Sights in Dewa Sanzan
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Off Rte 112, halfway between Yudono-san and Tsuruoka in the village of Ōami, these two seemingly ordinary country temples house the mummies of priests who have become 'living Buddhas'. The ascetic practice of self-mummification, outlawed since the 19th century, involved coming as close to death as possible through starvation, before being buried alive while meditating.
Both temples are located close to the Ōami bus stop, and there are colourful signs to follow. The mummy at Dainichibō is dressed in bright reddish-orange robes, and is looking rather ghoulish with his leathery skin. From the bus stop, head into the village, make a left at the post office, and continue…
Accessible from July to September, Gas-san(1984m) is the highest of the three sacred mountains. Coming from Haguro-san, the peak is usually accessed from the trailhead at Hachigōme (八合目; eighth station). This route then passes through an alpine plateau to Kyūgōme (九合目; ninth station) in 1¾ hours, and then grinds uphill for another 1¼ hours. At the summit, pilgrims flock to Gassan-jinja, though not without first being purified: bow your head to receive a priest's benediction before rubbing your head and shoulders with sacred paper, which is then placed in the fountain.
From the summit, you could head down to eighth station and stay at Gas-san Sanrōsho,…
Because it has the easiest access, Haguro-san(419m) attracts a steady flow of tourists. At the base of the mountain in Haguro village is the Ideha Bunka Kinenkan, a small history museum featuring films of yamabushi rites and festivals. Although the exhibits are in Japanese, they provide excellent context for the climb to follow.
The orthodox approach to the shrine on the summit requires pilgrims to climb 2446 steps, but buses run straight to the top. The climb can be done in a leisurely hour, though you might be lapped by gaggles of sprightly senior citizens.
From the bus stop, walk straight ahead through the torii and continue across the bridge. En route you'll pass …
Accessible from May to October, Yudono-san(1504m) is the spiritual culmination of the Dewa Sanzan trek. Coming from Gas-san, it's just a short walk from the stream bed at the end of the down climb to Yudono-san-jinja. This sacred shrine is not a building, but rather a large orange rock continuously lapped by water from a hot spring. It has the strictest rituals of the three, with pilgrims required to perform a barefoot circuit of the rock, paddling through the cascading water.
To finish the pilgrimage, it's a mere 10-minute hike further down the mountain to the trailhead at Yudono-san Sanrōsho (湯殿山参籠所), which is marked by a torii and is adjacent to the to …