Dewa Sanzen: Tranquility in Yamagata's holy mountains - Waku Waku

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Dewa Sanzen: Tranquility in Yamagata's holy mountains


Dewa Sanzen: Tranquility in Yamagata's holy mountains

Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka may be great travel destinations, but going off the beaten path can make a trip to Japan even more rewarding.



Published on 18 Dec 2021, 12:00

Yamagata prefecture, on the island of Honshu, is possibly as far removed from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo as one can get on Japan's main island, and thus it provides the perfect escape from the city.

After taking a night bus from neon-drenched Shinjuku, I arrived in the town of Sakata early the next morning. Despite not sleeping much on the bus, I immediately threw myself into exploring the town on foot.

In feudal times, Sakata was known for its trading port. Today, one can see the old Sankyo storehouses, and visit the adjacent museum to learn about rice cultivation and storage in the region.

The first stop

Dewa Sanzen: Tranquility in Yamagata's holy mountains

However, Sakata was just the first stop on the way to the highlight of my trip to Yamagata – the three holy mountains of Dewa Sanzen. The three mountains are said to represent the past, the present and the future.

The Yamabushi, who are monks who come to do physical and spiritual training here, follow an ancient spiritual path known as Shugendo, which encapsulates elements of Buddhism, Shintoism and Taoism.

Sakata already felt somewhat remote to me, as I had to wait at least half an hour for the first train departing from the only train station in town. Luckily I didn't miss my train, and arrived at the even smaller station of Tsuruoka about 40 minutes later.

From Tsuruoka station, I took a bus for another 40 minutes to the base of Mount Haguro, the most accessible of the three holy mountains. I had stocked up on snacks at the one konbini (convenience store) by Tsuruoka train station, as I knew that Mount Haguro was remote, but how remote it truly was I didn't quite anticipate.

Upon arrival, all three of the local restaurants were closed, and I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to eat that night. However, one of the proprietors was kind enough to make me some onigiri (Japanese rice balls) so I wouldn't starve. I happily ate them as her cat kept me company.

Dewa Sanzen: Tranquility in Yamagata's holy mountains

As I wanted to immerse myself in nature, I had booked four evenings in a traditional temple guest house. I was greeted by a gorgeous old wooden structure, with my own private tatami room and a yukata (a casual kimono) to relax in.

The unique culinary experience

As the restaurant options were limited, I opted to pay extra for the in-house breakfasts and dinners, and I am very glad I did. The guest house serves Shojin Ryori, which is a vegetarian cuisine with its roots in Buddhism enjoyed by the Yamabushi.

Eating the vegetables that grow on the mountains and eschewing meat (in order to avoid bringing harm to any living being) is said to further one's spiritual practice and help them connect to the land.

Dewa Sanzen: Tranquility in Yamagata's holy mountains

It was a unique culinary experience, and throughout my stay, I found myself very excited for breakfast and dinner – every day a different experience. There was always the classic tempura vegetables and edamame with dinner, and an assortment of vegetables.

Strong flavors such as garlic or onion are not used, as there is rather a focus on drawing out the natural flavors of the ingredients through the cooking process.

Food is prepared in variations of five - there are 5 methods of preparation (boiled, roasted, steamed, stewed, or raw) and 5 different colored food (black, white, red, green and yellow) are served. The flavors can also vary from sweet, sour, and savory to bitter or salty.

Please follow and join me next part as I explore the stunning Mount Haguro!



My name is Ilze, and I am a writer who is enthusiastic about travel! I am currently based in Japan, where I spend my time trying to find the best hidden gems the land of the rising sun has to offer! You can follow me on instagram: @ilzegram

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