Dewa Sanzan 2/3: Gassan

This is part of a 5-part series on the Dewa Sanzan which includes diary entries and travel information. The bus ride winds down the hill from Haguro-san and picks up visitors staying at a mountain lodge. From there, it traverses wild grassland sprinkled with haphazard shrubs before climbing Gassan. Gassan, just shy of 2000 metres, is a long ride away. We enter deep forests and loop around winding roads for a while. The glimpses of the hills sliding down are spectacular. The morning clouds cast shadows that illuminate the surrounding green ridges. Even the treeline changes. It begins with a dense mix…

Yamagata Haguro-san Dewa Sanzan

Dewa Sanzan 1/3: Haguro-san

This is part of a 5-part series on the Dewa Sanzan which includes 3 diary entries and travel information. August 7, 2015. It’s been a week since I finished the Ohenro, but I’m already back. I rise when the sky is still ashen, at 5am. Here, in the northern prefecture of Yamagata, the morning air is crisp, almost chilly. Today, I’ll see the Dewa Sanzan. They are one of the holiest centres of Shugendo, right up there with Mount Koya for Shingon Buddhism. In the darkness of the ryokan, I pack my half-empty bag and snack on a biscuit for breakfast….

The 5 Essential Shrine Things After Meiji-jingu at the Tomioka Hachimangu

After you’ve visited Meiji Shrine, it’s time for you to go to an actual shrine. Until the turn of the century, shrines have been the community hubs of every city, town and village. Not only were they places that people prayed; they were places for festivals, gatherings, and socialising. They set trends, gave alms, had schools. They are where you heard kids laugh, marketplaces, etc. Shrine aren’t just to be looked at. They’re to be experienced. The birthplace of sumo, professional sumo as it’s known today, also happened at a shrine. Just a 10-minute ride from Tokyo Station and Nihonbashi, Monzennaka-cho…