The Three Mountains of Dewa
North Japan’s premiere location for spiritual rebirth
For millennia, thousands upon thousands have flocked to the Dewa Sanzan in search of spiritual transformation, the chance to start again, the chance to be reborn. Now it’s your turn.
Discover the Dewa Sanzan
Follow in the footsteps of Kukai, the Buddhist monk responsible for bringing Esoteric Buddhism to Japan, and Matsuo Basho, Japan’s premiere Haiku Poet, to see why he was so infatuated with Oku, the deep north.
Savour Dewa Sanzan Shojin Ryori (ascetic cuisine) made exclusively of vegetables from the surrounding mountains and stay in the Shukubo Pilgrim Lodges dedicated to serving pilgrims on their journey.
Discover how the three sacred mountains came to be the only location in Japan with a thriving Shinto Yamabushi culture.
Relive the stories of gruelling training and learn about why Buddhist monks strove to become Sokushinbutsu Living Buddha or Buddha Mummies.
Take part in the sacred rituals and events of the Dewa Sanzan, such as the Flower Festival or the Shoreisai on Mt. Haguro and embody the Haguro Shugendo philosophy of Uketamo and get reborn in a Dewa Sanzan pilgrimage of rebirth.
The ancient Japanese regarded all mountains as sacred, a belief passed down from generation to generation. Yamabushi mountain ascetics bravely ventured into the Dewa Sanzan and emerged with a fresh vigour akin to being reborn. Thus, traversing the Dewa Sanzan became known as a pilgrimage of rebirth, the mountains themselves the mother’s womb.
Mt. Haguro represents the present and the salvation of the current world’s hardships. Mt. Gassan represents the past or the afterlife where the ancestors reside and where we atone for our wrongdoings. Lastly, Mt. Yudono represents rebirth or the world of the future where we come face to face with our future selves.
It is believed that Buddha’s mantras are projected onto the Dewa Sanzan, so navigating them means to learn and embody their secrets. From the founder, Prince Hachiko, who in 592 journeyed to the sacred peaks in the hope of salvation for the people, to Kobodaishi, commonly known as Kukai, the monk who brought Buddhism to Japan, and of course Matsuo Basho, Japan’s most prominent Haiku poet, millions have been attracted to the Dewa Sanzan in search of a spiritual awakening for centuries.
Where the present world’s troubles are overcome
With its stone stairway and five-storied pagoda situated amongst the hundreds of towering cedars and the thickest thatched roof in Japan at Sanjin-gosaiden Shrine, Mt. Haguro is a definite must-see.
Mt. Haguro is the location of the Shukubo pilgrim lodges built in the 1600s specifically for those making a pilgrimage on the Dewa Sanzan. In its heyday, this village hosted more than 3 million pilgrims annually, providing not only lodging, but a place for pilgrims to change into the traditional Shiroshozoku garments and purify their bodies by eating the Shojin Ryori ascetic cuisine before heading out on their pilgrimage of rebirth.
Oh what sweet delight …
The cool fragrances of snow
In southern valley
-Matsuo Basho at Mt. Haguro
Where we meet our ancestors and atone for past misgivings
From the mist-covered Midagahara marshlands, to the rocky mountain paths over ice and snow, the 1,984m (6,509ft.) Mt. Gassan is the tallest of the three Dewa Sanzan.
When we die, it is said that our souls spend an arduous 33 years training, starting in the lower-lying mountains such as Mt. Haguro, until eventually reaching the top of Mt. Gassan where we turn into gods.
As such, Mt. Gassan is the metaphoric border into heaven where we can meet our deceased ancestors, and represents the world of the afterlife.
Where we come face-to-face with our future selves
Mt. Yudono is home to the most sacred part of the Dewa Sanzan, the object of worship in Mt. Yudono Shrine. So sacred, in fact, that there is an age-old rule forbidding any mention of it.
Mt. Yudono was also the training ground for the Sokushinbutsu. Otherwise known as Buddha Mummies or Living Buddha, Sokushinbutsu are self-mummified monks that sacrificed their lives to leave evidence of reaching enlightenment in the current world, and in the hopes of providing salvation to the people.
Sleeves wet at Mt. Yudono,
By the mountain foot
Experience the Dewa Sanzan
Join Master Hoshino, the 13th generation Yamabushi Master of Daishobo Pilgrim Lodge and the Yamabushido team as they embark on a Haguro Shugendo-style pilgrimage of rebirth on the Dewa Sanzan.
Zen monks have been training in Zenpoji Temple for over a millennium. Dedicated to the ocean, the temple is home to one of Tsuruoka City’s five-storied pagodas, the only city in Japan to have more than one, illustrating the strong spiritual beliefs of the townspeople.
Zenpoji Temple is dedicated to the worship of the ocean, as opposed to the mountains, and contains a shrine where two dragon gods reside, with dragons traditionally symbolising water in the east.
The temple offers Zen experiences such as meditation and calligraphy, and guests are also welcome to stay there.
Yamadera is a picturesque temple hanging on the precipice of a cliff founded over 1,000 years ago. Notable for its views, a climb up the 1,015 steps is akin to climbing up to paradise.
Matsuo Basho didn’t originally plan on visiting Yamadera Temple, however, when questioned multiple times on whether he had been there, it was obvious he simply had to go.
And it is a wonderful thing he did, for he phrased a Haiku that succinctly encapsulates the essence of the Japanese.
The Dewa Sanzan are located in the middle of Yamagata Prefecture in the northern Tohoku Region of Japan.
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