This week provides adventurous readers with another chance to get their hands dirty and explore the ancient religion of Shugendo, this time visiting the very epicenter of the faith that fuses mountain worship with Buddhism and eccentric practices.
To fully explore Shugendo, we need travel to Dewa Sanzan, the three mountains in Yamagata Prefecture that are the epicenter of this belief.
Gimli, the dwarf-warrior of Middle Earth, would certainly approve of our quest. Who can say he wasn’t slicing his ax through the mists of time 1,400 years ago when the religion officially got its start on the initiative of mysterious prince Nojo Taishi, believed the son of ancient Emperor Sushun?
The three mountains we seek are: 1,984-meter Gassan, 1,500-meter Yudonosan and 414-meter Hagurosan. Of course, each mountain has a meaning. Hagurosan symbolizes the present, Gassan the past and Yudonosan the future. A pilgrim that visits the three peaks experiences–at least metaphorically–death and then rebirth.
Metaphysics aside, each of the mountains has a present-day place of worship.
Gassanjinja shrine on Mount Gassan is open to the public only during the summer. You can’t just saunter in–worshippers must go through Shinto purification rites before visiting.
Read the rest of the story: Dewa mountains: Try a quick ascetic training course.