During my summer trip to Japan, I spent an afternoon hiking on Mount Mitake. Regrettably, I didn’t have time this trip to climb the mountain all the way from the base, because I wanted to hike the forested trails near the mountain’s peak, including the pristine “Path of the Gods” that circumnavigates the summit.
Mount Mitake lies about an hour by train from downtown Tokyo, in Chichibu Tama Kai National Park. Although not a tall peaks–Mitake’s summit is only 929 m (3,048 ft) high–the mountain has many hiking trails, as well as a lovely Shintō shrine, Musashi-Mitake Jinja (which we’ll visit in another blog this week).
You can reach Mitake’s summit either by hiking or by cable car (funicular railway), but be warned: the funicular station sits about a 30-minute walk from the summit–longer if you’re slow on inclines. If you come to Mitake, be prepared to hike!
In fact, the hike begins before you even reach the cable car. The bus to the cable car station actually stops about a quarter mile below the cable car station. With the sky threatening rain, and my umbrella waiting safely in my hotel room an hour away, I joined the other visitors for the short but definitely uphill walk to the funicular station:
Huzzah! The station!
After purchasing a ticket, I took a seat on the funicular and consulted the map the station attendant handed me as I boarded. Like many Japanese sites of interest, the station offered maps in English as well as Japanese.
Since I had only 4 hours on the mountain, due to other plans, I needed to make the most of my time. I planned a hike to Musashi-Mitake Shrine, around the Path of the Gods and, time permitting, down to one of Mitake’s famous waterfalls.
As always, my stomach lurched with excitement as the funicular (in Japanese, they’re generally called “cable cars,” though this word means something different in the USA) began its path up the mountain.
Cable cars carry visitors up (and down) many Japanese mountains, enabling older and less mobile people access to many popular peaks. While most don’t go all the way to the summits, they eliminate the worst of the climb, allowing many more people to access the mountains. Normally, there’s a viewing platform at the top of the cable car track, so people who can’t climb all the way to the summit can still experience a part of the mountain’s majesty.
As the cable car rumbled up the steep incline, I enjoyed the views of the pristine forest and the earthy, pine-scented breezes that swirled in through the ventilation openings at the top of the cable car’s large-paned viewing windows.
Now, about that cable car: did you notice there’s only a single track? This is true even though there are usually two cable cars on the mountain at a time, one ascending and one descending. The cable cars orchestrate their movements perfectly, to ensure they meet precisely in the middle of the track, where a switch allows them to pass one another safely.
It’s an economical way to install a railway up a mountain, and also ensures a minimal impact on the surrounding forest.
That said, it can be a bit unnerving to watch the other car coming directly at you, hoping the automated switch doesn’t choose this moment to malfunction.
During the ride to the upper station, a pleasant, recorded female voice shares interesting facts about Mount Mitake. As with the maps, the information is given in English as well as Japanese.
At the top of the tracks, the funicular stops at a startlingly vertical station:
(Note: there is no elevator; visitors must be able to get up these stairs to enjoy the rest of the mountain. Some funicular stations do have ramps, for visitors using wheelchairs or walkers, but this one did not.)
The cable car station includes an omiyage (essentially, souvenir) shop, and opens onto a large flat area lined on one side with shops and restaurants. On the other side, a long viewing platform offers gorgeous views toward Tokyo.
The day I visited, clouds obscured quite a bit of the view but added to the mountain’s atmosphere.
I didn’t spend much time on the viewing platform–just enough to snap a few photos of the misty view, in case the sun broke through the clouds before I returned from my hike. After that, it was off to the summit!