I've learned to see hiking in Japan as a group sport, especially on festival days or holidays. Then people flock to the mountains in families and groups of friends to hike and enjoy a day together. Many mountains are home to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, so these hikes are a meditative experience for many.
Along with the groups of Japanese hikers, visitors like myself come to the mountain trails, too. We join the crowds on the trails and make the flow of traffic up and down the mountain a challenge to say the least.
This past weekend, I was headed to Mt. Takao for a day of fresh air and exercise. It was a perfect sunny day, so I was pretty excited. Until I boarded the train for Mt. Takao with about 500 other hikers!! I’ve never seen the train that packed for a day hike up the mountain, so I did some thinking as I was pressed in on all sides by backpacks and shoulders, and decided to hop off the train in Takao, a city named after the mountain, as soon as the doors opened. My destination—the ruins of Hachioji Castle, which is usually much less crowded. On this particular day, it had quite a flock of visitors too.
I visited this site the previous weekend, and walked from the station to Hachioji Joseki grounds, which is over a mile. There is a bus, but on this particular day, I wanted the workout. I hiked through a cute little merchant street in Takao, then hiked into the ruins of the castle, passing memorials, shrines and little temples along the way. Unlike Mt. Takao where there are huge buildings and clouds of incense, at Hachioji Joseki, there is only bird song and fresh air. I met several people on the trail, but I didn’t have to fight droves of people on the trail, and walked at my own pace, which is faster than many in Japan want to go.
I made a new friend on my trek, too, which is always fun. Kame-san is a guide at the ruins, and he pointed out the best shot of the bridge. He offered to take my photo by Hachiji gate then sat and visited with me while I ate my onigiri (rice ball) lunch. We parted ways, and I continued up a trail and got the workout I was seeking. When I hiked out, he was at a little maintenance building. When he saw me, he stopped me, ran into the building, and brought out a CD that he had recorded that told all about Hachioji Castle, the people, the war (16th c.), the haunted forest, and all the shrines. The only drawback is it’s all in Japanese!
It’s okay, though, because as I told Kame, I am going to use it to study the language, and that I would see him again next year. He smiled and waved, and I made my way back to the station and my apartment, after a truly relaxing hike.