surprise, the music was live, played with traditional instruments. The staff really do make an effort to involve all customers by speaking English and holding up translation signs in multiple languages. Diners were invited to go on stage to learn the dance and at one point, the whole floor was ordered to get up and parade around the venue in a silly dance, which I managed to avoid by filming the whole event – giggling at how ridiculous everyone looks! It’s all good fun though and nobody looks more idiotic than anyone else. The overall feel of the place is lively and light hearted. Even as a reserved person, I found the whole thing a blast  😀

awatadori 3 awatadori 4 awatadori 5 awatadori 6

As for the food itself, all I remember is that it was nice. Especially the edamame beans.

foodWhen we eventually left, one of the staff passed us a freebie (a fan each) and politely saw us off with a bow. I guess we’re supposed to help promote the establishment, being foreigners an’ all. So here’s my recommendation for all it’s worth. They also sell souvenirs so stop by if you ever go to Shinjuku!

fanNext up: Day 4: Tachikawa

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