Praying While Tokyo Burns

Takao Mountain (高尾山), on the western edge of the Tokyo metropolis, is a low (approximately 500m high) peak on the edge of a small nature reserve, easily accessible on the Keio line or the Chuo line. The mountain top hosts a temple, Yakuoin (薬王院), and some hiking paths, and although it is a steep climb it is easily reached by foot in 40 minutes, on paths that zig-zag through light forest. It’s also accessible by a ropeway (essentially a ski-lift) or a cable car (that is really a type of train). At the base of the mountain is a small and cute village of tourist shops, noodle stores and another small temple. As such it is a popular tourist destination, and also popular as a place to do hatsumode (初詣), the traditional new year shrine visit. My friend went with a billion other people to see the first sunrise of the new year, and I went with some friends in the afternoon for the traditional shrine visit.

In addition to being an excellent tourist day trip, Takao Mountain is also a viable zombie survival spot, offering short term defensibility, an easy escape route, and some possibility of sustainability. It’s probably not entirely suitable to a solo survivor, but a good choice for a group.

Review

Defensibility: The mountain itself is accessed by three pathways on the Tokyo side, at least one of which is wide enough to drive cars up. As far as I know there are no direct pathways on the Western side, which in any case faces onto low population density areas and a wide range of bushland. There is a single railway line leading up to the summit (for the “cable car”). All three pathways have a series of steep switchbacks interspersed with periods of long, straight, steep climbs, they are narrow, and there are regular viewing spots on the higher sections of these paths from which defenders can look down on the lower sections of the slopes. Other hillsides are steep, heavily forested and slippery, scattered with sheer climbs or scree slopes that make climbing extremely difficult for mindless undead. Any of these paths would be easy to block off at lower sections, and easy to defend with suitable firearms. From higher vantage points, with a large supply of ammunition, it would be easy to pick off approaching zombies in complete safety. The main difficulty with defensibility is in monitoring all these approaches: to properly defend the mountain would require maintaining constant vigilance over all the access paths and the forests of the western side, and opens the risk that occasional lone zombies would make it up to a higher location without being identified. This would necessitate continuous caution and the establishment of safe inner bastions. Fortunately the Yakuoin temple offers just such a bastion, as does the monkey park. Overall, the area is highly defensible, if your group contains more than 5 people.

Escape routes: Although not ideal, the forested slopes of the western face offer a last-ditch escape route in the event that the temple and the path to the higher slopes are cut off simultaneously. Furthermore, the ropeway offers an ideal rapid escape route. In the absence of electric power, one could use a simple flying-fox type arrangement to return to the base of the mountain in just a few (hair-raising) minutes, and it’s likely that zombies will lose track of you due to the speed of descent. Even if a zombie horde had come up from the base station, it’s likely given the defensibility of the setting that the zombies would have all left the base area by the time evacuation became necessary; thus, one would arrive at a relatively depopulated lower camp area, and be able to escape rapidly – possibly to a pre-established safe house in the lower town, there to wait until the mountain could be retaken after the horde dispersed or moved on.

Location: Far removed from central Tokyo, Takao Mountain is also slightly separate, being located on the far side of a small rural area. This means that its local zombie population is likely to be small and scattered, and it is less likely to have been raided extensively by non-local populations. Additionally, it contains significant supplies for the tourist industry, as well as a non-transient local community likely to have themselves stocked up on food, leaving more supplies for scavenging. The mountain is not on any major road transport routes, though it is near(ish) to an expressway. It’s also on the end of a train line, which is likely to be the only way to get to the location – roads in Tokyo will be blocked and car transport over long distances likely impossible. But a railway line is a relatively safe and easy way to move across Tokyo – it is elevated and likely clear of obstacles. The mainline to near Takao is the Central Line, which is about 8 tracks wide – it may be possible to drive small cars along this line, enabling transport of supplies and rapid escape from central Tokyo. The mountain also has a tourist centre and various restaurants at different elevations, so even if one arrives without supplies it may be possible to go straight to the top and subsist on scavenged foods for a few days while the world goes to hell.

Concealment: From the base of the mountain, almost nothing is visible of the human habitations higher up, and many of the main tourist attractions – especially the temple – are set back from the slopes of the hill. The sounds and sights of a functioning group of survivors would be virtually unidentifiable from the ground, especially in the temple, so it would be possible to have lights, cooking and reasonably normal human interaction without fear of alerting zombies or humans. This means the necessary preparations for survival over a Japanese winter could proceed fairly smoothly, and even an electricity generator could be used without alerting zombies. Movement between locations on the mountain would also be fairly unlikely to attract attention from zombies at the foot of the mountain, which would make defending the mountain very easy.

Sustainability: The mountain holds several tourist restaurants, a monkey park, visitor centre and temple. Even if a group arrived on foot carrying only the supplies in their backpacks, it would be fairly easy to subsist on the mountainside for a few days. The temple almost certainly contains a generator, and it’s likely (though I didn’t see any) that there is at least some solar power somewhere on the hill, so at least some lighting would be possible. There is a parking space containing some snow ploughs, which means that they also have batteries and fuel (and probably some spare fuel). The mountain is riddled with vending machines, but the restaurants sell dango and fresh soba, so likely hold stocks of buckwheat and barley flour, oil and – if they had been evacuated rapidly – eggs. For the first few days, supplies of water could be obtained from vending machines and kettles, until the first rain filled up some buckets. Of course, buckets and water storage mechanisms are commonplace in a temple, and easily converted to survival. There is enough flat space higher up the mountain to plant potatoes and possibly even a rice crop, and the monkey park comes readily supplied with cages for raising and protecting chickens and goats. In the longer term, the area is already supplied with buildings and a defensible temple, but there is one significant long term problem: water. Being on the top of a mountain, most water will be flowing down, and in dry periods there will be little freestanding or potable water. The best solution to this is to use the higher parts of the mountain to set up a water course for trapping and channeling water. Nonetheless, water storage – in a tank of some kind, and perhaps also in containers looted from the restaurants – would likely be a very wise plan. Otherwise, regular trips down the mountain to collect water would be required, and this would be both dangerous and exhausting.

