Lonely Planet Writer

Train like the ancients in Japan's sacred mountains

For world travellers, Japan is a country like no other. A vibrant contradiction where new and diverse cultures meet ancient tradition and cherished beliefs, it offers a rich bounty of experiences that are completely unique. One such example is Yamabushido, a project that for the first time ever offers international visitors the chance to travel to a sacred mountain to immerse themselves in a special programme aimed at benefiting both body and mind.

Visitors immerse themselves in nature and take part in hikes across sacred Japanese mountains.
Visitors immerse themselves in nature and take part in hikes across sacred Japanese mountains. Image by Yamabushido

Taking its name from Yamabushi, the ancient mountain priests of Japan and Bushido, the way of the samurai, the training programmes follow the teachings of Shugendo, one of Japan’s most ancient practices. A mixture of Shinto, Buddhism, Animism and mountain faith, it aims to help people understand themselves better by immersing them in the natural world with zero distractions.

The courses are held under the watchful eye of Master Hoshido.
The courses are held under the watchful eye of Master Hoshido. Image by Yamabushido

Yamabushido offers two different programmes (both held under the direction of a 13th generation Yamabushido Master Hoshido) that see participants disconnecting from the modern world. The first programme is a full five-day experience (only offered three times a year) that takes place on the Three Mountains of Dewa (Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono) in Yamagata Prefecture, and includes waterfall meditation, mantra recitation, jumping over fire, visiting sacred shrines and hiking up 2446 stone steps. The less intensive two-day mountain training course is offered 13 times a year, and sees participants taking part in orientation and training before a celebratory lunch to wrap up the experience. Throughout the courses, guests stay at the Daishōbō Pilgrim Lodge at the foothills of the Dewa Mountains.

The celebratory meal offered at the end of the course. Image by Yamabushido

“It’s a training that will give a renewed sense of power, and you’ll gain the ability to disconnect from distractions, noise and stress. You’ll have a powerful opportunity to begin again by letting go of anything in your life that needs to be left on the mountain,” a representative of Yamabushido told Lonely Planet Travel News. The courses are specially arranged with international visitors in mind, but are based on a programme that has been operating for many years for Japanese people. Tailored to be practical for people aiming to improve their lives, the courses aim to help visitors learn skills that can help manage stress and promote mindfulness.

Participants jump over fire after coming out of the mountains on the final day of the course. Image by Yamabushido

“Our participants from abroad have been very pleased with our program. One man living in the Netherlands participated in our programme last year and came back to do our longer one again, and he said he will come next year. Two participants from Spain and Finland this year also said that they will come back next year, and would like to become certificated Yamabushi by attending a one-week programme,” a representative said.

The course aims to help people reconnect with nature and harness their inner power. Image by Yamabushido

More information on booking is available at the official Yamabushido website.