After leaving the cable car, I spent some time at the viewing platform enjoying the misty view of Tokyo.
Although the platform sits almost an hour’s walk below the summit of Mount Mitake, it still has a fantastic view. On the morning I arrived, mist swirled up from the valley and distant clouds obscured the view of central Tokyo, which lies a little over an hour by train from Mount Mitake.
Even so, the view made me realize just how quickly Japanese trains can transport people from the crowded city to places that feel remote and untouched. Two hours earlier, I was eating breakfast in a crowded Shinjuku coffee shop–and yet, on Mount Mitake I found myself completely surrounded by wild beauty.
As I left the viewing platform behind, I passed a giant map of the mountain’s summit (in Japanese and English) showing the various hiking trails and paths around the peak.
In that moment, I regretted not planning a longer trip to Mitake. I would have liked to hike the entire mountain from base to summit, and realized that with only three hours to spend on the peak, I’d need to choose between hiking the Forest of the Gods and taking the trails to the famous rock garden and waterfall. (Fortunately, I have plans to return, but that didn’t make the decision easier at the moment!)
I left the map behind and started along the broad, paved path toward Musashi-Mitake Jinja (shrine) my first and most important goal of the day.
A couple of minutes later, I reached a large red torii, a traditional Shintō gate symbolizing the entrance to a sacred space.
Like many Japanese mountains, Mitake is considered sacred–an important thing to remember when visiting this or other Japanese peaks.
Beyond the torii, the path curled along the side of the mountain, rising gently but not too steeply beside the mountain’s steep, forested slopes.
Birds sang overhead, and gentle breezes rustled the leaves on the trees. It had rained that morning, though fortunately the showers stopped before my arrival, leaving the air cool, fresh, and clean.
The slopes were steep on either side of the path, but fortunately the path itself was fairly level until it reached the Mitake Visitor Center and the little cluster of temples and minshuku (guest houses) that lie beneath the shrine.
Just beyond the temples, Buddhas stood watch at a roadside shrine:
And lichen-encrusted inscribed stones stood beside the path.
At that point, the road grew steep–punishingly so, by contrast to the relatively flat, easy road I’d walked from the cable car. In places, I had to lean forward to keep my balance, and I didn’t look forward to the trip back down.
In fact, I tried not to think about it–except to hope that it wouldn’t be raining, and slippery, when I started my descent.
After fifteen minutes’ hike up the steep sloped path (about 30 minutes walk from the cable car station) I reached my goal: the entrance to Musashi-Mitake Shrine.
A long, steep flight of stairs led up toward the shrine itself, and after purifying myself at the fountain near the base of the stairs, I continued my trek to the mountain’s holy summit.
Click here for the next installment of the journey up Mount Mitake!