Last week was the Golden Week holiday in Japan so for a span of roughly 7 days straight, the entire country was off of work, yours truly included. As one might expect, this means lots of people go on vacation and while this little panda wanted to join them, alas finances (and a healthy aversion to 43 kilometer-long traffic jams) precluded him from doing so.

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I did however, decided to take a quick little trip over to Takao-san, a beautiful mountain just to the west of Tokyo (but still within its boundaries). It’s a popular destination amongst Tokyo-ites due to its proximity and also relative accessibility – unlike Fuji-san, you can easily tackle it in a day without even having to get up early and you don’t need any extra gear.

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Its popularity is somewhat of a double-edged sword, because it’s often crowded on weekends and holidays, and I was a bit apprehensive to tackle it during Golden Week because I was pretty sure the place would be swarming with tourists. But that’s true no matter where you go in Japan during Golden Week, so it was either shut up and put up, or else spend my vacation wasting away at home. In an (unsuccessful) nod to pragmatism, my lovely traveling companion and I decided to head over bright and early on a Monday, figuring that most people would have hit it up on the preceding Saturday or Sunday.

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This, unfortunately, did not turn out to be the case and we were confronted with a staggering mass of people the second we exited the train in the tranquil surrounds of the national park in which the mountain is located. It appears that our brilliant idea was shared by half of Tokyo and by the time we even made it to the base of the mountain we were already exhausted from the bumping, churning schools of people flowing chaotically into every single avenue of passage.

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“Well, at least we can catch a quick breather and enjoy a few minutes of tranquility on the chair lift ride up.” we thought.

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Oh foolish kids. How little you know!

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Takao-san features a variety of trails that run from the base all the way up to the top of the mountain. Some are paved, some are natural, and the length, intensity and “attractions” (temples, bridges, waterfalls and inexplicably, a monkey show…?) vary along the way and path you choose. But no matter which path you choose, the one thing they all have in common is that the first half – that is, the portion of the mountain from the base up until the observation deck halfway up the mountain face – is quite a strenuous climb. Of course, you can take the (mostly) paved course #1, but I guarantee you that by the time you reach the halfway point you’re going to be huffing a little bit and pretty darn sweaty.

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Since in general most people who say they want to climb a mountain don’t actually want to climb a mountain (yours truly included), Takao-san includes a chair life and cable car system that spirits you up the strenuous first half of the mountain up to the observation deck, from which you can enjoy a relatively leisurely stroll for the remainder of the way to the top. We, being lazy of heart (or at least body), and also carrying a significant amount of weight with us (because someone – and we won’t say who, but it’s possible he bears (no pun intended) a striking resemblance to a certain type of endangered black and white bear – thought it would be just a swell idea to bring up an elaborate lunch to have a grand ol’ picnic on the mountain), also intended to ride said chair lift/cable car up the mountain.

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Notice how I said “intended?”

WELL. So we roll up (stagger up?) to the base of the mountain, near the throngs of milling people prepping for their ascent when we notice a super long line winding its way out of an industrial looking building in the side of the mountain. At the end of the line is a security guard with a microphone shouting out “the current wait is 1.5 ~ 2 hours from this point!”

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Panda walks up to the man.

“Excuse me.”

“Yes young man?”

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“Errm, what, err, exactly is this 1.5~2 hour long line of people waiting for?”

“Oh this is the line to use the chair lift/ropeway.”

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“I’m sorry?”

“…this is the line for the chair lift and ropeway.”


“Your backpack sure does look heavy. Good luck kid.”

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(Okay so he didn’t actually say that last part, but his eyes indicated he was clearly thinking it)

I walk back to the lovely Kaka-chan and give her the news.

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“Well, ” she begins in her trademark chipper voice – “I guess we’re climbing, huh?”

“Yeah… I guess we’re climbing.” replies panda, already beginning to form curse words in his head at the backpack straps biting into his shoulders.

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And with that, off we turned and started our long, slow army death trek up the side of the mountain. Because there is no way I came out here to enjoy nature just to spend it waiting 2 hours in a line of noisy people queuing for a chair lift.


