The Smallest of Dewa Sanzan’s Sacred Mountains
Mount Haguro stands 414 meters above sea level next to Tsuruoka City, Yamagata prefecture, in the north of Japan. One of the three Dewa Sanzan sacred mountains with Mount Gassan and Yudono-san, its ascension is a religious pilgrimage in a lush environment, that tourists also appreciate.
Dewa was the former name of the province encompassing present day’s Yamagata and Akita prefectures. Dewa Sanzan mountains increasingly drew more tourists over time, but they are primarily a pilgrimage site for believers of the Shugendo religion, as is Sanbutsu-ji temple in Tottori.
It was prince Hachiko in the 6th century who introduced the Shinto cult in the Shonai area, after sailing up to Yaotome beach 🏖 (now Tsuruoka), before climbing Mount Haguro, guided by eight maidens and a three-legged raven. However, it was not before the middle of Heian period (794 - 1185) that the place became a thriving site for Shugendo, a syncretistic religion taking roots in both Shinto and Buddhism.
Its strict discipline was a token for its worshipers for several hundred years. The main feat is to challenge Mount Haguro, and it is no easy task. The ascension indeed consists of climbing a steep stairway of 2,446 stone steps, surrounded by a cedar forest. At the end of the climb, several temples offer a place for anyone to pray for health, work, wealth and many more.
Further, the beautiful red bridge of the gods, from which one can see a waterfall overhanging another temple, leads to Haguro-san’s famous five-story pagoda. Of an astonishing beauty and listed as a National Treasure, the pagoda was built 1,000 years ago by samurai Taira no Masakado. Its structure’s sophistication is still an example for today’s architects in designing earthquake proof buildings.
Climbing the Three Mountains can take about one day for each. But for those who do not have the time or for less athletic visitors, Haguro-san and its pagoda offer a remarkable site for traditional Japan’s lovers.
Down the mountain, a few minutes’ bus ride away, it is also possible to visit Ideha Museum, a large place for Shugendo worship. Prayers sessions are opened to the public provided visitors stay quiet and respect the believers.