Yamagata-ken has one of Japan’s most well-known sacred places for mountain worship, the Dewa Sanzan or the “Three Mountains of Dewa”. The landscape is defined by its stunning natural beauty of mystical mountains, volcanic lakes, hot springs and farmlands. In fact, this is where the soul of Japan lies in its traditional and religious culture and where ancient mountain worship is still very much practiced. The followers, known as Shugenjas or Yamabushi (mountain monks) have been performing the rites of worship for the last 1400 years. Still, followers embark on long pilgrimages and practice austere feats of physical endurance of natural elements as an ascetic rite in passage to gain spiritual power.
The Mount Haguro Pilgrimage route beginning from the Zuishinmon gate and leading up to the mountain summit, dates back to the Edo period. This climbing course is 1.7km (1 mile). On the way up, you will come across the famous Mt. Haguro Go-ju-to (five-story pagoda). The Michelin Green Guide Japan gave this scenic path its top honour of three stars. As you climb the 2,446 steps to spiritual discovery, and take in the beauty of rows of magnificent cedar trees that are 350-500 years old, it’s easy to see why this area is regarded so highly. Those who take this path for spiritual training often claim it to be “a life changing pilgrimage.” While you travel along this sacred path maybe you’ll find yourself born again as well.
Aizuwakamatsu is a historic castle town known as the “land of the last samurai”. The people of Aizu were people of good faith and it was their custom to pay respects to all thirty-three Kannon Buddha temples. They practice this in the form of a pilgrimage that was more for entertainment than a tough, ascetic ritual. During the Edo period, people would journey to the temples for sightseeing. Even now, there are many people who make the pilgrimage with friends and family. In fact, the image of Kannon makes its appearance everywhere from wonderful temples in the city to stone Buddhas in the mountains.