If you have traveled to Japan, you have most likely heard of the “Golden Route”. The golden route refers to the most common travel route for first-timers to Japan. The route follows the original Tokaido road that linked Tokyo with Kyoto during the feudal Edo Period taking in some of Japan’s most famous spots along the way, including Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. It is along this route, that the vast majority of tourists spend their time.
However nowadays with the surge in repeat visitors to Japan, especially individual travelers who prefer rural to urban, many trailblazers, are now stepping off the Golden Route to explore Japan’s hidden countryside and unique rural cultures. One of these secretly hidden cultures is the Three Mountains of Dewa (Sewa Sanzan) located in the Shonai region facing the Sea of Japan in Yamagata prefecture.
The pilgrimage through Dewa Sanzan, experiencing the serenity and beauty of the three diverse mountains, is a rare part of Japanese spirituality, that has been a secret for centuries. Dewa Sanzan is the combined name of the three sacred mountains of Mt. Haguro, (419 m) Mt. Gassan (1980 m) and Mt. Yudono (1504 m).
The pilgrim hike of all three mountains is a spiritual journey that has been performed since the beginnings of Shugendo in the eighth century. Shugendo, an ancient mountaineering self-discipline with aspects of Shintoism and Buddhism.
The Yamabushi (Mountain Monks) the followers of Shugendo, still practice their pagan mountain rituals today and have opened their secret ancient discipline to the public. One of the most appealing features of the Yamabushi ascetic mountain life is their Shojin Ryori. Shojin Ryori a vegetarian cuisine that has been passed down since ancient times, prepared without meat or fish Shojin Ryori uses fresh mountain vegetables and mushrooms picked from the Dewa Sanzan mountains.
The triad of Dewa Sanzan mountains represents the past, present, and future. A journey from start to end signifies a passage through life, death, and rebirth. The first mountain Mt. Haguro represents birth, the hike up the 2,446 steps takes you through a rich emerald natural forest with large reddish-brown cedars.
The second mountain Mt. Gassan represents death, the highest peak that connects the other two mountains via a stunning ridge. Due to the high elevation, Mt. Gassan can only be climbed during the summer months (July to Sept).
The third and final mountain, Mt. Yadono, represents rebirth, it is here where you are asked to remove your shoes and purify yourself at the holy hot spring waters at the end of the hike.
Dewa Sanzan is now becoming a popular pilgrimage site for those wanting to explore deeper into Japan’s hidden culture. The Japanese government and some specialty inbound travel agents like us are encouraging this trend by offering tours as well as information on these secluded sites to help revitalise these rural areas.
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