The most famous is the Akinomine Autumn Peak Ritual that culminates in the Hassaku Festival at the end of August, and the most gruelling is the Fuyunomine Winter Peak that ends with the Shoresai Festival. However, the Dewa Sanzan Flower Festival, or Hanamatsuri, that began with the Natsunomine Summer Peak Ritual, is just as unmissable. Still looking for a reason to add the Dewa Sanzan to your bucket list? If you’re in town over the summer, why not come check out the festival of flowers on Mt. Haguro.
The Summer Peak Ritual and the Dewa Sanzan Flower Festival
For millennia, the placing of flowers in front of gods has been a way to ward off evil in Japan. Originally, July 15th on the lunar calendar (June 15th on the Gregorian calendar) marked the end of a 96-day period when flowers were dedicated to the three Buddhist avatars of Mt. Haguro. Moreover, the start of this period coincides with an important period on the Buddhist calendar known as Higan, two periods of seven days with the middle day falling on the spring equinox. In addition, it concludes when most flowers are in full bloom. On the 14th of July, Yamabushi struck bells at midnight in dedication to peace in the current world, and at dawn the next morning in dedication to enlightenment in the next. Collectively, this became known as the ‘Flower-offering Peak’.
During this 96-day period, unaffiliated Yamabushi brought their followers or apprentices to join in their training. Their aim was simple; rid the polluting thoughts of the present world, and gain enlightenment in the next. Over time, this training became the Natsunomine Summer Peak Ritual. The final day of the summer peak ritual culminated with a flower festival at the top of Mt. Haguro. Since then, the festival became known as the Dewa Sanzan Flower Festival, and is one of the main annual festivals of Dewa Sanzan shrine.
What happens at the Dewa Sanzan Flower Festival?
At 9am on the 14th of July, the Kiribi Fire Ritual, allegedly the oldest ritual in Japan, begins. Then from 2pm, children carry a Mikoshi movable shrine through town starting at the Zuishinmon gates at the bottom of Mt. Haguro. From 10am on July 15th, there are local performing arts on show starting with Kurokawa Noh in front of Prince Hachiko Shrine next to Sanjingosaiden Shrine at the top of Mt. Haguro.
Officially, the festival starts at 10am in the main shrine building, but the real events don’t start until noon. The real Flower Festival is a parade with a giant Brahma Deva. The Brahma Deva is in the form of a bunch of artificial flowers suspended from a giant lantern called a Manto (lit. many lanterns). This Brahma Deva represents the three gods of the Dewa Sanzan, with the flowers representing a rice flower, in dedication of a good harvest. The parade goes clockwise around the Kagami’ike Mirror Pond in front of Sanjingosaiden shrine and includes high-ranking Yamabushi, a sacred tree, a Mikoshi moving shrine, and Miko shrine maidens. The festival concludes with one trip around the Kagami’ike Mirror Pond, and a ceremony where flowers are given out to the lucky afterwards.
Feeling brave? Feeling lucky?
When the parade comes around, join the locals as they fight to grab one of the flowers. If you’re lucky enough, grab one and you will get blessings and favourable treatment from the gods. Take it home and decorate in your entrance to pray for a good harvest, safety in the home, and to ward off evil spirits.
Getting to the Flower Festival
The Dewa Sanzan Flower Festival takes place at the top of Mt. Haguro in front of Sanjingosaiden shrine. Those wishing to see the festival should stay at Saikan, located adjacent to the shrine, or at the Shukubo Pilgrim Lodges at the base of the mountain (email firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries).This area is best accessed by private car, but bear in mind there is a ¥400 toll. There is a short walk from the car park to Sanjingosaiden shrine where the main events on the 15th of July are held from 9am. For those who want to take the chance to walk up Mt. Haguro, there is ample parking near Zuishinmon at the Ideha Cultural Memorial Hall at the base of the mountain near the Five Story Pagoda. This is where the children’s Mikoshi moving float takes place on the 14th of July at 2pm.If you’re using public transport, there are busses from central Tsuruoka and the bottom of Mt. Haguro. Here is a bus timetable for those that need it. Zuishinmon at the bottom of the mountain is on the timetable as “Haguro Zuishinmon”. In addition, “Haguro Sancho” on the timetable is located at the top of Mt. Haguro. The bus stops at the same car park the cars use, so there is also a little walk to Sanjingosaiden shrine. More details in this article.
Mokkedano website on events in the Shonai Region (Japanese).
It will be hot so make sure to drink plenty of fluids and bring sun protection. There are shops and vending machines to buy drinks at both the top and bottom of Mt. Haguro, but sun protection may be limited.
Tim Bunting is a Dewa Sanzan Shrine Yamabushi with over 10 years’ experience living beneath the three mystical peaks. He is a self-professed Dewa Sanzan nerd, and is currently working on the Yamabushido project and Dewa Sanzan Monzenmachi Project with Megurun Inc. His roles including assisting in Yamabushi trainings, translating, interpreting, and curating Dewasanzan.com.