The Three Mountains of Dewa and The Spirit of Yamagata:
A look into the ancient faith of which Shugendo is an expression.


"The mountains of Dewa-sanzan have long been a stage for myth, mystery and imagination. Behind these mountains lies the deep and religious spirit of the common people which has existed before the formation of religions such as Shinto and Buddhism. This space attracted not only living humans, but the dead, the unborn, spirits of nature and various gods and Buddhas. Shugendo is the inheritor of a spiritual history of the common people who accepted and deepened their spiritual responsibilities and saw mountains as a place where Gods and Buddhas could be reconciled."
                                  - Ishikura Toshiaki, cultural anthropologist and mythologist.



"..Shugendo carries on the beliefs of the Jomon era. I'd like to speak about the time I travelled to Dewa-Sanzan. When I first got to Mt. Yudono, i found myself in dense forest. Although there is a road attached to the mountain, I suddenly had a craving to have my feet on the ground. It felt like I was walking through a maze, and as I wandered through this maze I found that my mind was directed inside my heart. The concept of 'self' was standing before me.


When I finally reached Mt. Gassan, the impressions I received were totally different and the drastic change in the landscape came unexpected. When I reached the top of the mountain, my eyes were treated to a large clearing that spread 360 degrees around me. I felt as if the world was unfolding around me with a cosmic glow. I imagine that the best parts of Shugendo are hidden in places like this. ."
                                                            - Tetsuo Yamaori (Religious scholar)



The following will introduce readers to the unique culture and ancient spiritual faith out of which the Shugendo of Yamagata emerged. The ancient folk-character of the Yamagata region is still very much alive beneath the surface of society today and is given concrete expression through the heave presence of Shugendo activity. The Yamabushi of Mt. Haguro proudly refer to their school as "Ancient Shugendo" (古修験道 Ko-Shugendo) as according to legend the opening of Dewa Sanzan by the founder Shoken Daibosatsu predates En no Gyoja's practices in the Katsuragi region during the 7th and 8th centuries. The Shugendo of Mt. Koshikidake too emerged out of this unique blend, with ties to both Mt. Haguro and Mt. Yudono (as well as the Tozan of Rigen Daishi). The following articles come from a guidebook given to me by Reverend Komei Sato, Head Priest of Churen-ji on Mt. Yudono. They were written by director Norio Akasaka of the Tohoku Cultural Research Centre and translated by the world renowned Shugendo scholar and Haguro practitioner Gaynor Sekimori. 



Part 1:

Travelling Joyfully


A new age has begun for travel. A curtain is being raised on a stage where travel will both be studied and learned from. Many people have now started to understand travel and tourism as an opportunity for experiencing a new and different culture. But can Japanese culture also be a foreign culture for the Japanese themselves? This experience is certainly not limited to visitors to Japan from abroad. I think perhaps that in this day and age Japanese history and culture are becoming a foreign culture even for the Japanese.


Here in Northern Japan, in Yamagata prefecture, we can find a large number of strange and mysterious aspects of this 'foreign' culture existing quietly behind the facade of modern life. We can discover them in the Shugendo of the Three Mountains of Dewa, in the self-mummified priest of Churen-ji, in the inner precinct of Yamadera, and in the memorials erected to venerate plants and trees that can be found dotted around the prefecture.


In the midst of a new age, as we seek a new kind of travel, such places offer us the opportunity to experience a small adventure. I hope that as we talk together you will find a new doors opening on this 'foreign culture'. Beyond those doors a journey in space and time awaits you.


Welcome to Yamagata.


Articles: The Three Mountains of Dewa and The Spirit of Yamagata: 

A look into the ancient faith of which Shugendo is an expression.