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Armchair Traveller

by reception
posted 07/12/2009

Japan’s Snow Country is not only for skiers…

m_107078 The Dewasanzan (or Dewa’s three sacred mountains) include Mt Haguro (open year round), Mt Gassan and Mt Yudono (closed to the public  during winter). These sacred mountains are home to a special breed of ascetic men who find enlightment by performing feats of endurance, such as running up and down these mountains. Local folklore says they can ‘fly’ and indeed, since they practice a heady  mixture of Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, shamanism and animism, they seem to have supernatural powers. The 2446 stone steps leading to the magnificent temple complex on top of Mt Haguro, are worn by their feet (and those of other pilgrims) who have been making the ascent for centuries. Going at a steady, easy place, you can also enjoy the fragrant cedar forests, rest at the huts where tea and vegetarian fare is offered and admire the 5-storied wooden pagoda (pictured) which looks like a 3-dimensional puzzle put together by giants. As I said on the show, there is a little secret to it this adventure:  if you don’t want to climb the 2446 steps, the bus (regular service from Tsuruoka) will take you not only to the foot of the mountain, but also to the top! Then you can visit the temples (there will be likely a ceremony taking place there) and then go DOWN the steps and enjoy the forest without the strain…

The ascetics who roam these paths are called Yamabushi (those who take refuge in the mountains).  There is a museum at the foot of Mt Haguro, showcasing their lives and practices.

for more information, the Japan Tourism Organisation site is extremely helpful. See:


m_105403Yamadera, nearby, is also worth a visit. No wonder Matsuo Basho (17th-century Japanese poet) fell in love with the area! The terrain is such, that it easily leads to the precarious placing of shrines in nearly inaccessible places (they make amazing shots!). The Yamabushi are said to have to pass rites of courage and trust. Some let themselves be held -by the feet- upside down a cliff while being drilled on mystical lore by their master…

All these locations are easily accessible by train.

To plan your trip consult the Japan Tourism Organisation and their YOKOSO JAPAN 2010 program.

Happy mountain exploring!