Dewa-sanzan is the collective name for the three holy mountains of Haguro-san, Gas-san and Yudono-san. The mountains gained their holy status over 1,400 years ago after the son of the reigning Emperor made a pilgrimage to the area to practise severe aesthetic religious exercises which later became the founding principles of Shugendo Buddhism.
This type of Buddhism is an ancient blend of esoteric Buddhism, Chinese Taoism and Shinto deity worship and is practised by the Yamabushi mountain priests, who link their religious practises strongly with the nature of the mountains. To become a Yamabushi one must endure many rites of passage, including meditation, hiking, wrestling, food deprivation and other forms of self-denial that bring one closer to nature. The Yamabushi are easily recognisable from their distinctive garb of checked overshirts, billowing white trousers, straw sandals and small, peaked hats. They can also be heard from miles off by sounding their conch-shell trumpets.
The monks are now scattered all over Dewa-sanzan and you will most likely catch a glimpse of one scurrying up the mountain or at one of the many temples in the area. Dewa-sanzan is best explored over a number of days as there are some arduous climbs, but if your time is more limited we recommend climbing to the top of either Mt Haguro or Mt Gas-san, both of which are around two hour ascents.
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