Mount Haguro – 羽黒山
For the first time we are going to talk about Yamagata Prefecture! Here lays a mountain which faces on the Shōnai plain, a fascinating region that makes you feel like going back in time: here’s Mount Haguro!
What’s special about Mount Haguro?
Mt. Haguro is, together with Gas-san and Yudono-san, one of the three Dewa Mountains, known as Dewa Sanzan in Japanese: they are holy mountains where, over the last 1400 years, the cult of the Shugendō (a religious current which combines esoteric Buddhism and Shintō beliefs) has been practiced.
Among these three mountains, Mt. Haguro is the lowest, but it’s the only one accessible throughout the whole year. Moreover, the Dewa Shrine is also here located: it plays the main role among this area’s places of worship. Sanjin Gosaiden’s straw roof is 2 meters thick, and it is so the thickest straw roof of Japan.
Mt. Haguro has a rich nature: the Shugendō monks, called Yamabushi, enter this mountain’s forest to practice ascetic trainings. It is possible to see them walking around the buildings and listen to the sound of their Horagai, big shells used as horns.
Hidden in the woods a majestic five-storied pagoda is located, recorded as National Treasure.
How to get to Mount Haguro?
Mt. Haguro is located in the area of Tsuruoka City, in Yamagata Prefecture.
If you are going to use public transportation, first you have to reach Tsuruoka Station.
You can take a Shinkansen bullet train running on the Jōetsu Shinkansen from Tōkyō Station and so reach Niigata Station; here you have to take a Uetsu Line local train and get off at Tsuruoka Station (it may need you to change train once or twice along the way). The journey takes about 4 and a half hours, and from Niigata Station and Tsuruoka Station you will be able to enjoy nice views on Sea of Japan.
At Tōkyō Station you can also get on the Yamagata Shinkansen heading to Shinjō Station; you then transfer on the Rikū West Line and reach Amarume Station, where you can take the aforementioned Uetsu Line (this time, southbound) and arrive at Tsuruoka Station. This journey takes about 4 hours, and passes throughout the inner area of Tōhoku Region.
Both these routes don’t need any extra fee if you use a Japan Rail Pass, including its East Japan (Tōhoku) limited version, and the round trip can nearly pay off the price of the weekly pass.
If you are travelling by plane, Shōnai Airport is linked to the main Japanese airports, including Tokyo Haneda with direct flights. The price of the flight may be a bit costy, but from Tokyo you can reach Yamagata in less 1 hour. At the airport you will find a limousine bus service (usually synchronized with the arriving flights) heading to Tsuruoka Bus Terminal, located a few meters west from the train station.
Timetable of the Airport Limousine Bus (in Japanese): http://tinyurl.com/no8bull
At the Tsuruoka Bus Terminal you can catch a bus heading to Mount Haguro. Click on this link for further information (in Japanese): http://tinyurl.com/k7afw5h
Arrived a the foot of Mount Haguro you can reach the summit walking on a 1.8 km long stone staircase realized in 1648, during the Edo period. Otherwise, if you come by car, or you have reded one, you can drive on a handy paved toll road leading near the summit.
I visited Mt. Haguro in July. On the way to the mountain I passed under a 21 mt-high torii, which indicates the entrance to the holy area. I reached the mountain top walking the long stone stair, surrounded by huge sugi (cryptomeria japonica) trees.
This represented, at least for me, a half of this place’s charm: the more you go on, the more you feel like entering a mysterious, ancient world.
On the top I walked towards the Sanjin Gosaiden: while looking at the thick straw roof I could hear the monks reciting their mantras and playing drums, it was very impressing.
Then, I entered the woods, where a small waterfall played as background for a few holy buildings linked by a pretty crimson-red bridge. Walking on, I finally reached the pagoda: I’ve been enchanted by this building, 29 mt-high!
Mt. Haguro is worthy of its role; the ancient, holy atmosphere will be forever among the best feelings I have had in my life.