Mount Mitake, Ome, Tokyo 御嶽山, 青梅, 東京
by Johannes Schonherr
Mount Mitake, located in Ome, in the mountains of western Tokyo and part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, is one of Tokyo's favorite day trip destinations, rivaling the popularity of Mount Takao.
Mount Mitake, 929m tall, offers good views over the Kanto Plain towards the Tokyo skyline, a wealth of both historical and natural attractions, as well as plenty of hiking trails.
With so much to do on the mountain, it is better to plan for a fair amount of time on your visit.
Mitake Cable Car
Arriving at Mitake Station, you will find a tourist information office just outside the station. Local maps in English are available there, as well as some brochures pointing out local attractions.
Those attractions are not limited to Mount Mitake but also include the Mitake Gorge of the Tama River, a scenic part of the river popular for rafting. Hiking trails also follow the river.
It's possible, of course, to hike up Mount Mitake right from the train station. Many visitors choose, however, the more comfortable public transport. About 70 meters to the left of the train station is the stop for the bus heading towards Cable Shita, the lower cable car station of the Mitake Cable Car.
The bus ride takes about 10 minutes and costs 280 yen. Suica / Pasmo Cards are welcome on the bus.
From the final bus stop it's a short walk up a steep road to Takimoto Station, the lower station of the Mitake Cable Car.
The Mitake Cable Car is the steepest funicular line in the Kanto area and it takes you up the mountain in a mere 6 minutes.
Views Towards Tokyo
Close to the upper station of the Mitake Cable Car are a few shops selling touristy items, as well as an observation area, equipped with coin-operated telescopes. From there and on clear days, the Tokyo skyline with its Shinjuku / Ikebukuro high-rises and the Tokyo Skytree is clearly visible. Even on rather hazy days, the skyline is not totally out of view, though it might require some imagination to make it out.
Hiking Towards Musashi Mitake Shrine
From the upper cable car station, the hiking path towards Musashi Mitake Shrine starts gently, clinging to the mountain with nary a palpable elevation but plenty more viewpoints towards the Kanto flatlands.
After about 10 minutes of walking, you enter a sort of village. Tiny 4-wheel-drive pick-up trucks are parked in unlikely corners. The sort of light trucks that Japanese rice farmers use to reach the furthest ends of their terrace rice fields.
People actually live up here - in fact you enter a vibrant village. The Mitake has been a holy mountain since ancient times and the folks living up here provide the infrastructure.
Along the way, you will find a large number ofshukubo, traditional Buddhist guest houses that originally used to host Buddhist pilgrims. Today, it's possible for tourists to stay in the shukubo as well.
There are also plenty of restaurants on the mountain, offering traditional Japanese cuisine ranging from tempura to sashimi dishes to udon noodles. Some of the restaurants have outdoor terraces, providing great views over the Kanto Plain and the neighboring mountains.
Shortly before you reach the holy grounds of the Musashi Mitake Shrine, you pass through a narrow shopping street, replete with restaurants and tourist shops selling a variety of local products including locally made sake.
Right behind the shopping street, steep stairs lead first up to Zuishinmon Gate, the lower gate of Musashi Mitake Shrine, and eventually the main shrine itself.
Musashi Mitake Shrine History
Musashi Mitake Shrine was founded, according to legend, more than 2,000 years ago under the reign of mythical Emperor Sujin (said to have reigned from 97 BC to 30 BC before dying at the age of 119).
The shrine is dedicated to wolves, and two big wolf statues stand at the entrance to the main shrine. There are plenty more wolf statues to be found all over the shrine grounds.
The wolf worship at Mitake Shrine is based on a legend involving mythical warrior prince Yamato Takeru.
Yamato Takeru came to Kanto in about the year 150 AD and fought many battles there. One day, Takeru was met by an evil spirit in the woods who appeared in the form of a deer. Takeru sensed that the deer was not real and killed it. Still, the evil spirit filled the woods with fog and Takeru couldn't find his way. A white wolf saved him. That wolf was an incarnation of the spirit O-Inu-Sama. Takeru told O-Inu-Sama to stay there and protect the area.
