Editor's note: On Tuesday, June 18, Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture was affected by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake. However, damage to Tsuruoka was minimal with only 7 people slightly injured during a successful evacuation. Because of the news of the earthquake, many tourists have canceled their plans to visit the area. Tsuruoka City’s Tourism Department would like to reassure travelers that the area is completely safe to travel and that they are looking forward to welcoming visitors once again.
Nestled in the northeastern mountains of Yamagata, Tsuruoka is a sometimes overlooked city with unusual gems and sacred grounds. It’s home to Dewa Sanzan (The Three Mountains of Dewa), a truly mystical place and the biggest draw to the expansive city that includes coastline along the Sea of Japan. Tsuruoka was also deemed a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy back in 2014 for its abundance of unique mountainous vegetables. Yet, even more rarities are in store.
The Three Mountains of Dewa
Mount Haguro, Mount Yudono and Mount Gassan (the tallest of the three) symbolize the present, past, and future and are considered sacred by Shugendo monks who practice a strict brand of mountain worship. The mountains’ hiking trail leads you through a dense forest of cedar trees and shrines to the five-storied pagoda Goju-to, the oldest wooden pagoda in the Tohoku region built in 937.
Stay at a traditional temple lodge and try your hand at yamabushi-do (mountain ascetic training), doing rituals like meditating under the cold mountain waterfalls and eating shojin ryori, traditional vegan cuisine made from mountainous vegetables. First, experience “death and rebirth” by ascending and descending the almost 2,500 stairs on Mount Haguro. The ancient pilgrimage route then leads practitioners to the spirit realm, represented by Mount Gassan (1984 meters). To complete the experience, purify yourself in the hot springs of Mount Yudono. The yamabushi (mountain monks’) yearly rituals take place in late August, mid-September and at the end of the year.
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