Your first visit to Haguro is likely to be one of many.
Each time you visit, you discover yet another place that draws you in.
The experience will amaze you.
In the past, not everyone in Japan was allowed to travel. It was restricted to persons who, for instance, traveled to pay taxes or fulfill mandatory military service. The most popular form of sanctioned travel was the religious pilgrimage.
Many worshippers made the pilgrimage to Mt. Haguro, Mt. Gassan, and Mt. Yudono, collectively called the three mountains of Dewa Sanzan, which was referred to as the "eastern pilgrimage." In contrast to the well-known "western pilgrimage to the Shrine of Ise," the eastern pilgrimage to Dewa Sanzan was an epoch journey to a far-flung land, a kind of mecca of the east. It was believed so important that in some regions 15-year old boys who did not make the journey were not considered to have reached manhood. The well-known poet, Mokichi Saito was among those who journeyed to Dewa Sanzan at age 15.
Mountain priests called yamabushi conduct ascetic practices that entail entering the mountain "womb" as "deceased" and returning to an infantile state. Each of the mountains are said to symbolize a temporal world—Mt. Haguro represents the present, which is the transient world of Buddha, Mt. Gassan the past, which is the posthumous world of Buddha, and Mt. Yudono the future, which is the truth of the universe. Journeying through the sphere of the three mountains means simultaneously journeying through the present, past, and future. This is referred to as sankan sando. In the Edo Period (1603–1868), the most conventional manner of pilgrimage to Dewa Sanzan was to begin from Mt. Haguro, conduct ascetic practices representing death and resurrection on Mt. Gassan, and undergo renewal on Mt. Yudono. This religious progression is called sankan sando and symbolizes rebirth.
Though the eastern pilgrimage made during the Edo Period and the yamabushi ascetic practices differ, even today a journey to Dewa Sanzan can renew the spirit.
The area surrounding Haguro has traditionally prospered through agriculture and fishing. Rice grown in the Shonai region is so delicious that eating rice alone is considered a satisfying meal. The area is known for many local products, such as dadachamame, a kind of edamame that gives off an aroma when cooked that signals the arrival of summer. It is best paired with the mild, lavish flavor of Japanese oysters and smooth, local sake.
Temple guesthouses line the streets of the village of Toge, located at the foot of Mt. Haguro. People who revere Dewa Sanzan come from throughout Japan to visit. The shojin ryori (vegetable dishes) served at the sanrojo (priests' retreat) and guesthouses are amazing. Made with plants grown in the mountain soil and prepared with the same care and methods as in times gone by, the cuisine delights both the body and the spirit.
After the Dewa Sanzan eastern pilgrimage, visitors can wash away their weariness at hot spring villages such as Yunohama, Atsumi, Yura, and Yutagawa. Travelers are welcomed with fresh culinary riches from the mountains, local fields, and the seawaters throughout the four seasons.
Visitors to Haguro today encounter a culture that grew from the natural features surrounding Dewa Sanzan, and a faith and journey that were born there, culminating in a valuable experience where travelers experience the ancient, yet contemporary relationship formed among people, nature, and spirit.
You can feel a sudden change in the air as you pass through the Zuishin Gate at the entrance to Mt. Haguro. Descend the stone steps, and you'll hear the murmuring of stream waters in the distance. The sando, or shrine approach, is lined with ancient cedar trees dating back 350 to 500 years. Continue along the path to enjoy a 1.7km walk in an invigorating environment that ends at the mountaintop. This shrine approach is said to be a path to rebirth because the Japanese word sando for "shrine approach" can also mean "birth canal."
The entrance path was constructed over a 13-year period from 1648 by Tenyu Betto, the 50th chief priest. There are 33 figures carved into the steps, and it is said that if you find them all, your greatest wish will be granted. Searching for the figures makes the approximate 1-hour climb to the peak even more interesting.
After crossing over the murmuring Harai River in which worshippers purify themselves before praying, you'll see the Five-storied Pagoda on the left. Standing 29m tall, the wooden pagoda has a shingled roof and beautiful, long eaves reminiscent of a swan taking flight. The towering construction presents a stunning sight throughout the seasons, and many make the trek in winter to see it covered in snow. It is said to have been built by Taira no Masakado, a military commander, and was restored in 1608 by Yoshiaki Mogami, the wealthy feudal lord of the Yamagata Domain in Dewa Province. It is the only five-storied pagoda designated a national treasure in the northeastern region.
Sanjin Gosaiden is located at the top of Mt. Haguro and is dedicated to the deities of the three mountains, Mt. Haguro, Mt. Gassan, and Mt. Yudono. The surrounding area is notable for mountain temples built to conform to the natural landscape. While the current shrine was rebuilt in 1818, it is an important thatched, wooden construction that still retains buildings dating from the Middle Ages, such as the priests' quarters. In the year 2000, it was designated an important cultural asset.
Open: Year round (has over 1m of snow cover in the winter; snow is cleared from Zuishin Gate to the Five-story Pagoda/peak) 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Visitor Fee (Sanjin Gosaiden/Shoden visit includes guidance by yamabushi/group worship): 16,000 yen for up to 20 people; an additional 800 yen is charged for each person exceeding the 20-person group limit
Transit Toll (Hagurosan Expressway): Buses over 4t are 1,400 yen; under 4t are 700 yen; standard-size cars are 400 yen
7 Tamuke Aza, Toge, Haguro-machi
Tsuruoka-shi, Yamagata-ken 997-0211
This main shrine at the top of Mt. Gassan can be reached after an approximate 2hr. and 30min. climb from the 8th station at Midagahara Marsh, approximately 1,400m above sea level.
Mt. Gassan is 1984m high and covered in snow year round, allowing visitors to ski even in summer. Strong mountain winds preclude the construction of a large shrine, and for that reason a small shrine measuring 1m2 was built amid walls made of stacked stones. This is the current site of Gassan Hongu, which was called omuro in the past, meaning a cavern where gods dwell.
This shrine is dedicated to the deity, Tsukuyomi no Mikoto who is noted in the Kojiki (Japan's oldest historical record) as ruling over the realm of the night.The History of Mt. Haguro states that the god, Amithaba appeared on Mt. Gassan. Amithaba is the Buddha of the land of the deceased, and Tsukuyomi no Mikoto controls the night. Therefore, it is said that Mt. Gassan is the Pure Land of the night where the deceased reside.
● Current Year: July 1st to September 19
● Time Required to Climb Mt. Gassan: Approx. 2hr., 30min. walk from the 8th station of Mt. Gassan and Midahara; mountain cabins are located along the 8thstation, and at the 9th station and the mountaintop; overnight lodging is possible (reservations required)
●1 Person: 500 yen (visitors must undergo purification to worship at Gassan Hongu)
●TEL: 090-8921-9151/FAX: 090-4046-5608 (Gassan Hongu)
●1 ceremony from 3,000 yen (fill out your petition and name on the prayer request)