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Mt. Chokai from Mt. Kyogakura


Climbing a mountain the ‘wrong’ way

My 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata project is as much about discovering new places as it is me being a guinea pig for others. The majority of the mountains I’m visiting, I’m visiting for the first time. This morning I made the most of the weather, woke up when the sun rose and headed to the hills, Mt. Kyogakura to be exact. Mt. Kyogakura is I think the closest mountain on the list to my house, it is only a 20 minute drive away, but even still I should have done a bit more research than I did.

Looking at the map, I think I just chose the least eventful of the two sides. It turns out that the best way to do Mt. Kyogakura, or at least the way recommended on the sign from the way I tried to climb from, is to climb the Ennoji Temple trail, climb down the Juninotaki Falls trail, and then loop back to the Ennoji Temple trail. If you’re on your own though, the only way you’d be able to do that is by timing the busses, and I don’t really fancy that idea at all.

Mt. Kyogakura starts at the Juninotaki Falls (lit. the 12 falls) trail, or the Ennoji Temple trail, both to the east of Sakata City. The Juninotaki trail is cool because you get to go to the Juninotaki Falls, and the river is quite refreshing to walk along, although I was assaulted by horseflies (even through my Skins!) as I got closer to the waterfall. Then, it is a pretty steep climb through a dense forest until you reach the 6th station (the 5th station marks the halfway point). From the 6th station to the summit, it is relatively flat, and there are one or two spots that you get a good view out over Mt. Chokai from. The summit has a lookout from where you get clear views of Mt. Chokai, Sakata City, the Shonai Plains, and The Sea of Japan, although unfortunately we weren’t able to see out to Tobishima Island.

That’s about as eventful as this side of the mountain gets. It’s a good workout, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t sound as interesting as the Ennoji Temple trail. On the Ennoji Temple trail, there is Ennoji Temple, and even a ‘Tainai Kugiri’ which is literally ‘passing through the womb’ as this mountain is a Shugendo mountain, and a mountain of rebirth. I’m not entirely sure what this Tainai kugiri is, probably some huge rocks to pass through judging on my experience in Yamabushi training, but it sounds fun. However, it seems that this side of the mountain is almost entirely stairs.

In the end, I’m glad I was able to be a guinea pig, and thankfully the mountain is close so I can tackle the other side sometime soon if I feel like it. I guess that’s what happens when you’re trying to be the first (well not the first, but one of) person to do this sort of challenge, you may end up climbing a mountain the ‘wrong’ way.

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi


Hi, I’m Tim Bunting AKA the Kiwi Yamabushi, a New Zealander who became a Yamabushi Ascetic in the Dewa Sanzan mountains of north Japan. I’m part of the Yamabushido team, and we host life-altering Yamabushi training on the Dewa Sanzan (website link). People come to us for the ultimate mindfulness experience, to reach the next level, or simply connect with nature and themselves.

I’m on a mission to summit all 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata Prefecture to spread the splendour of this fabulous location, and in dedication to all those who lost their lives out in nature, including my father.

On my daily blog I post thoughts of a practicing Yamabushi that I hope people can use to better themselves and live as fulfilling a life as possible.

Sign up to the weekly Mountains of Wisdom newsletter, follow me on social (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Clubhouse, all @kiwiyamabushi), or send me an email via the link below to stay in touch.



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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 


All photos my own. Contact for more. 

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