Tokyo travel tips, day 4 (part 1): grilled mochi, trick art, and a steep hike

Carla and I took a one-week trip to Tokyo. It was my sixth visit to Japan's capital, and it was my favorite so far. For the next few days, I'll be writing about recommended things to do there. See them all here.

Our fourth day in Tokyo was a day of extremes. After breakfast in our Yoyogi Airbnb, Carla and I took the train to Takaosanguchi Station, which is a 1.5 hour, straight shot from Yoyogi Station. Our plan was to climb Mt Takao, a 600-meter tall mountain with lots of hiking trails, a monkey park, a Buddhist temple, and other attractions.

It was interesting getting out of Tokyo into a rural area. Buildings were fewer and more far between. Once we got to the station, surrounded by trees and hills, we felt like we were hundreds of miles away from busy Tokyo. One thing that caught our eye outside the station was a large building called the Trick Art Museum. Curious, we walked over and bought tickets. It was a museum dedicated to optical illusions. It consisted mainly of big rooms with trompe l'oeil paintings on the ceilings, floors, and walls. It was an hour well spent. (The photo of my head in a box is from the museum)

We then walked along a street leading to the trailhead. It was lined with shops and restaurants catering to Japanese tourists. It happened to be a national holiday so a lot of people were walking around, and the restaurants were crowded.

Here's an odd little food market that reminded me of the tiny cluttered groceries in Rarotonga:

We'd been hoping to eat at this place, called Ukai Toriyama, but it was booked solid:

We ended up eating at a soba (buckwheat) noodle restaurant. We had to wait about 20 minutes. I saw people drinking cups of tea, so I asked our server for some and she pointed to a corner with some urns. I walked over and filled a cup with some tea that looked like dishwater. When a got back to my table and sat on my cushion (no chairs) and took a sip, it tasted like water that noodles had been boiled in. I pulled out my phone and looked up "soba water" and found this on Wikipedia: "After the noodles are eaten, many people enjoy drinking the water in which the noodles were cooked (sobayu 蕎麦湯), mixed with the leftover tsuyu [dipping sauce]." I drank three cups. My meal consisted of soba and vegetable and shrimp tempura. Good place, but I don't remember the name.

Now that we were loaded with carbs, we began our ascent. There were several trails to choose from. We picked trail #1, the paved, "easy" trail. It was pretty steep, and we got winded quickly, even though we are both experienced trail walkers. Some older people were walking up the hill very slowly. I was surprised that they had been able to go as far as they had! After about 40 minutes we saw one of the first Westerners of the morning. He was coming down the hill and he looked like a young Hulk Hogan, with headband and sleeveless T-shirt with an American flag on it, and an eagle tattooed on his chest. He was carrying a tall can of Japanese beer. He was happy and energetic when he greeted us.

"You're about 1/8th of the way up!" He said. I don't know if that was meant to encourage or demoralize us. "There's cold beer at the top!"

We continued trudging up the hill. It was beautiful and peaceful. There were signs about monkeys, but I don't know what they said, because they were in Japanese. Eventually we got to a place that had a lot of snack shops, curios shops, and restaurants. There was also a cable car going back to the bottom of the mountain. It made me feel better to believe that the Hulk Hogan clone took the cable car up.

This says takoasan [Mt Takao]:

We got some snacks, including these sticky grilled mochi balls with sweet miso paste:

At this restaurant, you buy a ticket at a vending machine in front, then give it to your server. These places are common in Japan. I wish all restaurants on the planet operated this way.

We continued hiking up the trail and came across a lot of amazing Buddhist temple art.

By early afternoon, we were ready to go, even though we got only halfway up the mountain. But instead of walking down, we took the cable car, which got us to the train station in just a few minutes.

In my next post, I'll tell you about the rest of our day, eating at a grilled pork offal bar in Shinkjuku and the Robot Restaurant in Kabukicho, where I was pleasantly shocked to meet an old friend (hint: it's someone Boing Boing readers know and love).