At 599 meters, or just under 2,000 feet, Mount Takao - Takaozan in Japanese - isn't an especially high mountain. However, with over half a dozen trails leading to the top, in addition to a cable car and chair lift that goes about halfway to the summit, Takaozan offers a great place for a day outing.
If you enjoy trekking you'll enjoy Takaozan. We've hiked a few of the trails and today we decided to tackle the Inariyama Trail. This trail, which takes about 90 minutes to the top, starts just past the left side of the cable car station. Look for the brown colored trail on the big map in front of the station. If you take this trail be prepared to climb lots of steps. Not concrete steps, but steps cut into the dirt trail with logs to keep the dirt in place. The trail is mostly an incline, but there are a couple of places where it flattens out and a couple where it goes downhill. Don't let this fool you - that just means there is another uphill climb from those spots. We do recommend that you wear trekking shoes or at least some very sturdy shoes with soles that grip the dirt.
When you come to a flat area with a few benches you'll see stone steps leading up to the visitor center. Take these steps if you want to go up there at this stage. We opted to continue on around the left side of the summit. About a quarter of the way around you'll see a trail heading off to the right and steps just to the right of that. These steps also go up to the visitor center. To the left you'll see three more trails (don't count the one going up the steps to the soba restaurant). These three paths converge just before an area called Icchodaira. We opted for the center path. Wow! Steps, steps, steps, and more steps! Going up is tough enough, but coming down will give your thigh muscles a good workout.
At the convergence of the trails we walked on ahead, up more steps (of course) to the flat area of Ichhodaira where there are a few open shelters if you want to take a break. It's possible to continue hiking and either go to Lake Sagami or do a long loop around to return the base of the visitor center summit. Since that loop takes almost four hours we decided to turn around and go back down those steps to the convergence point. From there we took the left trail, which is an upward hike, but not particularly arduous. We elected to then climb up to the visitor center for a bowl of noodles and some hot oden for lunch. This is a busy area and on a clear day, if you're there in the late afternoon, you may see several people with their cameras set up just waiting for the sun to go behind Mount Fuji. This produces the phenomenon known as Diamond Fuji when the sun's rays shine out like diamond rays from behind the mountain. Unfortunately, today was too hazy, and the wind was even gusting up some dust clouds, to even see Mt. Fuji.
We opted to hike down Trail 1 for the return trip. Although it's a pretty boring trail (concrete all the way), it does lead to a couple of interesting areas on the way down. At the first small jinja take time to walk through the stone circle after making a wish. Ring the metal rings hanging on a pole on the back side of the stone circle as you offer a prayer for your wish to come true.
Keep going down till you come to Yaku-ou-in Shrine. Have a look at the shrine's old buildings before making your way down through the Tori Gate and down the steps where you should turn left to keep going back down to the base. As noted, it's a concrete trail and it's a bit steep downhill walk all the way down.
Once you reach the base stop by any of the shops for a soft cream snack or try some of the freshly made sembei crackers sold at several of the shops.
Getting to Takao is an easy. Just take the Keio train from Shinjuku and get off at Takaosanguchi Station. It takes less than an hour and the train fare is just 370 yen.