I’m assuming, perhaps unrealistically, that you have 48 hours not only in Tokyo but in Japan. In this case, I’d like you to get to know a bit about the other side of Japan—the more natural, peaceful side. This Japan holds a special place in my heart—it’s the first Japan I ever knew and the Japan I yearn for when the crowds and concrete of Tokyo get too much.
If you had all the time and money in the world, I’d tell you to hop on a shinkansen to Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of Honshu. I spent 2 years here and can wholeheartedly vouch for the quality of its mountain hikes, onsen and country-style cooking. But, I’m guessing you’re short on both (time and money, that is) so I’ve settled on somewhere similar that’s closer to home: Mitake.
Mitake is 1.5-2 hours from Shinjuku Station on the Ome Line. It’s home to Mt Mitake (930 m or 3,048 ft) and Musashi-Mitake Jinja, one of the country’s oldest Shinto shrines. Best of all, there are nearby onsen.
Sounds amazing, right? There’s just one small problem: I’ve never actually been to Mitake. So, guess what I’m doing this weekend? Following in the footsteps of A Fish Out of Water, I plan to start out at Mt Mitake and end up at Tsurutsuru Onsen at the base of neighboring Mt Hinode.
I’ll update this post with details and photos in a week’s time. Watch this space… and pray for dry weather!
Update: My Trip to Mt Mitake
As promised, here is my guide for a day trip to Mt Mitake, which I can happily confirm is a great adventure for both Tokyo-dwellers and visitors.
Taking it easy, leave Tokyo at around 9am. Hop on a train from Shinjuku Station on the JR Chuo-Ome Line to Mitake Station (be careful: there are a couple of Chuo lines). This leg of the journey takes about 1.5 hours. At Mitake, stock up on supplies at the 7-Eleven and then bus it to the Mitake cable car. Buy some delicious kibi daifuku (millet flour and glutinous rice cake filled with red bean paste) at the cable car gift shop and go on to endure the 6-minute, extremely steep ride to the top.
From the top, walk for about 30 minutes to get to the Musashi-Mitake Jinja, stopping off at the visitor information centre on the way to pick up a map showing the course to Tsurutsuru Onsen. While the shrine itself is not especially impressive, it is interesting for its mountain top location and age. The shrine is also dedicated to a mythical dog, and draws hordes of dog-toting visitors as a result. Twee souvenir shops and restaurants line the pathway leading up the shrine, adding to the quirkiness of the place.
After the shrine, the real hiking starts. First, walk along a mostly flat mountain path for about an hour to arrive at Mt Hinode. There’s a grand view of Tokyo from the top of Mt Hinode, a lovely spot to rest for a lunch break. From here, it’s all downhill. Trek for about 1.5 hours down the mountain to reach your final destination: Tsurutsuru Onsen. Tsurutsuru means “smooth” or “slippery”, and describes the texture of the water, which is reputedly great for your skin. An onsen soak is a wonderful way to end the day with the only downside being the crowds—be prepared to wait in line for your shower, naked :)
The journey home is a little longer and more convoluted: bus to Musashi Istukaichi Station, train to Haijima Station on the JR Istukaichi Line, train to Shinjuku Station on the Ome Line, which becomes the Chuo Line at Tachikawa Station. Expect to arrive back at Shinjuku Station at around 6pm, tired but happy and full of mountain air. Here are some snaps.