The natural side of Tokyo

Starting point of the hike up Takaosan

When you think of Tokyo, what do you picture? Huge skyscrapers, brightly lit signs, hoards of busy (and all very well-dressed) people? Well, yes there is all that, but what you might not realize, is that not far removed from the hustle of the city, there is an oasis of nature called Mt. Takao.

As someone who has always lived in places where nature is readily accessible, I was pretty psyched when someone pointed out that Mt. Takao was only a 50 minute train ride away with the promise of hiking, waterfalls, shrines, monkeys, and a beer garden at the top.  So this Saturday we headed out for an escape from the city and what should surely count as field work for me, right? I mean, I wouldn’t be diving to the bottom of the ocean, but I do have an inherent responsibility as a biologist to explore the natural fauna and flora of the places I visit ;)

Happy figures that greeted us along the hike

And the hike did not disappoint! We hiked through a gorgeous cedar forest along a stream with small waterfalls and Buddhist shrines lining the path. Although it was still quite humid in the forest, the air was slightly cooler and had that fresh cedar scent on it that just makes you feel like you’re breathing in the wilderness, yep this was exactly what I needed. Also, it constituted the only exercise besides short walks and subway stairs that I’d had since reaching Tokyo, which was also quite refreshing.

The final stretch
Looking towards Fujisan

Once we made it up the last stretch of what seemed like never-ending wood stairs, we reached the summit, where you could enjoy

beautiful views in the direction on Mt. Fuji (although it was too overcast to see) and the

Insect war
Huge snowcones, a very popular treat here, for good reason

city while cooling off with the largest snow cones I have ever seen. One interesting thing I noticed at the top was a tree branch that had what looked like the war of the insects taking place on it. The participants included a giant bee, some very pretty butterflies, and what looked like large ants all going at it, for what reason I’m not sure since it looked

like there was plenty of room in other parts of the tree and I didn’t see anything that looked like a source of food. I thought this interaction was some interesting animal behavior, but my friends were a little more antsy (chuckle), so it was time to move on to the temple and go in search of the fabled monkey park and beer garden.

Gorgeous carved temple

There was way more to the temple and other shrines in the area than I’d expected. The architecture and craftsmanship of the buildings and statues was simply amazing. They even had a couple little shrines that were mollusc related, one with a statue of a man with a large conch-like shell at his feet and the other one was a red octopus on top of a pillar. I wish I could read Japanese so I would know what it was about, but I suppose this means that molluscs figure somewhere in the history of religion here, my guess would be that they viewed them mostly as a food source though.

God of the molluscs
A tribute to the octopus?

We wound along the path towards the monkey park, but once we reached it were sorely disappointed that it had already closed! So, no monkeys for us.  However, we quickly forgot our disappointment when we reached the beer garden, which was actually much more than just drinks, it was an entire buffet where we got to sample a wide variety of Japanese food and desserts, along with our beers of course.  After the sun went down, there was a great view of the city lights from the mountain, and you could see that any flat area between the

City lights as seen from the mountain

hills was built on, but the intervening hills were filled with forest.  Luckily, we didn’t have to hike back in the dark since there is a cable-car that goes up and down the mountain, and quite a steep and fast one at that! I felt a little like I was on a mining cart ride at Disneyland or something.

After what was a very full day, it was nice to hop back on the train and head back to my apartment for a shower, some quiet reading, and sleep.

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