Takaosan (Mt. Takao): July 13, 2018
This photo supplement tracks the events in Chapter 19 of CLIMB: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. The captions offer “extra features” that didn’t make it into the book.
Yakuoin, a Shingon Buddhist temple on the slopes of Tokyo’s Mt. Takao (599 m) that historically served as a worship site for shugendō (a syncretic faith that fuses elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Shintō and animistic mountain worship) and now is famous for its beautiful architecture and rare “bird-headed” statues, alternately described as tengu (Japanese mountain demons) or avatars of Fudō Myōō (in Sanskrit, Acala, the immoveable), a Buddhist deity known as the head of the wisdom kings and remover of obstacles.
On the day I climbed Mt. Takao as part of the 100 Summits Project, I had friends in town from the United States. We had plenty of time, so we stopped at the Takaosan Monkey Park near the top of the cable car to see (and feed) the resident Japanese macaques. The monkeys are native to Mt. Takao; some live in the monkey park, and many more roam free on the mountain’s slopes.
The two juvenile monkeys shown above argued over the bucket swing almost incessantly. Eventually a pair of tiny babies joined them. To my surprise, the babies held their own (and the swing) surprisingly well.
My long-time, close friends Laurie and Kaitlyn flew over from California to join me for the climb on Mt. Takao. Their arrival made me realize how much I missed my friends and family in the United States.
Several trails lead to the top of Mt. Takao. The shortest (and most heavily traveled) are paved all the way to the top, but the most beautiful and interesting one includes a suspension bridge across a forested ravine. I’ve hiked all of the mountain’s trails at one point or another, but I like the one with the suspension bridge the best.
On this hike, I told Laurie and Kaitlyn that I was considering changing the goal of the 100 Summits project from an attempt to climb the nihon hyakumeizan in a year (and becoming the first non-Japanese woman to do so) to climbing 100 historically important and/or sacred Japanese mountains, with a stronger focus on my original goal of overcoming my fears and learning to live a life driven by confidence and passion instead of insecurity. Their support for this idea ultimately made it easier for me to commit to the change in plan (although I did not make the change officially for another month).
One unexpected lesson I learned during the 100 Summits year: butterflies love the salty taste of human sweat. In the picture above, you can see this one “tasting” my hand. It may sound nasty, but in reality this is an ingenious way for butterflies to get nutrients that can be hard to find in liquid form.
This second photo shows the butterfly’s color more clearly. It looked grey in some light, but was mostly white. I expected it to alight and leave fairly quickly, but in fact it stuck around for several minutes.
The butterfly seemed just as content with Laurie as it had with me, and stayed with her for quite some time before it finally flew away.
On a clear day, you can (allegedly) see Mt. Fuji from the spot pictured above. To date, I have climbed Mt. Takao five times, and never once seen Fuji from the summit. In 2018, when I climbed with Laurie and Kaitlyn, I had climbed or visited more than two dozen different locations that claimed to have “views of Fuji” but had never actually seen Japan’s most famous peak except in other people’s photographs. By this point, it had begun to feel personal, as if Fuji held some sort of grudge.
Laurie, Kaitlyn, and I bought kakigori (Japanese shaved ice) from a shop on the summit. I did not take the photograph above that day (I forgot to get a picture of the kakigori on Mt. Takao, or of the giant ants that shared it with us), but the picture above is Blue Hawaii-flavored shaved ice that I ate another day that summer, and looks identical to what we had that day.
Laurie, Kaitlyn and I descended Mt. Takao via a different path, which leads through the mountain temple of Yakuoin. The temple was originally founded during the 8th century, but was restored (and changed to belong to the Shingon esoteric sect) in the 14th century, which is also when the temple became a center of shugendō. The little Shintō shrine above sits near one of the Buddhist worship halls. The presence of o-waraji (sandals) marks this as a site where people pray for safe travel, leg strength, and successful hikes.
The day after visiting Mt. Takao, I took Laurie and Kaitlyn to visit central Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine and then to a nearby Cat Cafe–a Japanese phenomenon that has now spread to other parts of the world. The cats in this cafe don’t normally wear clothing, but the day we visited, several were sporting patterned kimono. My own cat would never tolerate this, but the cats in the cafe seemed perfectly content–and they made for excellent photos, too.
The male cats even had their own attire–haori jackets similar to those traditionally worn by Japanese men. Like their kimono-clad counterparts, they didn’t seem at all bothered by the clothes.
Later that day, we went to the airport to welcome my mom and stepdad, who also flew in from California to join me on my attempt to summit Mt. Fuji–but first, I had planned a training climb on one of Kyoto’s most famous (and most frequently summited) peaks.
I hope you’ll click the link and join me on that adventure: Chapter 20: On Mt. Inari
* This page is part of the photo companion to CLIMB: Leaving Safe & Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. You can find the story behind these pictures (in hardback and ebook formats, and either in person or online) at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble (both in the U.S. and internationally).