Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Mt. Takao

Hiking Mt. Takao

After visiting Mt. Takao last March for the Fire-walking festival, I really wanted to return to hike the mountain this fall. Rain spoiled my plans to go a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, I was able to reschedule the hike today and I invited my friend, Amanda, to join me. In the end, it worked out perfectly. We caught the 7:21 train from Jimmuji and made it to the base of the mountain by 9:30.

After leaving the train station, we found this extra large map showing the mountain and various hiking trails to the top.

One quick picture before we started our hike!

We decided to take the darker orange trail. The Inariyama Trail.

The English description provided says, “while some sections are a little rough, this ridge top trail offers refreshing wonderful views.” It left out the ridiculous number of stairs we would climb over the next 90 minutes!! These pictures only show a portion of the stairs. According to my Apple Watch, we climbed 139 flights of stairs! My thighs were on fire by the time we reached the top.

Honestly, I’m not sure we could have enjoyed better weather. It was such a glorious day. The foliage was spectacular! Here are just a few pictures from our ascent.

Once we reached the top, the view didn’t disappoint. We were able to see Mt. Fuji. Look at her snow cap!! Beautiful. Absolutely, beautiful.

At the top, we enjoyed a cold brew and warm bowl of Udon.

The biggest surprise of the day was the number of people! Despite the hard climb to the top, I’m glad we decided to hike the Inariyama Trail. We passed so many people coming up the paved (easier) trail as we were walking back down.

We walked about part way down before taking the tram down the mountain. The leaves were so beautiful.

I’m so glad it worked out for us to hike Mt. Takao on such a beautiful day. Fall in Japan might take a little longer to arrive, but it’s worth the wait!

Mt. Takao

The ITT trip we took on Sunday dropped us off at the base on Mt. Takao around 8:30am. We had about 3.5 hours to walk around and explore the mountain before we needed to find our spots for the fire-walking ceremony. We posed for a couple pictures with the map of the trails on the mountain.

We were given tickets to ride the chair lift up and down the mountain. The ride on the chair lift took about 12 minutes. Once we arrived at the top of the chair lift, we had about a 45 minute walk to the summit. In true Japanese fashion, there were directions for how to enter and exit the chair lift.

The ride up the mountain on the chair lift was breathtaking. Literally and not because of the views. I didn’t realize how steep the chair lift would be and how far off the ground we would be at times. Please keep in mind also, there were no seat belts.

The chair lift took us up the steep mountain!

Don’t look down!

I did have to breathe a little deeper and remind myself not to look down!! Once we were on solid ground, I was much happier!

The walk to the summit included a couple of highlights. The first was the monkey park. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open and we didn’t have time to stop. Maybe next time! Fortunately, we brought our own monkey! The picture of Dina’s youngest daughter photo bombing is one of my favorites. Talk about monkey business.

Next we passed the octopus tree. The “octopus cedar” is a 450-year-old tree given its name because of its unique root structure.

Continuing along the trail, we walked passed many lanterns and large wooden slats leading to the Yakuo-in Temple. We couldn’t figure out what the meaning of the wooden slats. We were really confused when we saw “Gloria.” Our best guess was, these were names of people who made donations to the temple.

The temple is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing. The temple was very large with a lot of stairs between the two levels.

Dave and I walked around the corner right at the time the head priest was leaving the temple. Here they are starting their ceremonial walk to the fire-walking! Look how close we were!!
We continued our walk up more stairs…

Until finally reaching the summit. Although it was a very hazy day, we had a small glimpse of the top of Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is the small white spot in the middle of the picture.

Summit proof!

Going down the mountain was a lot faster with only a couple stops for silly pictures.

Even the chair lift seemed to go faster on the way down. Surprisingly, the chair lift wasn’t nearly as scary going down. Perhaps, because we knew what to expect.

The view was lovely. Dave and I discussed making a trip back to Mt. Takao in the fall when the leaves are turning. Now that we know we can easily arrive in two hours by train, we have a new place to see beautiful leaves and Mt. Fuji!

Mt. Takao Fire-Waking

On my “must do” list while in Japan is to attend a fire walking ceremony. Dina, her family, Dave and I signed up for the ITT trip to Mt. Takao and attend the fire-walking festival.

Here was the route on the bus from the main base in Yokosuka. It was just over an hour away by bus and about two hours away by train. The mountain has many hiking trails to reach the summit. For this trip, we wanted to get to the summit quickly in order to return to the Festival on time. So, we took the chair lift and then made a short walk to the top. I will tell you about our morning adventures in part 2. For now, let’s get to the fire-walking festival.

The Festival is held on the second Sunday in March. In Japanese it is called the Hiwatari-matsuri (Fire-walking festival).  The yamabushi monks perform the ceremony for purification and as part of the training of Shugendo. Shugendo is a religion unique to Japan that mixes Buddhism and ancient mountain worship. The ceremony included many prayers and chanting as the monks prepare a sacred fire. The rituals to build the fire and embers are meant to cleanse misfortunes. The prayers said during the ceremony, are for world peace, longevity, protection from misfortune, traffic safety, and good health. To finalize the ceremony, the yamabushi monks walk through a path of smoldering embers. Spectators, regardless of their beliefs, are invited to walk across the embers as well. And we did!!

Here are a few pictures of the Festival. We arrived at the festival area about 45 minutes before it began in order to have a good view. The large square in the middle is where the fire will be built.

The head priest arrived a little after 1300. He is dressed in the purple robe. He had an attendant carrying the large parasol for him.

More monks continued to enter the ceremonial area.

After several speeches and prayers, the monks began the ritual of lighting the fire. One of the monks shot arrows into the crowd and then to the structure. The arrows create a barrier against evil.
The fire was spectacular!

Talk about a fire pit!
The monks rushed around with buckets of water to control the blaze and organize the ember pit. We could feel the heat of the fire from where we were standing!

Eventually, the ember pit was established.

Two monks, one either side, took bamboo stalks and dipped them in the urn of boiling water. He then proceeded to whip himself on his back! With hot boiling water for about a minute!!! What!?!
This again was an effort to build a barrier against evil. We all contemplated way those two were the ones who had to whip themselves. Did they draw the short straw, most junior, or maybe bad behavior!!

Next was the fire-walking! The monks and spectators lined up to walk across the embers.

And then it was our turn! There were a couple rules when inside the ceremonial area. Obviously, we were barefoot, no cameras, no hats and one monk instructed me to roll up my pants. Also, you step in salt mounds before and after walking across. The coals were cool by the time we walked across. However, we could feel the heat on our face.
It was yet another cultural event that provided insight to customs and rituals. It was really fun to watch and participate in the festival. Tomorrow, I will share with you our ride up Mt. Takao on the chair lift and the walk to the summit! Thanks for reading and I hope the pictures and videos load correctly.

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