Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Not too many people here seem to be aware of it, but there was a castle built in the late 1500's, at the end of the warring states period, up in the hills just a little ways out from the JR Takao train station. There's nothing much left of it, but it's still possible to visit the area and it does make a nice hike. This is where having a car is useful, because the entrance is a few miles from the station, and there's a parking lot about 100 feet from the entrance. To get to the starting point, face out away from the Takao station exit. Go straight out until you cross under the Chuu-ou expressway. Turn left immediately after the expressway and follow this road until it ends after about 1-1.5 miles. You're now at the ranger station at the trail head. The castle ruins (八王子城跡) have been registered as one of Japan's 100 top historical castle sites.
I parked my bike at the ranger's building, and the two guys there *very* patiently explained the rules to me. There are two parts to the park, one that's only open to guided tours, and the other that I could explore on my own. The castle grounds were down to the left and only open to the guides. The shrine and the tallest reachable hill (Honmaru) were to the right and up the hill behind the building. I'd have to leave my bike in front of the building because, as they put it - jitensha wa dame (bike is no good). They gave me a couple of maps, and I refilled my water bottle at the nearby fountain and then I set off up the hill.
(Kannon Shrine Glen)
Within about a block, I reached a small shrine building and a little shop where a group of men were selling hothouse flowers. I saw the steps behind the shrine leading farther up the hill, but I wanted to see what was down the road past the tables with the flowers. I went along the base of the hill and pretty quickly the road turned into a narrow path that then entered a glen with about 20 stone markers dedicated to the Buddhist goddess Kannon. The markers lined the glen just inside the tree line. It was maybe 50 feet long, and on the other side of the glen there was a small dirt trail that snaked along the base of the hill about another 100 feet. Suddenly, the trail opened up on a wide, flat, grassy field.
Along the side of the field, in the shade of the tall trees, a handful of people sat, smoking or reading books. Most of the trees had signs asking us to not litter, to clean up after any dogs we brought with us, and to beware of mamushi (pit vipers). Near the little trail is what looked like an old gate, and wide stone steps leading down to a bridge over a small creek. After exploring the other side of the creek (where the area at river level looked like it had been landscaped for putting up houses or farms), I returned to the main field only to discover it completely empty. I assumed that the people had taken my little trail out because there weren't any other exits, but I can't be sure of that.
(Old map plaque.)
As I retraced my path on the little trail, I found a branch path leading up the hill and I followed it up in the hopes that it would take me to Honmaru. At first, I found another clearing with some scraggly trees. On the other side of the clearing, I picked up a bigger path going up to the left. A hiker heading down told me that the shrine, and Honmaru, were up ahead of me, so I pressed on.
Pretty quickly I figured out why "bikes are no good" - the trail was steep and covered with tree roots. Even a mountain bike would have trouble here, and that'd definitely damage the roots. This was strictly a hiking path. After 20 minutes, I was drained and thinking about going back down. I'd gone through half my water, and I'd already spent 2 hours on my bike just getting out to Takao from Noborito (at least a 30 mile ride). Then, I encountered another hiker, who told me that I'd be able to reach the top of the hill in 10 minutes if I pushed it, no later than by 3:30 even if I took my time (it was about 2:55 then). When I tried to tell him that I'd rode in from Noborito and was exhausted, he kept staring at me and saying "gambare! gambare!' (try hard, try hard).
(Looking out over Hachioji, and maybe Tokyo in the hazy distance.)
(At the top of Honmaru.)
Deciding "what the heck", I continued on. About 5-10 minutes later, a couple heading down the trail told me that Honmaru was another 10 minutes away. I didn't like the way this was turning out. But, I kept plodding up the root-covered dirt path. Finally, I reached a flat area with 3 shrine buildings. A little off to the left was a second clearing with three old men standing around and chatting. The trees here had been thinned out to allow a view out over the horizon to Hachioji city, and farther on to Tokyo (barely visible through the haze). Some brass marker plates showed an ancient version of a map of the area, plus identifying landmarks on the horizon. This second rest area was surprisingly ill-kept, with one wooden bench broken up and lying askew, and the stone steps leading up to one of the 2 monument stones also beginning to collapse.
(Signs of decay.)
The old men ignored me, so I continued up the path behind the shrine buildings another 5 minutes. Here, I reached the top of the hill, and was now at Honmaru. In fact, it was just a small clearing with another shrine, a marker, and another stone monument. I bowed to the shrine then headed back down. The trail is rough and it's really hard on the knees going from tree root to tree root. About halfway down, I could faintly hear the announcement of the next arriving train coming from the station a couple of miles away. When I got to the bottom, I reached the torii gate next to the table with the flowers. Following what I thought was the path out, I discovered myself returning to the ranger's building from the direction of the area that I'd been told was open only to guided tours (fortunately, the rangers were in the office and didn't see me coming out).
(Stairs leading to Honmaru.)
Back at my bike, I refilled my now-empty water bottle. One of the rangers came out and we talked a bit, then I aimed myself back to Noborito. It wasn't until the following day, as I was studying one of the maps, that I realized that the path going through the Kannon shrine glen wasn't on the map. But, it did act as a short cut between the Honmaru hill trail and the castle ruins. And, I'm guessing that the people sitting and reading at the ruins hadn't been taken there by one of the guides, either.
Beware the mamushi.)
I had fun, but I'm disappointed in not finding any mamushi. Maybe next time. Here's the rest of the album.
(Shrine building near the flower table leading to the Kannon shrine glen.)