Dewa Sanzan 出羽三山 is the collective name given to the "Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa" — Mt. Haguro, Mt. Gassan, and Mt. Yudono. It has been a pilgrimage site for religious practitioners of ‘Shugendo’ for more than 1400 years. Shugendo 修験道 (in Japanese: "the Way of the Harsh Training”) is derived from Esoteric Buddhism practices; it includes principles from both the Shinto religion and Taoism and is strongly linked to Japan's original spirituality that centers on the worship of mountains. The practitioners of Shugendo are called Yamabushi 山伏 ("those who retreat in the mountains"). The Dewa Sanzan is one of the Three Main Sites of Shugendo in Japan (日本三大修験道), designated sacred in 593 by the legendary Prince Hachiko. In addition to being central for mountain-worshipping religious practices in the Tohoku region, the religious tensions between Mt. Yudono and Mt. Haguro led to the emergence of the Sokushinbutsu mummies phenomenon in the Shingon Buddhist temples of Mt. Yudono. Sokushinbutsu are mummies of Shingon Buddhist monks who committed to harsh practices in order to mummify their own bodies. This was done in an effort to become Buddhas themselves.The separation between Shinto and Buddhism—ordered by the Meiji Government in 1868—led to multiple transformations within Dewa Sanzan's Shugendo practice and its architecture. Despite those transformations, Dewa Sanzan's practice of Shugendo has been continuous for the past 1400 years. Even today, you can attend Yamabushi rites performed by Yamabushi priests, and even interact with them.
Dewa Sanzan's Yamabushi and "The Journey Of Rebirth"
Yamabushi monks of the Dewa Sanzan undertake the ‘three sacred mountains' pilgrimage to become reborn into a new “self.” They consider nature to be a “mother," and forests in particular to act as a maternal womb, allowing the pilgrims to experience a wiser, more awakened life. You, too, can take the journey of rebirth by hiking in the mountains—either alone, or accompanied by a Yamabushi priest from the Dewa Sanzan shrine.
Visiting the Dewa Sanzan
Visitors are more than welcome to discover the Dewa Sanzan Yamabushi culture and hike our holy trails.
We remind our kind travelers that the Dewa Sanzan is a sacred place. We ask every visitor to follow the pilgrim etiquette when present on site: do not litter, do not damage properties, do not collect plants unless a guide authorizes you, do not be loud near the religious edifices, and do not take pictures on forbidden sites.
We also encourage people to learn about our culture and spirituality. Do not hesitate to ask one of our Yamabushi guides.