As the largest city in the world, people probably expect to spend most of their time going up and down buildings in elevators rather than hiking up and down mountains. But the Tokyo region extends further than the metropolis, with mountains, fields, and even white water rafting and other sports on the edges.
If you like exercise – or even if you don’t, but want to try shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing – here are the top hiking courses in or near Tokyo (don’t worry, we’ve included the difficulty level).
Just a note to help in getting around, ‘Mt.’ in Japanese is ‘-san’. So, for example, Mt. Fuji would be Fuji-san.
Kinchakuda and Mount Hiwada (Easy)
Located in western Saitama, Kinchakuda is famous for its fields full of red spider lillies, or higanbana in Japanese. After taking an ubiquitous photograph, head up Mt. Hiwada for a great view of the Tokyo skyline. At only 350m tall it’s not a difficult climb, and after entering through a torii gate at the bottom, near the summit you’ll find Kotohira Shrine. There are two paths up – it’s rather sexist but there’s the men’s path, which is steeper and rockier, and the women’s path, which is a smoother climb – but they join at the top just before the shrine anyway. You won’t see Mt. Fuji from here, but you’ll get some wonderful shots of Tokyo.
Back down in the town at the base of the mountain there’s a carefully preserved old townhouse dating to the 19th century which is also free to visit.
Closest station: Koma Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line.
Mount Takao (Easy)
Popular with hikers living in Tokyo and wanting somewhere easy to access on their day off, Mt. Takao has a variety of different hiking trails so you can find something to suit your level. Indeed, it also has the steepest cable car and a chair lift which will take you halfway up already if you prefer. At the base of the mountain there is a museum about the mountain and the Tama Forest Science Garden, and on Mt. Takao itself you’ll find a monkey park, hundred-year-old cedars, observation decks, and various temples and shrines (most of which are dedicated to tengu, a Japanese mythical creature or spirit, which depending on the legend is said to be either a mischievous troublemaker or a protector of the hills). Finish your day with a soak in the onsen at the bottom of the mountain, to soothe your muscles and avoid aching the next day.
Closest station: Takaosan-guchi Station on the Keio Takao line or Takao Station on the JR East Chuo line
Mount Tsukuba (Easy)
Of great importance in the Shinto religion, Mt. Tsukuba has two peaks, a ‘male’ and ‘female’ one. They are worshipped as gods, and are said to be married, therefore bestowing happiness on those who pray at any of the shrines on the mountain. There is a cable car and ropeway for those who aren’t quite as adventurous, and the top of the mountain has various stalls and souvenir stores between the two peaks. Covered in flora and fauna, the trees and flowers make the mountain change colour with the seasons, while lucky hikers may spot boars, deer, badgers, Japanese red foxes, and even raccoons. In good weather, you can also see Mt. Fuji from the top.
Closest station: Tsukubasan Jinja Iriguchi Station or Tsutsujigaoka Station, reached by shuttlebus from Tsukuba Station on the Tsukuba Express
Mount Mitsumine (Medium)
This mountain is located in Chichibu Tama Kai National Park, which is at the intersection of four prefectures – Tokyo, Saitama, Nagano, and Yamanashi. It is one of the most famous mountains in the park; Most well known for Mitsumine Shrine at the summit, which is 2,000 years old. There is a bus to the top, for those who wish to bus up and walk back down. The shrine is definitely worth a look, as its protectors are okami, or wolves, so all the protective statues are of wolves, and most souvenirs feature them too. There’s a lookout point, where you can often get a picture above the clouds, and also a traditional ryokan if you wish to trek up one day and walk back the next (but make sure to book well in advance).
Note for hikers: Hikers are required to report their presence on the trail, and many signs point out the dangers such as icy roads, snakes, and bears).
Closest station: Mitsumine-guchi Station on the Chichibu Main Line. From there, you can take a bus to the Owa bus stop.
Mount Mitake (Medium)
Another mountain located in the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park, there is a cable car for those not quite so enthusiastic about long walks – or those who would like to get straight onto hiking a the top of the hills, as there are various paths to neighbouring peaks. About 20 minutes from the top of the cable car is Musashi-Mitake Shrine, said to have existed for almost 2,000 years. Not to mention, the mountain is often covered in a mist which makes it seem very other-worldly. About an hour from the shrine is a valley often called ‘rock garden’, with a beautiful stream and two waterfalls. The Mitake Visitor Centre, halfway between the cable car and the shrine, provides detailed hiking trail maps. There are many traditional places to stay in the area due to the shrine being and a popular pilgrimage destination, and some places offer traditional mountain ascetic experiences as well.
Closest station: Mitake Station, on the JR Ome line. From there, take a bus to the bottom cable car station.