As the heat and humidity soars in Tokyo, the thought of traveling can quickly go from ideal to an ordeal. The proposition of dragging luggage on Shinkansen or long cross-country drives is enough to give up on the whole idea, leaving a day at home beneath the air conditioner as the best plan of action.
In true Tokyo style, however, there’s always another option. For those looking to get close to nature and beat the heat — without the long-haul journey — there is no place better than picturesque Okutama.
Less than two hours from Shinjuku via the JR Ome Line, a day trip will leave you with plenty of time for fishing, canoeing or dipping your feet in the cold mountain water of the Hatonosu Ravine.
Cast a Line
Okutama’s main attraction, and subject of most of its activities, is the water. From quiet blue streams to sprawling lakes, the natural waterscapes throughout the region offer a variety of ways to enjoy them.
For anglers, the Nippara River, home to the Hikawa International Trout Fishing Spot, is the perfect place to cast a line — and if you’re lucky, hook yourself some lunch. Only a 10-minute walk from Okutama Station, the river is a great spot to relax and land a lunker.
Catering to both experienced anglers and beginners alike, fishing and barbecue equipment is also available for hire. For those who are a little squeamish, you can also pay to have your catch cleaned, ready for grilling.
Grab a Paddle
If you prefer to be on the water rather than beside it, you can rent a variety of small watercrafts which will allow you to experience the beauty of Okutama at your own pace.
For a more relaxed experience, there’s no better way to take in the region’s natural beauty than from a canoe or stand-up paddleboard. Cruise along the Tama or Nippara rivers while surrounded by lush forests, or head out across Lake Okutama to the distant sound of birds amongst the trees. The choice is yours and neither will disappoint.
But of course, those with a need for speed haven’t been forgotten. For thrill-seekers, the option of rafting along the white-water rapids of the Tama River is there to get your adrenaline pumping. Again, all experience levels are welcome, as guides will teach you everything you need to know, from paddling techniques to safety procedures.
Hikes in the Hills
While Okutama’s pristine waters steal much of the show here, a special mention must be made for the mountainous areas surrounding it. With dense forest above and verdant moss below, the hiking trails throughout the region are stunning from every angle — the most popular being the paths of Mount Mitake.
Not far from Mitake Station, the walk to the summit can be completed entirely on foot, or if you’re taking the more laidback approach, a cable car service can take you most of the way.
On the journey up the mountain, you’ll pass through a small village dotted with souvenir stores and traditonal inns, while at the top, you’ll be met by the ancient Musashi-Mitake Shrine. Said to be over 2,000 years old, Musashi-Mitake Shrine is steeped in history as a sacred place of mountain worship. Whether you’re a devotee or a casual visitor, the shrine grounds offer a picturesque rest stop with panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
If hiking up a mountain isn’t enough climbing for you, Okutama is also home to some of Tokyo’s most popular bouldering spots.
Rock formations are scattered along the riverbanks, many of them popular with seasoned boulderers. They often lay protective matting down across the rocky ground to break any untimely falls. Should you wish to participate, be careful not to reach beyond your abilities. With rocks nicknamed “Ninja” and “Dead End,” the climbing scene in Okutama is not to be taken lightly.
If you’re new to climbing, the Okutama Visitor Center has a smaller indoor climbing wall that serves as a great starting point. Staff there can also offer information regarding climbing spots in the area.
Stop For a Soak
Although the summer heat may deter the less dedicated, for those ready to bathe no matter the weather, Okutama’s Moegi no Yu is where you’ll find one of Tokyo’s most serene hot spring experiences.
Offering mountain views from the indoor onsen, and scenes of the Tama River from the open-air bath, Moegi no Yu uses natural hot spring water sourced from beneath the Okutama area. It’s the perfect spot for soothing sore muscles after scaling boulders or a completing a tough hike through the surrounding forests.
For those less keen, the facility also has a communal foot bath, which is great for a quick soak.
Go Your Own Way
But even with all the activities that Okutama has to offer, it must be said that you can enjoy the region’s beauty simply by being there. If you’re someone who likes to take things slow and just looking for a break from the city’s hustle and bustle, you’ll have no trouble finding a quiet spot away from the crowds to sit alone or with friends in the calm of nature.
Have a picnic by the Hatonosu Ravine and dip your toes in the cool water. People-watch as boulderers climb and anglers battle to land the biggest catch. Breathe in the clear mountain air and reset yourself in one of the most naturally beautiful regions of Tokyo.
Photos by Lisa Knight