So like, at this point in the story, I would normally tell you about all the interesting things that happened along our journey to the top of the mountain.  But to be honest, not that many interesting things happened – it turns out that enjoying nature when “nature” is replaced with “a crowded mountain” is kind of a sweaty, exertion-filled grunt-laden enterprise.  So there was a lot of us engaged in various rocky scrambles and precarious cliff shimmying more akin to what I imagine the first week in boot camp is like than what we had originally envisioned for our “light holiday excursion.”

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Of course, it was beautiful too – definitely hard to believe you’re still in Tokyo when all around you there is unspoiled greenery, birds chirping (and not those artificial bird chirps that they pipe into the JR train stations and department store elevators (the latter of which always struck me as an unusual place to pipe in bird chirps, because isn’t the whole point of that to help you feel like you’re in a relaxed natural environment and since when does the express elevator at Sogo or Mitsukoshi serve as the natural habitat of any bird species known to man?  But anyway, I digress…)) and blue blue skies and fresh air.  And it’s not – my exaggerated recounting not withstanding, actually that hard to climb.  I mean there were lots of old people and (again, inexplicably) a couple of rabbits on a leash (don’t try and unpack that sentence, just trust me, accept it at face value and continue (hop?) along) making their way up the mountain too, so you know, unless you’re the type of person who gets their ass routinely handed to them by rabbits, I think Takao-san isn’t soooo tough.

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Speaking of the rabbits, I initially I had no idea how they made it up the mountain with their stumpy little legs, but then later along the way I saw their owners carrying them in that bizarre way in which Hollywood starlets carry their shrimpy little dogs (like resting their torso on their upturned palm and sort of holding them like you would imagine a waiter holds a heavy dish), so that explained that, though it didn’t really address the question of why someone brought two rabbits to a mountain, why the rabbits were wearing leashes, or where one even buys a leash for a rabbit.  I hear that there are hawks and other birds of prey on this mountain, so do you really want to bring Fluffy and Thumper along with two bright pink leashes to a place brimming with their eagle-eyed arch enemies circling overhead?  I’m just saying…

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Not quite as interesting as waiting to see if the rabbits were going to get eaten by ravenous hawks/die of tiny little bunny dehydration (each time our paths crossed on the way up it was like “still hanging in there, huh little guy?”), but more beautiful, was the Yaukoin Temple along the way, which bore a bit of a resemblance to the famous temples in Nikko.  I’ve been to a lot of temples in Japan, but I’ve come to understand that the ones I like the most are those with big wide stairs in the middle of forests.  How’s that for nuanced cultural understanding, folks?  I am, I suppose, a simple, simple panda.

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Anyway, so yeah, there’s this temple with stairs and its in the middle of the forest and it is nice.

I also like bridges and we heard tell of this great suspension bridge along one of the other paths and originally had this plan to stop by on the way down, but what happened is, we reached the top and made the mistake of sitting down, at which point the effects of the 4 hour climb (it’s not actually 4 hours, we had lunch along the way) started to seep into our bones, and then we had to use the bathroom and that turned out to require a 40 minute queue (have you ever done the pee pee dance for 40 minutes before, people? All the while trying to pretend like you’re not actually doing the pee pee dance?  Like you suddenly decided to do calisthentics and gyrate your hips to “stretch” in a pathetic attempt to disguised the increasingly panicked shuffling of your legs as the bathroom door takes its sweet time inching by slowly, ever so agonisingly slowly?  Oh nature. Aren’t you fun to enjoy?) and then it was really boiling hot and dusty at the very tippy top of the mountain, looking something like the surface of Mars than a gentle stroll through a national park (though in Takao-san’s defense a) it was mid-day and any mountain peak is going to be kind of warm then and b) I am a whiny bitch, so you know, for what that’s worth).  But look at this picture folks.  LOOK!  Doesn’t it look kind of empty, desolate and barren?  Like my poor panda heart.  (but that is a separate post all together haha)

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The top of the mountain… or the surface of a desolate planet?

Apropos nothing, and in a nod to a Faulkner-esque stream-of-consciousness approach to my blog writing, as I’m typing this entry I’m also idly flipping back-and-forth through random pages on Wikipedia (because at this point, I literally have the attention spam of a guppy hopped up on Red Bull and pixie sticks) and I came across this page on brood parasitism and cuckoos.  I never realised this before, but cuckoos are total assholes…!  What the hell, cuckoo!?  Lazy, shiftless (baby-murdering) birds!)

