Why I’m Hiking the 100 Famous Mountains Of Yamagata
A yamabushi’s role is simple: Lead others into nature.
Everything else is up to them.
With my words and videos, I hope to convince you that getting out into nature on the regular should be one of your top priorities in life.
Part of that is showing you the beauty of nature in Japan. And I’m starting with my own backyard, Yamagata Prefecture.
Locals in Yamagata are a different breed.
Providing not only the most beautiful backdrop known to man, but also a source of sustenance for millennia, mountains have a say in almost every aspect of the lives of the people of Yamagata.
So much so, the word Yamagata literally means ‘mountain shape’. Or, as we like to say, ‘made of mountains’.
This book has since become a cult classic.
It was so popular, in fact, even the current Emperor Naruhito is a major fan.
Not to be outdone, in 2016 Yamagata Prefecture set about creating their own list of 100 famous mountains. In the process, they whittled down some 2,774 peaks into a top 100.
I’m climbing them all.
And I’d love you to join me!
(And yes, Yamagata does have that many mountains!).
Fukada chose the original 100 famous mountains of Japan based on three criteria:
In contrast, locals in Yamagata Prefecture selected their list according to:
From the outset, Fukada’s list is obviously more objective. Not only are we talking about Japan as a whole, Fukada purposely didn’t include any mountains below 1,500 m (4921 ft.). Nor did he feel the need to ask locals how they feel about their mountains.
As a result, if you’re coming for traditional mountaineering, Yamagata’s list may sorely disappoint you.
Only four of Yamagata’s famous mountains are over 2,000 m (6562 ft.). Plus, only six Yamagata mountains appear in Fukada’s original 100.
Should that bother us?
Not in the slightest.
You see, what the mountains of Yamagata lack in stature, they more than make up for with an intriguing culture.
Let me show you.
While exploring the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata, I found:
We know the name Yamagata means ‘mountain shape’. In olden times, however, the name used another Kanji character altogether; 方, kata ‘in the direction of’.
Yamagata wasn’t ‘shaped by mountains’, it was ‘go to the mountains’.
But not just any mountains.
In a country full of mountains, that says a lot.
And there was one extra special person in particular who made an extra special effort to visit the mountains of Yamagata:
The man who practically single-handedly put Haiku poetry on the map, Matsuo Basho.
While in Yamagata, those days known as Dewa Province, Matsuo Basho visited numerous spots including Risshakuji Temple at Yamadera, and his main destination, The Dewa Sanzan mountains.
In the process, Matsuo Basho created Japan’s definitive collection of Haiku poetry and travel journal: The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Plus, Matsuo Basho is lucky to have witnessed three of Yamagata Prefecture’s four Japan Heritage sites.
First is the mountain temple locals convinced Matsuo Basho to visit, Yamadera in Yamagata City.
Then, of course, another of Matsuo Basho’s destinations; the three mountains of Dewa, otherwise known as the Dewa Sanzan.
The Kitamaebune North Sea Route that utilised the Mogami River was the reason Yamagata developed into a lead rice and safflower producer. It was also one reason why Edo, modern-day Tokyo, became the biggest city in the world during the 18th century.
Lastly, Tsuruoka City’s Samurai Silk; a silk industry born on the backs of former Samurai. These Samurai created Japan’s northernmost silk industry that still does the whole process from planting the mulberry trees to silk production until this day.
These last three sites all belong to the Shonai Region on The Sea of Japan coast, an impressive feat for a place about the size of Tokyo’s 23 wards.
In addition, Yamagata Prefecture is home to Tsuruoka, Japan’s first UNESCO certified Creative City of Gastronomy. A large reason for this certification is the mountains that provide abundant nutrients for the best possible produce grown in the area.
With all these mountains, Yamagata is also a source of some of the freshest water in the whole of Japan.
Yamagata Prefecture is famous for having the highest number of waterfalls (over 5 m in height) of any prefecture.
In fact, Chokai-san, with the highest precipitation of any mountain in Japan also has the most waterfalls of any mountain in Japan.
Further downstream, at 224 km, the Mogami River is the longest contiguous river in one prefecture. The Mogami River played a massive role in transporting rice and safflower to Sakata City on the coast.
Coupled with the aforementioned Kitamaebune North Sea Route, Yamagata Prefecture played a direct role in the development of Edo, modern-day Tokyo. Ships sailed all the way around to Edo full of Yamagata’s finest rice, sake, and safflower.
In Japan, mountains are so common they have multiple words for them:
Until now (Autumn 2023), I have summited a third of the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata. Here are my top five:
Unlike Fukada’s list, The 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata list includes quite a few mountains of less than 1,500 m in elevation. In fact, Kashiwagi-yama at 58 m is the lowest mountain on the list, and is a bit of a stretch to call a mountain.
However, Yamagata’s list does include 45 mountains above 1,000m, and four above 2,000m. The tallest of which, Chokai-san at 2236m, is the tallest mountain entirely in the Tohoku region.
There are four main regions in Yamagata Prefecture, from north to south:
READ MORE: Mountains in Yamagata Prefecture by Region
Understandably, there are also numerous mountain ranges throughout Yamagata Prefecture:
READ MORE: Mountain Ranges in Yamagata Prefecture
From 20-minute hikes to full-blown overnighters, Yamagata Prefecture offers hikes for any skill level and duration.
READ MORE: Mountains of Yamagata by Hike Time
If that’s not enough, I’ve prepared a few articles to help navigate your way around the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata.
Here are but a few:
Thanks for reading this far. If you want to learn more, or to follow my progress on the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata Project, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my YouTube channel, and I post on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn often. Would be great to see you there.
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