Hiking Mitakesan (Mt. Mitake)
As the weather slowly transition from winter to spring by giving us weeks after weeks of rain, I have this urgent longing for sunshine, a huge desire to be surrounded by trees and to simply dress down to t-shirt and shorts. So, when the no work-Tuesday holiday was confirmed, I know that I must escape away from the city, go somewhere to absorb some Vitamin-D and be at peace with nature.
Mt. Mitake located at the western side of Tokyo is another popular two hours away destination for those looking for a day break away from the city. Though reaching Mitake Station is relatively easy by using a combination of trains, it will surely test your patience if you are like me who unluckily manage to board local bound trains, which obviously stops at each and every station.
I anticipated, basing on my experience at the other popular Mt. Takao that since it’s a non-working holiday hiking Mt. Mitake will be equally crowded, but to my surprise there were only few of us who decided that a one day off should be best spent in the mountains.
For those like me who defines “hiking” by riding a cable car all the way to the half point, you can do the same by going directly to Mitake Cable Car station. I actually loved the idea of cable car for the reason that everyone can enjoy this type of activity, only in Japan you will find baby in strollers and old ladies in walking cane going for a hike. This is a true testament how tourist friendly this nation is and the objective to have every citizen enjoy every inch of the goodness of their land.
At the 929m summit of Mt. Mitake stands Musashimitake Shrine, believes to be the center of mountain worship for almost 2000 years and said to be constructed in 90 BC. It is a 30 minutes easy walk along the concrete pathway from the cable car station to the shrine, where you will pass by a welcome arch, a torii gate, Mitake Visitor Center, portion of Oshi village, several Japanese style inns along with the prominent Baba Oshike House and shopping street selling herbs.
At the end of the shopping street, you will see a torii gate and a staircase that will lead you to the peak. It will be endless steps before you reach the shrine but the view as you go higher will at least compensate for the pain in your legs. There are two things that make Musashimitake Shrine different from the rest on a visual point of view- the statue of the Kamakura period warlord-Shigetada Hatakeyama in horseback and the dogs.
I might be wrong with this one, but I have this impression that apart from mountain pilgrimage, the shrine is popular for dog owners. The ema (wood blocks) which is common on most shrines for prayer requests are decorated by dog drawings and most probably inscribed with wishes for the beloved pet, while at the back of the main shrine is what appears to be a dog cemetery. Seeing all of this made me understand somehow why most of my fellow hikers are so keen on bringing their dog way uphill when they can just have a walk in the park down below.
After spending a few minutes at the shrine, I headed to my next destination where the “real” hiking starts. My objective is to reach these three places – Nagaodaira, Rock Garden, Nanayonotaki Waterfall.
Nagaodaira is the area where many hikers stop for a meal. There is only one shop available, so most opted to bring lunch boxes. The view from this area is spectacular, particularly at the tenbou (observation deck) where you can see the other nearby mountains as it created a beautiful mirage of blue.
Probably powered by solar energy, every inch of my body still has the excitement to push thru and walk endlessly in search of the rock garden. The walk towards the garden is relatively easy despite a few slippery areas due to the light snow showers the other day. The towering trees offer the most beautiful sign of spring, though at the back of my mind, I know that later I will be in for one heck of a walk uphill.
Within the area of the rock garden, I can strongly hear the gushes of water, a good sign that the Nanayonotaki Waterfall will not be that far. I smiled on the idea of this, but when I started to descend towards the waterfall my assumption was all wrong. Yes, it is quite close but in order to reach Nanayonotaki waterfall you have to find your balance against the spider-web of tree roots. I reached the waterfall panting and all I can hear was my heart pounding, but all my hard work was compensated when I have Mother Nature all by myself. I happily find a spot to place my camera, set the timer and took silly souvenir photos of myself and the waterfall.
It’s time to make my way up and go back to the city. I decided that I will give myself a break, ride the cable car and divert from my original plan to walk all the way towards the train station. Before leaving Mitakesan area, I stopped by the bridge close to the station and admire the amazing scenery of Tama-gawa river
Tomorrow will be another day at work. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the sunshine, the trees, the mountains and for the weekday holiday.