Introducing Dewa Sanzan
'How cool it is, a pale crescent shining, above the dark hollow of Haguro-san.'
Matsuo Bashō, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1689)
Dewa Sanzan is the collective title for three sacred peaks – Haguro-san, Gas-san and Yudono-san – which are believed to represent birth, death and rebirth respectively. Together they have been worshipped for centuries by followers of Shugendō, a folk religion that draws from both Buddhism and Shintō. During the annual pilgrimage seasons, you can see white-clad pilgrims equipped with wooden staff, sandals and straw hat, and fleece-clad hikers equipped with poles, waterproof boots and bandana.
Of course, it is the yamabushi, with their unmistakable conch shells, chequered jackets and voluminous white pantaloons, that keep the ancient traditions alive. Whether stomping along precipitous trails or sitting under icy waterfalls, these devoted mountain men undertake severe ascetic exercises to discipline both body and spirit.