Tokyo is Japan's largest metropolis and a concrete jungle packed with millions of people navigating extensive train and subway networks under neon-lit streets. Tranquility isn't a word that often comes to mind when one considers this part of the country, but to the west of the urban sprawl, in an area of Tokyo known as Okutama, visitors can escape the hustle and bustle to pristine countryside replete with lush mountains and traditional townscapes.
Mount Mitake, a nature spot and ancient center of mountain worship, serves as a stunning example of this kind of escape. Best of all, the mountain can be reached from central Tokyo in just over an hour and for around 1000 yen by train. For this report, I was heading there to enjoy an overnight stay while experiencing some of its unique charms including its verdant mountainside forests, awe-inspiring spiritual sites and practices, and quaint townscape.
I began at Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo, which serves around 3.5 million passengers daily and is the busiest train station in the world. Experiencing the morning rush hour here, I found it hard to believe that I could reach somewhere rural, tranquil, and seemingly a million miles away from the urban sprawl in just over an hour. This indeed was the case however, and 80 minutes after boarding my train, I had arrived at Mitake Station in the middle of the countryside.
Upon arriving at Mitake Station, I took a short bus ride to the lower cable car station and then boarded the Mitake cable car up the mountain. The 6-minute ride up the steep mountain provided pleasant views of the lush hillside. After alighting at the top station, I walked along the hillside into the main mountaintop town.
The walk took around 15-minutes, following a path that wound through a small section of forest before opening up onto narrow streets with houses and lodgings dotted along them. After navigating the bends and small hills, I finally reached the town's small main street which is lined with a few restaurants and souvenir shops.
I enjoyed the street's quiet charm, and after walking its length a couple of times and exploring some of the different establishments, I ducked into a quaint restaurant to grab a quick lunch.
I ordered the restaurant's specialty, Japanese curry with venison, and when my meal arrived I found it to be delicious and the perfect meal to start my adventure on the mountain. The deer in these parts are hunted to avoid overpopulation, and certainly make for great eating that allows one to feel a deeper connection with this verdant landscape.
With my stomach full and my mind focused on exploration, I wandered back up the main street and came to entrance of Musashi Mitake Shrine. This impressive shrine has stood at the summit of Mount Mitake as a center of mountain worship for some 2000 years. The shrine's buildings were fascinating, with the main hall adorned with intricate and colorful carvings. I thoroughly enjoyed strolling around the grounds that extended back into the forest, all the while soaking up the serenity of this special place.
Wolves are the protective spirits of this shrine, and there are many wolf and dog effigies dotted about the place. Interestingly, it has become a common practice in recent decades for visitors to bring their pet dogs to this shrine in order to get their canine companions blessed.