looking down from the beams of the main shrine at Haguro-san
For the next part of our trip to Yamagata we caught a bus from Yamagata city to Tsuruoka, where we met up with our friends Sarah and Jen and then hopped on another bus to Haguro-san. My plan was to finally finish hiking all three of the sacred peaks of Dewa Sanzan: Haguro-san, Gas-san, and Yudono-san. It is said that the mountains should be hiked in the order of the life-stages that they represent: Haguro-san stands for birth, Gas-san for death, and finally Yudono-san for rebirth. The three peaks are popular with mountain ascetics known as Yamabushi, who hike the peaks in white robes and tabi split-toed shoes. Of course, there are plenty of other hikers in white robes who I suspect are tourists on Yamabushi tours rather than authentic religious pilgrims.
We got off the bus at the base of the mountain. I had been craving some Yamagata cherries, so we asked if there was a place nearby to buy some. The souvenir shop owners pointed us down the road so we walked a while to a you-pick-em cherry farm. The 10 to 15 minute walk turned out to be more like 20 or 30 minutes, and unfortunately, when we got to the farm they were already out of cherries for the day (due to a lower harvest than usual). They did give us three delicious cherries each to sustain us on the walk back.
After we got back to the base of the mountain we stopped at the public restroom in town before we started hiking. This cute little frog was hanging out next to the men’s room.
We saw this furry caterpillar on the sidewalk.
At the beginning of the hike we entered a lush, mossy forest of towering trees. This red bridge crosses a small stream.
Past the red bridge is a stone bridge that leads to a small shrine in front of a waterfall.
Next, we came upon the 600 year-old five-storied wooden pagoda. The pagoda is a national treasure that was constructed without metal screws or nails.
If you look closely as you climb the 2446 steps you might see some of the 33 figures of gourds, sake cups, bottles, or in this case, a yamabushi. We were able to find about 10 of them.
We also saw several “Yamabushi” hikers.
We stopped at a small tea shop that was perched midway up the mountain. I got a miso soup with tofu and Gas-san takenoko. Gas-san takenoko are thin bamboo shoots that grow on the slopes of Gas-san and are in season this time of year.
At Haguro’s summit, the dieties of all three mountains are enshrined since Haguro-san is accessible year-round.
Yamabushi receive a blessing.
A shrine for shoes
It was the season for ajisai.
We stayed at Saikan, the shukubo at the summit. Since there weren’t many travelers staying there, we had a huge room to ourselves.
I expected the meal to be vegan shojin-ryori, as it had been the last time I stayed there, but I was surprised to find that dinner included a grilled fish. The other dishes included wild mountain vegetables, Gas-san takenoko, goma-dofu (sesame tofu) with yurine lily bulbs, pickled eggplant, and Tsuruoka melon. My favorite dish was the sweet miso-topped broiled eggplant.
Breakfast on the other hand was vegetarian, featuring miso soup, rice, handmade tofu, and wild vegetables.
I was excited to find some vendors selling cherries in the parking area. We tried two different kinds and they were both delicious!
Saikan at night
See more of our photos from Haguro-san on Alex’s photoblog.
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