Since then, O-Inu-Sama has been worshiped at many shrines in the area, O-Inu-Sama is said to be a great protector against robbers and fires.
Many shrines in the area claim that they were actually founded by Yamato Takeru, like, for example, Mitsumine Shrine near Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, which also worships wolves. That is not the case with Mitake Shrine, of course, since the Mitake Shrine claims that its heritage dates back to Emperor Sujin, a century before Yamato Takeru's Kanto battle exploits.
The inu in O-Inu-Sama sounds and reads just like inu, the current Japanese the word for dog. Thus, the Mitake Shrine is very popular with dog lovers.
The Honden, the main hall of the shrine, dates back to 1307, in the Kamakura Period. The rulers of the Muromachi Period (1336 - 1573) had it rebuilt and the shrine is today considered to be classic example of Muromachi Period shrine architecture.
The shrine has been built anew many times over since then but the Muromachi design has been kept. The present shrine hall dates back to 1877 and is an exact replica of the shrine buildings preceding it.
Shrines are made of wood and wood rots over time. Building exact replicas to replace older shrines has been a way of keeping the traditions alive in Japan since the early days of Shinto.
The Musashi Mitake Shrine also houses a treasure hall, open to visitors on weekends. The treasure hall is located to the right of the main shrine hall, just behind the statue of a Kamakura Period warrior on horseback and in full battle gear.
Right behind the Musashino Mitake Shrine are various ancient sub-shrines and behind them, you reach a viewpoint offering peeks at the surrounding mountains.
Further Attractions on Mount Mitake
Heading back down the stairs towards the shopping street, signs point out various hiking paths. Most prominent are the signs for the path towards the Rock Garden. The "Rock Garden" is however not a Japanese stone garden as you find it in the temples of Kyoto, but a nature trail leading through bizarre rock formations.
More trails lead to the Nanayo and the Ayashiro waterfalls, others to impressive ancient cedar trees. If you really have some time on your hands, you might hike over to the neighboring mountains of Mount Hinode and Mount Otake.
Mount Mitake is however not only rich in history and nature, it also has a busy event calendar. Almost every weekend some sort of Shinto ceremony takes place at the mountain. Among the most famous are the kagura performances in mid-July, but the calendar is really rich, offering a great variety of events.
To be able to enjoy the ceremonies without any worries about how to get back home, it might be best to stay on the top of the mountain. Staying on the mountain is also the best and most relaxed way to enjoy the gorgeous night views of Tokyo the mountain offers.
There are many guest houses on Mount Mitake. Most of them are shukubo, traditional Buddhist pilgrim guest houses. A stay at them is about 10,000 yen per night per person including two meals.
Some of the shukubo offer their guests a very special treat - meditation under the cascading flows of a waterfall. If you are interested, please inquire when you are making your booking.
The English-language Ome City Tourism Association website features a list of guesthouses on Mount Mitake. The links given on the site lead directly to the websites of the guesthouses - which are in Japanese.
A one-night-stay at a guesthouse is about 10,000 yen - 12,000 yen per person, including two meals.
Tourist brochures promoting visits to Mount Mitake point out that the mountain is only a 90 minute train trip away from central Tokyo - "Central Tokyo" meaning Shinjuku Station and the "90 minutes" presumes a well-planned itinerary. But, from Ome Station, where you have to change trains on the way to Mitake Station, trains for Mitake / Okutama run only about once an hour.
From Tokyo Station or Shinjuku Station, take the Chuo Line to Ome Station and change there to the Ome Line. Alternatively, take the Chuo Line to Tachikawa and change there to the Ome Line.
From Ome Station, only about one train per hour goes to Mitake / Okutama.
From Mitake Station, take bus number 10 to Cable Shita (280 yen).
Walk from the Cable Shita bus stop to Takimoto Station and take the cable car. The cable car return trip fare is: adults 1,110 yen, children 560 yen. One-way trip: adults 590 yen, children 300 yen.
The cable car operates from 7.30am to 6.30pm.
The Musashino Mitake Shrine website (in Japanese) has information about all events at the shrine including the kagura.
Read more about shinrin-yoku ("forest-bathing") on Mount Mitake.