Longer term, the mountain offers a lot of opportunities to establish a sustainable community. It is reasonably close to Tachikawa, a suburb with large stores, and houses in the nearby town could be looted for solar power supplies. With the elevation of the mountains, it could be possible to set up a solar storage system using pumped water. Plentiful wood means that even when fuel and electricity ran out it would be possible to stay warm for at least the first year, and to build fairly solid barriers against zombie and human infiltration – some forest clearing would even be necessary to establish kill zones. The higher viewing points hold a number of coin-operated binoculars that could be used to ensure that zombies can be spotted at very long distances and monitored, and gun nests with good viewing points could be built around these viewing machines. The mountain holds all the necessities of medium-term survival for a reasonably large group, provided that the water problem can be solved fairly rapidly.

Natural Hazards: Although it contains no sizable buildings capable of collapsing in an earthquake, Takao mountain is obviously vulnerable to landslides, which could be dangerous for those on the lower slopes. However, it’s most significant problem is the risk of forest fires, which could wipe out a community very rapidly. The rope way provides a method for rapidly escaping during a significant fire, but keeping it clear of trees would be essential in order to use it successfully. With roaming gangs of humans likely to spot them, back burning to reduce fire risk is not likely to be an option at first, and in any case water supplies may not be sufficient to do this safely. Constant caution and evacuation planning would be necessary to keep this risk under control. The best solution to this problem would be water and forestry management, and any group unable to do these two things would likely ultimately be driven off the mountain by the difficulties of supply and the risks of fire. But if this problem can be solved, the mountain would no doubt be safe for habitation by even up to 100 people.

Tactics

Takao Mountain is highly defensible, and with suitable tactics potentially close to impregnable in a zombie holocaust. If defenders are armed with rifles, it would be easy to defend against a very large horde of slow-moving shambler zombies. Even if guns were not available, a suitable set of barriers could be established on steeper pathways to enable, for example, a single person armed with a pike to kill struggling zombies in relative safety. At the switchbacks, it would be possible to stand in the crook of the switchback and beat down zombies with a pole or pike. Alternatively, traps could easily be set for mindless undead: establish a barrier at a point on the path just past one of the steeper slopes, and present oneself on a high point of one of the slopes to the side of the path just before the barrier. Zombies then reach the barrier and, unable to pass it, attempt to climb the slope on the side of the path. While they slip and fall on the scree, the defender can easily kill them using a suitable pole weapon.

The railway line is even easier to defend, because the top- and bottom-most extents pass through a smooth tunnel. Using a human target, zombies could be funneled into this tunnel and then trapped against a barrier on the upper side; from there, fire could be used safely inside the tunnel to kill large numbers of them. Alternatively, if active defense is not desired, the lower tunnel could be filled with scree, logs and debris, and a series of large rocks – or even, possibly, the train car itself – used as weapons to clear the upper tunnel. The upper platform itself also has a series of fairly solid barriers for passenger control, and is on a steep slope, so it’s possible that even large numbers of zombies wouldn’t be able to get the momentum necessary to push through them. The station itself thus forms another strong defense point, and suitable use of human bait could enable zombie hordes to be funneled into this killing zone, then beaten, burnt and shot into oblivion.

As the linked map shows, there are multiple stages on the mountain; first the lower peak with the temple, then an upper peak with visitor information centre, and then several more, higher peaks, each accessible by a decreasing number of paths. If a zombie wave overwhelms the lower slopes, the higher sections are all highly defensible, enabling even the most exhausted defenders to repel a numerically superior zombie horde with relative ease. With proper preparation, barriers could be set here and used to slow zombie approach while fleeing. With the steep sides of the mountains a constant threat, it could also be possible to break up hordes by throwing members over the slopes, or using rope traps to drag large numbers off the trail. This wouldn’t stop them permanently, but would break apart the horde so that it would be easier to kill as its members attempted to stagger up the steep mountainsides.

Finally, if long-term defenses were needed it might be possible to use back-burning techniques to establish zones higher up the mountain that are safe from fire. In the worst case scenario, with a huge horde approaching, the lower slopes could be fired – possibly using projectiles lobbed beyond the zombies – and the defenders could then retreat into the back-burnt zones. The zombies, struggling up the steep slopes, would be overrun by the fires and potentially destroyed en masse. This is an extremely risky tactic and only useful in summer, and would obviously attract attention from nearby survivors.

Conclusion

A highly defensible, concealed community can be established on Takao Mountain, capable of defending itself capably from even very large zombie hordes, and able to escape rapidly if overwhelmed. The community could potentially be sustainable and even maintain some of the luxuries of modern society – especially, hot water and some lighting – and, although the early years would be hard work, could become a thriving base for recolonization of the world after a zombie apocalypse. If you’re living in Tokyo and worried about the zombie apocalpyse, you should visit Takao Mountain and familiarize yourself with an escape strategy to this excellent post-apocalyptic base.

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