The Okutama region in far western Tokyo is a playground for outdoor adventurers. The pristine waters of the Tama River that flow through the middle of Okutama is one of the most popular spots in Japan for canyoning and white water rafting. The mountains are covered in dense forest and dotted with limestone caves, waterfalls and onsens. And come November, it’s one of the best day trips from Tokyo to experience the stunning autumn colours.
I was up early and arrived at Mitake Station around 9am. Being a sunny Saturday and the peak of the autumn season, the train was so packed I had to stand the entire 1.5 hours from Shinjuku! It wasn’t so bad though as I love looking out the window on train trips—and this one in particular included a snow-capped Mt Fuji almost the whole way. From the station, I caught a local bus to the Mitake cable car which takes you up a 22º slope and halfway up Mt Mitake.
Mt Mitake is only 929m above sea level so it’s not a difficult mountain to hike. For more of a challenge, many hikers continue on to Mt Odake which is 1,266m tall and considered intermediate level. From the summit, you can see as far as Mt Fuji if the weather cooperates—which unfortunately it rarely does. It’s a 2-3 hour hike each way to Mt Odake, and the area between these peaks has lots of trails and things to see and do which make it such a fun place. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure course.
A very colourful Mitake Station
Beautiful morning light
The trails were covered with momiji and other deciduous trees of all shades. It felt like a dream walking under a canopy of red and yellow and on an equally colourful ground covered with a thick layer of freshly fallen leaves. It’s hiking etiquette to say ‘konnichiwa’ to everyone you pass, and with so many people on the mountain that day, I must have said hello a hundred times! The shrine on the mountain is home to a deity that protects dogs, so it was also cool to see lots of shiba-inus, poodles and other breeds on the trails. It’s impossible not to smile when you see these beautiful, playful creatures with their tails wagging!
My plan of attack was to head straight to Mt Odake. We’d had such a beautiful view of Mt Fuji on the train, and I was excited to see it from the mountain, too. But just my luck, I was literally 30min away from the summit when the peak was swallowed up by a mass of grey mist. A few hikers on their way back said they hadn’t been able to see anything, so I decided to turn back and just stick around the Mitake area. I headed across the ridge to Mt Kamitakaiwa. With only a few other people on this trail, it was very quiet and peaceful. From the lookout on the top of the mountain, you get an awesome view of the surrounding mountain range, Ome City and Tokyo in the distance.
Musashi Mitake Shrine on the mountaintop
Fiery orange mountains
From the lookout, I went on a more advanced trail that went straight down to the bottom of the valley. The trail map warned it involved using chains, but I didn’t realise just what I was in for! Not only did the trail involve climbing down slippery rocks, but there was even a section so steep a ladder had been permanently installed. As much as I had to be careful not to go tumbling down the valley, tackling this unexpected, rocky adventure course was a lot of fun!
I finally made it to the base of the trail, and continued onto the Rock Garden. This was by far the most beautiful part of the mountain. A walking path followed a crystal clear stream full of little waterfalls and mossy green rocks. Stepping stones crossed over the stream a few times, and red and orange leaves were scattered all throughout the ravine. The path cut between huge boulders and eventually led to a spiritual waterfall, Ayahironotaki Falls.
Making my way back to the cable car, my final stop was the ancient Musashi Mitake Shrine. This shrine is said to have been founded during the reign of Emperor Sujin over 2,000 years ago. According to legend, a white wolf appeared out of the blue to help a prince who had gotten lost due to fog on the mountain. The Sacred Wolf became the deity of the shrine and to this day is believed to protect dogs. The shrine includes multiple structures, and the main offering hall has sat on the mountaintop since 1700.
New stamp in my Goshuincho
Autumn cherry blossom
Ending the day the best way: with a bowl of udon