“Remember, no matter how strong or fast you think you are, the Japanese grandmas will always be stronger.”
Mount Atago, the tallest mountain of Kyoto, sits in the quiet town called Kiyotaki. This mountain is especially interesting, because unlike its neighboring mountain, Mount Hiei, there is no cable car to the top. Therefore, if you want to get up the mountain, you’ve got to climb it (a total of 924 meters!). Resting on top of this mountain is a beautiful shrine where you can request protection from fire-related disasters. In fact, every year on July 31st the people of the town hike up the mountain in an effort to protect the town from fire. As a firefighter’s daughter, I thought it would be a great idea to go to the shrine and get a fire protection charm for my dad. With that goal in my mind, I had the adventure of a lifetime! And with these few tips, you can too!
Check out the video of hiking in Mount Atago!
Here are my 5 Tips on Climbing Kyoto’s Tallest Mountain, Mount Atago:
#1: Don’t attempt the climb in the winter
It may not be a surprise to you but climbing this mountain during the winter season is not a good idea. However, since Japan is pretty mild in terms of temperatures compared to Eastern Washington, I thought it would be no big deal to climb this mountain in early December. While climbing the mountain itself wasn’t so bad, it was almost impossible to get to the mountain since the buses from Arashiyama to Kiyotaki were finished for the year! So, unless you want to trek the extra 2 and a half miles (through busy streetways with no sidewalks) to the mountain, don’t go during the winter.
#2: Talk to your fellow climbers
Climbing up and down the mountain, I ran into people basically every five minutes or so. Simply saying 「おはよう」(ohayou, meaning good morning) or 「こんにちは」(konnichiwa, meaning good afternoon) is totally acceptable when passing people. If you want to show off your Japanese hiking knowledge there are some more commonly used phrases. In fact, there is even a sign on the trail that reminds you of these sayings! If you see someone coming down say 「お下りやす」(okudariyasu). Which is basically wishing passersby an easy descent. If you see someone climbing up as you are coming down say 「お上りやすい」(onoboriyasu), which means have an easy climb!
#3: Don’t Compare Yourself to the Seniors
Don’t feel bad if you get passed by MANY Japanese seniors. You aren’t in that bad of shape, they just will always be stronger than you. As an athletic girl (even doing volleyball in Japan at the same time) I was surprised to find myself getting lapped by 70-year-olds left and right on the trail. In fact, most of the people I passed on the trail seemed surprised that someone so young was climbing (They kept gasping and saying, “so young” in Japanese). So, if you get passed by the seniors, and you will, instead of feeling bad, make it your goal to be that strong later in life!
#4: Make a Stop at the Fire Shrine
At the top of Mount Atago is a beautiful shrine that protects against fire-related disasters. If you climb up a couple of extra sets of stairs after the clearing at the top of the path (where the bathrooms and vending machines are) you will reach it. There you can buy fire protection charms. You can even purchase おみくじ (paper fortunes) for 100 yen and see how lucky you are for the day!
#5: Take the Back-route on the way down
There is actually another route to get up and down the mountain, but I recommend taking it only on the way down. It isn’t as well maintained as the main route, so it can be a bit tricky to climb up but isn’t too bad to climb down. Taking this route not only gives you a whole different view of the mountain, but it also takes you to the best place to take a selfie, and to another temple (that looks abandoned, but isn’t). The temple is called 月輪寺 (tsukinowadera), and if you simply follow the signs pointing to it and Takao it is right on the trail! Also, taking this route will lead you past a really pretty waterfall.
If the 3-5 hours of hiking Mount Atago wasn’t enough (or if like me, you went in winter and there is no bus that will take you back home and you don’t want to walk on the streets back to Arashiyama), there is another trail that goes to the next town over (Takao) that you can get to from the back-route trail I just talked about. It takes you on a 2-mile light hike along the river. Once you get out of the trail it is about a five-minute walk to the bus stop that will take you back to Kyoto University of Foreign Studies!