Places

The Three Peaks of Dewa

Reborn Atop Sacred Mountains

Sunlight sneaks through dense foliage, highlighting the morning dew trapped atop leaves. As visitors approach the ancient mountain shrines, birds chirrup their arrival and stone statues gaze eternally into the surrounding trees.

This sacred area is Dewa Sanzan, the three mountains of Dewa, an ancient province now known as Yamagata, Japan. In these mountains, birth, death, and rebirth are intricately tied together, celebrated by the ascetic worship known as Shugendo. The Dewa Mountains claim the oldest history of mountain worship in Japan, and the area’s people continue to uphold traditions and adhere to practices that are fourteen hundred years old.

For more than a millennium, pilgrims from around the country have trekked hundreds of miles to climb through dense cedar forests to reach the peaks of Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan, and Mount Yudono. These arduous pilgrimages were fueled by the belief that by reaching the peaks that symbolized birth, death, and rebirth, respectively, one could be rediscovered through nature and be reborn as a new soul.

This trio of mountains remains revered today. Mount Haguro is praised for its stunning five-story pagoda, which stands as one of Japan’s National Treasures. Mount Gassan, the tallest of the three, boasts beautiful views and an electric display of marsh vegetation, a variety of unique flowers and alpine plants. Finally, Mount Yudono is considered the holiest of the three and guards a sacred repository believed to enshrine the spirit of a god. It is so sacred that photographs, even discussion, of what happens within the shrine are verboten. 

With their rich history and worship, the Yamabushi guard these peaks and uphold traditional practices while remaining deeply connected to nature and the ancient gods on these sacred mountains.

—Haley Alt

  • Shugendo a religious practice dating back almost fifteen hundred years that revolves around worshipping mountains and the gods who reside there.
  • Shintai an ascetic item believed to enshrine spirits of a god, or kami. These are considered temporary repositories for human believers to worship.
  • Yamabushi an ancient practitioner believed to connect the material world with the other world where gods reside; a Shugendo spiritual practitioner known for incredible feats of endurance.
"... by reaching the peaks that symbolized birth, death, and rebirth, respectively, one could be rediscovered through nature and be reborn as a new soul."

Plan your visit to Dewa

Rediscover Yourself

Take a transformative and cultural journey to the remote area of Tsuruoka, Yamagata. Summer is the best time to climb these mountains, as Mount Gassan reaches an altitude of 1,984 meters and Mount Yudono’s hallowed ground of 1,504 meters means snow as early as autumn.

Those seeking a deeper understanding of these sacred mountains and ascetic monks’ ways are welcome to enjoy experiences made available by our local collaborators, the Yamabushi. Participants may partake in a myriad of authentic Yamabushi practices, dine on local shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine), and visit some of the region’s most unique temples and shrines in this spectacular setting.

Return to nature and rediscover yourself in the embrace of the Dewa Sanzan mountains with our partner theartoftravel.net.