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The thing is, in general I like animals (and even try to avoid eating most of them these days (except for chickens, because chickens are delicious and tasty and that’s their fault… and we’re not going to talk about that one horrible, shameful incident in Kyoto), so when I discover an animal acting like an asshole, it makes me so angry because it’s like animal, I stood up for you and you’re going to end up doing me like this…!?

It is possible I might need mental help.  Anyway, where was I?

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So yeah.  We’re up at the top of this mountain, and suddenly exhaustion sets in and on top of that it turns out the most direct trail to the suspension bridge has been shut down “due to construction” (Kaka: “how do you shut down a nature trail for construction?” Panda: “ask not why, little one, for Japan containeth no answers for j00″) and rather than shuffling about various trails and then rappeling down the sides of cliffs or whatever convoluted jibba jabba we would have needed to engage in to reach the bridge, we just gave up and decided to go back down the way we came up.

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“But,” I announced somewhat excitedly, “this time, let’s ride the ropeway back down.”

Because I wanted to ride a ropeway, goddammit.

Kaka just smiles and shakes her head sadly.

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So like, I can understand (not really, but let’s pretend) a 2-hour wait to take a ropeway up during the ascent of a steep vertical mountain face, but like, who would queue to take a ropeway down on a planet where there is gravity?  Well, it turns out about 2-hours worth of people, that’s who.  Yes, there was a 2-hour queue for the ropeway and lift each way, folks.

Goddammit, enjoying nature was turning out to be hard work.

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Anyway, so we finally made it back down the mountain and over to the (still crowded, amazingly) station, stopping for ice cream along the way, because nature just isn’t fun unless chocolate sundaes and caramel sauce are involved (actually, only plain-vanilla cones were available, but I closed my eyes and pretended it was a chocolate sundae with caramel because I saw this one delicious video on teh intartubes about making Dulce De Leche at home and I’ve been dreaming of sundaes and caramel sauce and delicious sundaes ever since. (Why am I looking up how to make Dulce De Leche, you ask?  Well, because I fully intend to make this scrumptious-looking dessert in the near future and it requires it, that’s why.)

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And that’s pretty much it.  Takao-san.  In a nutshell.

As a side note, if you’ve made it this far and happen to be in Tokyo this Saturday, please come check us out at the Tokyo Design Festa! Thehe lovely Bethann and I will be exhibiting and selling a few postcards on Saturday, May 15th, so if you want to meet your author (fully recovered from his Takao-excursion haha) and maybe make merciless fun of him as he sits behind his tiny homemade cardboard table, this is your chance to do it!

Click here for our booth location and other information.

Hmm, I probably should have put this advertisement up top, instead of burying it at the end of this otherwise totally unrelated post haha. Anyway, thank you for reading!

Now listening to: B.o.B – Don’t Let Me Fall

Yeah I fall much lower from where that pavement is,
Cause there ain’t no parachute that they can make for this,
Cause I feel my pain, my heart, my soul, my faith in this,
Does anyone feel like how I feel then you can relate to this,
Or just blaze to this, maybe roll one up then take a hit,
Toast to the good life then take a sip,
Va-cay everyday, yeah take a trip,
It’s easy to see that I was made for this,
From the womb all the way to the grave I spit.
Just to show all you n****s what greatness is
I’m talkin very Lucy, like makin movies
To picture my life, boy, you need a higher resolution
I used to cut class everyday, then run away at night
But now I’m ruler of the upperclass, and I don’t even write

16 Reactions

  1. youknowwho

    Too much work to enjoy nature that way! Next time wait for the chair lift :)

  2. Skye

    Ahh fun! Also, I read in your blog about getting weight comments, and I didn’t know what you looked like till now. You aren’t fat at all =0 I’ve seen Japanese, or at least American Japanese people who were fatter (or to say, actually fat)

  3. michaelpanda

    Thank you so much! :) Actually I’ve lost a ton of weight (38 kilograms or about 83 pounds) in the past year. Before I’m sad to admit, I actually was a chubby little panda haha

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