Believe the hype: the hike is worth it.
Mt. Mitake aka Mitake-san, is an amazing day trip. Known as a sacred mountain it is host to miles and miles of pristine, untouched forests, mountains, and gorges. Though only about a 90 minute train and bus ride from more central Tokyo, the landscape makes you feel like you are in an entirely different country. This is a location that's been on my to-do list for a while, so when a friend organized a trip to go I jumped at the chance!
Located in the Okutama region, the western-most part of Tokyo, Mt. Mitake is part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, covering more than 1250 square kilometers. It is home to Musashi Mitake Shrine with a surrounding village made up of over a dozen Shinto priest families that have been caring for the shrine for centuries. Similar to the more famous Mt. Koya close to Kyoto, which is a popular destination for tourists wishing to spend a night in Buddhist temple lodging, Mitake-san offers the Shinto version of this experience: You can stay in a shukubo (or Shinto priest lodging) overnight.
Just an FYI for those feeling extra adventurous.
We began our trip early in the morning. The intention was to get there, take a bus to the Mitake Cablecar, then ride up the mountainside. But after arriving at the station we decided to begin by exploring the path along Tama River. It was gorgeous, offering both shade and breezes with a fun side of raft-watching! With a little Google-mapping, the bridge you see above took us to a path that lead to secondary bus stop, and while we were all enjoying our second (or third) bottle of water, we were officially well on our way to the top!
The Mitake Tozan Railway was a nice, easy ride to the summit, and while it offered us some cool air and amazing views, it also allowed our legs to rest. We were going to be using them very soon...a lot.
Once reaching the summit the red torii gate marked the beginning of our climb. Torii are symbols that mean the area you are about to enter is under divine protection, and considering the scenery and views it made complete sense; they were incomparable. We felt completely removed from the Tokyo we live in day in, day out.
You could smell the trees, were surrounded by hushed conversation and quietude. The air was so clean, and as we began our winding ascent towards the shrine, we took our time enjoying the shaded pathway and beautiful natural scenes around us.
This is where things got a little hairy for me. Walking and running-I can do these things. No problem. Steep inclines require slower steps and some patience. But steps...oh my word steps are the devil.
If you're following this train of thought you've probably figured out what nearly took me out. It was the steps, and there were sooooooo, so many, but I'll tell you this-when I reached the top it made the climb totally worth it. Cliché to say, perhaps, but I felt so accomplished, and encouraged by my friends it kept me going. That, and sheer stubbornness, but I took care in how I reached my goal. I stopped when I needed to, sat when necessary, drank my water and enjoyed a little bag of cookies from a friend that gave me the final boost I needed to finish (thanks Jen!!). And I did it!
There's no shame in the slow game y'all. If you reach the top, you reach the top.
This is where Musashi Mitake Shrine is located, and on our way down the architect of our day, Frances, told me the legend behind the area. Don't you love a good story?
Over 2000 years ago Prince Yamato Takeru wandered through the forrest, lost, when a beautiful stag found him. It offered to lead him to safety but was actually an evil spirit luring him to his death. A fun fact about Japanese spirits, the beautiful ones are evil, using their charm and appeal to conceal their degradation, while deities and spirits that look like monsters are actually guardians-thus why temples and shrines are often found with monstrous-looking creatures protecting the approach. Like this one!
One of these benevolent spirits found the prince, appearing as a wolf, and destroyed the stag, leading the him through the mountain range to true safety. As thanks, the prince climbed the mountain and created the shrine in honor of the spirit. Over time the wolf evolved to a dog, and this is the reason why today, people bring their dogs to get blessed. You can receive charms and blessings for your own pups and see statues of them in numerous spots. This bench happened to be my favorite!
Yesterday was Yama no Hi, or Mountain Day-a relatively new holiday in Japan meant to celebrate the beauty of the mountains. Whether it was regular practice or due to the holiday a priest was there blessing the dogs carried to the shrine, and after getting my very special goshuin (temple stamp) and ema ( wooden wish board), I observed for a few moments before continuing on.
I went to the spot that showcased another sacred mountain, enjoyed the flowers still in bloom, and tossed a little money to further bless my marriage. It was a quiet, fortifying journey to this place and my heart felt so incredibly at peace, and happy, with the surrounding energy and friends.
The walk down was infinitely easier...
...and the ride just as lush and green.
We still slowed from time to time to take a picture or two, but our trip to the sake brewery was filled with more beautiful Tama River scenes that made us all want to come back just to swim...and drink wine...and relax.
A few of us actually stayed and did!
After my first trek up Mt. Mitake, and I will be back in the fall for the foliage, I made some notes for next time. If you haven't been maybe they'll help you as well when planning for your day!
1.) Water- There are plenty of spots to get bottles of water but plan ahead anyway. Bring several with you and prepare to buy more if the weather is warm. When it's hot, some machines sell out quickly so please be mindful and bring extra just in case.
2.) Snacks-Bring them. There are shops you can stop in and buy as you go but if you have children they might not love the more local options. I suggest easy and small snacks: trail mix, fruit leather, granola bars, cookies (peanut M&M's). Something with a little sugar to help give you some boost as you begin the stair-climbing does help.
3.) Sunscreen and bug spray- Also bring them. When it's this hot you'll be grateful for the protection.
4.) Comfortable shoes and bag- I recommend actual hiking shoes due to the steep terrain and if you choose to go on the more natural paths with steps that have eroded over time they will be invaluable. There is A LOT to do on Mt. Mitake beyond the shrine. There are many gardens, waterfalls, and walkways to take. Your feet need the protection and you deserve comfy feet. The bag is self-explanatory. Bring something to hold your food, water, sunscreen/spray, garbage bag, wallet and any souvenirs you pick up. Also, if you're like most, bring an extra pair of socks and a small towel so you can walk through the shallow part of Tama River and soothe your feet after.
5.) Pick up a souvenir at the shrine- If you have gone all that way, give yourself some grace and treat yourself-or your dog-to a very special and unique memento. You can get an ema, goshuin, an omamori (charm), dog collar...it's a little something to mark your trip and accomplishment.
6.) Ride the chair lift on the summit- Trust me. It's cute, it's short, it's safe because it's not high off the ground, and it's only 200 yen for a round trip. Hellooooo friend!
BONUS: It takes you even further up the mountain for the most spectacular view and extra walking paths!
Yesterday was fun, it had it's challenging moments, but that is what made it a true adventure. I felt so fortunate to spend it with such amazing women and along the way, make a new friend. As expats we have a hyperawareness of time-we know we're not here forever. Perhaps that's just me, but sometimes I think it's why we step our of our comfort zones so quickly. We push our boundaries and explore because we don't want to miss a thing.
I think most people have wanderlust in their hearts, but it takes a special kind of spirit to embrace it and journey into different, and sometimes jarring, landscapes where we have no expectations, but acute awareness in knowing that every step takes us further into the unknown...and loving it.
And therein lies the blessing: loving the journey while living in a temporary destination, and if you're lucky, picking up some pretty special friendships along the way.