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Mt. Yudono, the Mountain of future, Love... and Death

Paper amulets used to purify oneself during Mt. Yudono's pilgrimage

You maybe have heard of Dewa Sanzan as being the mountains where one can accomplish the "journey of Rebirth" (umarekawari no tabi 生まれかわりの旅), each symbolizing the three "stages of life": present (Mt. Haguro), past (Mt. Gassan), and future (Mt. Yudono).

But Mt. Yudono becoming part of the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa is quite a recent thing. Until Tenshô Period 天正時代 (1570-1592), the last mountain of Dewa Sanzan was Mt. Chôkai 鳥海山 (Sakata City 酒田市). And even before Mt. Chôkai, it was another mountain that caught pilgrims' heart: Mt. Hayama 葉山 (Okura Village 大蔵村). For geographical reasons, Mt. Chôkai was ditched for Mt. Yudono : it was closer to Gassan than Mt. Chôkai (there's around 100km between the two mountains, and it's not hard to imagine how inconvenient it was for pilgrims to go to each places back then). And the concept of "mountain of the future" didn't arrive before Mt. Yudono made it inside the three sacred mountains. So, where does this name come from?

Mt Haguro is a place that worships Kannon Bosatsu a Buddhist goddess of mercy who protects humans from disasters, difficult childbirths, and who raises people's fertility. For that reason, Mt. Haguro has always been seen as a "mountain of life": a mountain where one prays for its present happiness.

But Gassan and Yudono were always seen as "mountains of death". People would bury or spread their deceased ones' bones in the rocky part of Fudaraku's lands in Mt Gassan, and people would lit incense sticks and pray for their loved ones they lost in front of Mt. Yudono's hôzen 宝前 (a sort of donation box).

So what's the link with love? And future?

We can find the name "mountain of love" koi no yama 恋の山 in several Waka poems that talk about other mountains :

恋の山しげき小笹の露分て入そむるよりぬるる袖かな 【 源顕仲 、新勅撰和歌集】
恋の山入てくるしき道ぞとはふみそめてこそ思ひ知ぬれ 【有忠、新千載和歌集】
誰をかは恋の山辺の時鳥夢の枕にたびたびは鳴く 【家持、家持集】

Even though in those poems, the name of "mountain of love" (koi no yama 恋の山) actually comes from a metaphor between the difficulty of walking a mountain and the difficulties of love, in Mt. Yudono's case, the word "love" koi 恋 does not refer to a "passionate", "sexual" feeling that would exist in a couple, but it is about the genuine, pure love that binds parents to their children.

Mt. Yudono: the "mountain of love" , koi no yama 恋の山 is the sacred place where parents can mourn (koishitau 恋い慕う) their deceased children, and children can mourn their deceased parents any time, allowing their love to exist forever through prayers and faith.

Some authors argue this is where Mt. Yudono inherited its other name too: "the mountain of future" mirai no yama 未来の山, because on Mount Yudono, love still lives on for eternity. Today, and in the future. Forever.

Others tell that the name of "mountain of love" come from the old kanji for "love" koi 恋 = 戀 : which is made of the characters thread 糸 + saying 言 + thread 糸 + heart 心, the kanji would not mean "love" but literally: "a heart (faith) that seals sayings with threads", in other words, koi no yama 戀の山 is the mountain which spirituality should not be told to anybody ("should be tied"). That would also explain why Mt. Yudono is also called the Mountain "of which nobody should talk about nor ask about" kataru nakare, kiku nakare no yama 語るなかれ聞くなかれの山 (I stopped counting how many names Yudono had...)

But the romantic me prefers to believe the first explanation...

What do you think is the true one? Leave a comment below!


畠山弘、「湯殿山と即身仏」、 爈 の会、2001. (p.19-21)

伊藤武、「出羽三山」、みちのく書房、1996 (p.62-64, p.247-248)

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