The Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa, famous for having the longest history of mountain worship in Japan.
Mt. Gassan, Mt. Haguro and Mt. Yudono, collectively known as the Dewa Sanzan (Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa), are located in central Yamagata. The Dewa Sanzan mountains boast of having the oldest history of mountain worship in Japan, where ascetic devotees called Yamabushi pay reverence, and even today wear the traditional white robes and diadem. Of the three, only Mt. Haguro is accessible throughout the year. Mt. Gassan is closed from early autumn to early summer, while Mt. Yudono is closed from autumn to spring.
Mt. Haguro is 414 meters high and surrounded by a dense cedar forest that starts at the Zuishin-mon Gate. There are 2,446 stone steps that lead to the mountain top. Beyond this dark, shaded stairway, you can see a striking five-story pagoda that rises up towards the sky, one of Japan's National Treasures. Sanjingo-saiden Shrine, which enshrines gods of all three sacred mountains, sits near the top of Mt. Haguro. It has a 2.1-meter-thick thatched roof, and the interior is completely covered with Japanese lacquer, a sight that is well worth seeing.
The top of Mt. Gassan lies at an altitude of 1,984 meters. There you will find Gassan-jinja Shrine, with its excellent view, as well as the famous Mida-ga-hara Marsh where you can enjoy 'nikko-kisuge' (yellow alpine lilies), black lilies, 'mizubasho' (Japanese skunk cabbage) and other marsh vegetation.
At an altitude of 1,504 meters is Mt. Yudono, deemed the ultimate ascetic disciplinary practice ground. Yudono-san-jinja Shrine is revered as hallowed land which must be kept secret. It is a highly mysterious shrine and photography and video recording are still prohibited today.
[Rail] 2h to Niigata Station by JR Joetsu Shinkansen Line, and 1h 50 min from Niigata to Tsuruoka Station by JR Uetsu Line (limited express). 60 min from Tsuruoka Station to the top of Mt. Haguro-san by bus, or 1h 45 min from Tsuruoka Station to the Hachigome bus stop at Mt. Gassan by bus (only in summer). 1h from Tsuruoka Station to Haguro-sancho Station.