I stayed in Yamagata Prefecture, situated in the Tohoku region, northeast of Japan, for three days during the duration of the Tokyo Olympics in late July. This is virtually my first visit to Yamagata.
I arrived in Sendai, the biggest city in the Tohoku region, by overnight bus in the early morning, and it took me about another three hours to move to Tsuruoka, a provincial town in Yamagata, by highway bus.
What’s more, it took about 40 minutes to the Zuishin-mon at Mt. Haguro from Tsuruoka Station by route bus. The Zuishin-mon is the main entrance to the holy precincts of Dewa Sanzan Shrine.
Dewa Sanzan literally means “the three mountains of Dewa”, Today’s Yamagata: Mt. Gassan, Mt. Yudono and Mt. Haguro. Dewa Sanzan are sacred mountains that many ascetics and pilgrims have visited since ancient time.
You can see mountain worship not only in Japan but also in the world. Mt. Olympus and Mt. Sinai are the typical examples.
Many Buddhist temples bear holy mountain names. Senso-ji, the most famous temple in Tokyo, has its mountain name called Kinryuzan in spite of its location on flat ground‼
Japan’s unique mountain worship, shugendo, developed under the influence of Shintoism, Buddhism and Taoism.
Dewa Sanzan is a major site along with Kumano Sanzan, a World Heritage site in the Kinki region.
Dewa Sanzan provides even laymen with various experiences. My recommendation is trekking on Mt. Haguro.
As you walk in the forest of huge cedar trees, you can share the sacred atmosphere with great haiku master Matsuo Basho, who visited the mountain about three hundred years ago.
The cedar-lined pilgrimage route has received 3 stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan.
You can also see the famous five-storied pagoda, a national treasure.
It takes about one and a half hours to climb the challenging 2,446 stone steps.
Because of lack of sleep, dehydration and skipping breakfast on that day, I was likely to have a heat stroke. I stayed hydrated and replenished sugar thanks to the tea house at the halfway point. Don’t get overconfident!!
Among the three mountains of Dewa, the shrines on Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono, located far from civilization, are difficult to make pilgrimages to in winter due to deep snows.
Therefore, Dewa Sanzan Shrine at the summit of Mt. Haguro was built for Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono. The shrine is dedicated to the kami of the three mountains and serves as the main shrine in the area.
After I came back to Tsuruoka Station from Mt. Haguro, I moved to Sakata, which is a historic port town located along the coast of the Sea of Japan and the second biggest city in Yamagata. It takes about 30 minutes from Tsuruoka to Sakata by local train.
The Sankyo Warehouses are a symbol of the rice-producing region of Shonai, Yamagata, and are famous as the location of a morning drama series Oshin.
Thanks to its location, I could enjoy breakfast at the fish market in Sakata. So yummy!!
Yamagata is off the main track for international travelers, but I am sure you will enjoy visiting the prefecture especially if you are a repeat traveler.