Even advanced trekkers fear the Rokujurigoe-Kaidô 六十里越街道 pilgrimage road. This 20km long ancient road, opened up 1200 years ago, that is to say only 200 years after the opening of Dewa Sanzan, was originally designed so the pilgrims from all the Tohoku region could accomplish the pilgrimage of Dewa Sanzan easily. The road, located in the Asahi area of Tsuruoka City, links several villages and cities together: Tsuruoka, Matsune, Jûôtôge, Ôami, Tamugimata, Mt. Yudono, Ôgukitôge, Shizu, Hondôji Temple, and Sagae. During Muromachi and Edo periods (14th-19th century), the religious practices and believes around the mountain were thriving and Mt. Yudono was the central point of that "mountain spirituality" (sangaku shinkô 山岳信仰). Pilgrims from all Tohoku region overflowed to Mt. Yudono to express their faith, and started using the Rokujurigoe-kaidô as a shortcut from Mt. Gassan to Mt. Yudono, giving it its nickname: The Path to Yudono (jp: yudonomichi ゆどのみち).
During the bakufu era, the road was also used by the Shonai Clan everytime the lord had to go to the capital under the orders of the shogun. At the same time, merchants from Shonai region used the Rokujurigoe-kaidô in order to go sell their candles, tobacco, and fish to the inner lands of what is now Yamagata prefecture.
It is not an exaggeration to say the Rokujurigoe-kaidô was a busy road full of life and useful to a lot of persons. However, when Meiji Restoration was proclaimed (1868) and that Shintô religion was declared the official religion of Japan, placing the mountain spirituality and Buddhism in the shadow, the road's popularity slowly declined, to become almost deserted. Still today, you can find several Buddhist statues and stela along the way, between the numerous holy springs and sacred trees.
Trekkers usually walk the Rokujurigoe-kaidô from late June to late October only, to avoid taking risks because of remaining snow outside this period. It is in total 20km long, but let me show you different trekking courses recommended by the inhabitants of Asahi region.
❶- Short trek to Churenji Temple
Difference of altitude from the starting point to the end: 150m
Time needed: 45min.
1) You will start your ascension at Jûôtôge 十王峠 (1st picture from top left)
2) You will arrive to the plain on the second picture from top left.
3) After a while, you will arrive to the holy spring water Itaya shimizu.
4) Following the path, you will arrive to a beech forest.
5) Further, you will take a downward slope among a cedar forest.
6) After walking a while, you will arrive to the Churenji Temple, the famous temple where the Sokushinbutsu mummy god Tetsumonkai rests for eternity.
❷- Short stroll in nature from Dainichibo Temple
Difference of altitude from the starting point to the end: 210m
Time needed: 1 hour 30 min.
You just finished visiting Dainichibô Temple, but have plenty of time until the bus arrives? Why not stroll around the nature up to holy spring water Yanagishimizu 柳清水.
1) You will start from Danichibô Temple (top left picture)
2) Memorial stela (first row on the right)
3) Entry to Odan no sugi 皇壇ノ杉's giant tree (second row picture on the left)
4) Odan no sugi's giant tree
5) Holy spring in the ancient Dainichibo enclave
6) Sainokami tôge
7) You're arrive to the Yanagi shimizu holy spring!
❸ Things are getting spiced up! 6 hours (one way) to Mt. Yudono!
Difference of altitude between the starting point and the goal: 660m
Time needed: 6 hours (one way!)
Not for beginners!
We recommend this trekking course if you have planned to stay at Yudonosan Sanrojo's pilgrim lodge (link) or if you have planned a way to go back.
1) Depart from Tamugimata's thatch-roofed house 田麦又多層民家
2) Enter the trail, don't miss the little bee house
3) Pull the drawer of the bee house and note your name in the emergency book
4) Take the steep slope
5) You arrive to a crossing. Turn left.
6) You will arrive to the Kobo Tea House resting area. We recommend you to take a rest here.
7) You arrive to Umadachi forest 馬立
8) You arrive to Hananoki zaka 花ノ木坂
9) You arrive to a concrete road: the 112 national road 国道１１２号
10) Walk on the snowshades
Key viewpoint of this path:
1) Depart from the Raburabuna (Lover's beech)
2) Arrive at the Dokko chaya 独鈷茶屋 resting area (there are toilets)
3) Arrive at the Senju Buna 千手ブナ giant tree
4) Arrive at the giant memorial stela 護摩壇石
5) You will get out of the forest to access a more open view
6) Enter the forest again
7) Follow the path among the beech alley
8) You will have to take a rather steep slope
9) You will have access to a viewpoint on Mt. Gassan
10) Further, you will enter the Kohonogi 小堀抜, a beech tree tunnel
11) Still further, you will enter an even bigger tree-tunnel: the Ohonogi 大堀抜
12) After a rather steep climb, you will arrive to Hosogoe-tôge 細越峠, where you will find toilet, a resting area, and a memorial stela. Have a rest here.
Key viewpoint of this section of the path:
1) Get down the path among the beech trees.
2) You will find a carved cedar tree
3) You arrive to the holy spring Ippai shimizu いーっぱい清水
4) Follow the downward slope for a while
5) You get out of the forest and have a good view on the mountains around you
6) You arrive to a wooden path
7) You discover the Yudonosan memorial stela
8) Take the harsh slope. Once you finished climbing it, you will arrive to a crossing. Turn left.
9) You arrive to another slope, keep climbing forward.
10) You arrive to a concrete road
11) Search the Rokujurigoe kaido flag 六十里声海道 and follow its way
12) You arrive to the Zange zaka slope. This one is tough.
13) Give your best to climb the zangezaka slope and enjoy the beautiful beech forest around you
14) Once out of the beech forest, you arrive to the Yudonosan road, walk a little bit more and you arrive to the big red archgate of Mt. Yudono!!
Congratulations! You became a real Dewa Sanzan pilgrim.
Have some rest at Yudonosan Sanrojo.
Key viewpoint of this section of the path:
This is one of the longest trails in the whole Tohoku region. Please come prepared, with good trekking shoes, hiking sticks, bug repellents, enough water (even though there are several holy springs on the way), food, emergency kit, and most importantly: a bear bell!
Bear bells will make noise that will scare the local bear: the Tsukinowaguma ツキノワグマ. This one is usually not aggressive, but attacks when surprised. In order to not surprise him on your way, please make sure to make as much noise as possible when walking: put on your bear bell, sing, talk, laugh...
Too afraid to go on the Rokujurigoe-kaidô by yourself for the first time? You can ask a Asahi mountain expert guide to show you the way: (13,000 yens for 1 day)