100 FAMOUS MOUNTAINS OF YAMAGATA
ONE HUNDRED PEAKS
MOUNTAINS OF WISDOM
MOUNTAINS OF WISDOM
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MOUNTAINS OF WISDOM
Kia ora koutou. Thanks for dropping in. I’m Tim Bunting, the Kiwi Yamabushi, and welcome to Mountains of Wisdom, my attempt to summit and document the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata Prefecture in the northern Tohoku region of Japan.
Since ancient times, mountains in the land of the rising sun have been regarded as a mysterious location where life’s deepest darkest secrets are held. Full of curiosity, those brave enough to enter the mountains did so, and they emerged with untold wisdom that has helped countless generations over the millennia.
Those brave souls have since been named Yamabushi, or those who promulgate in the mountains. By following in their footsteps, I wish to uncover mountains of wisdom so I can share what I learn with you, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do that than my own backyard, Yamagata Prefecture, the prefecture shaped by mountains.
Now for the peaks.
Yamabushi name: 諒宣
Ryosen Spreader of Truth
Mt. Yudono of the Dewa Sanzan in the middle of Yamagata Prefecture. This was the exact location of many ascetic practices, including that of the monks who sacrificed their own lives to become Sokushinbutsu, Living Buddha or Buddha Mummies.
In 1964, mountaineer and author Kyuya Fukuda published Hyakumeizan, One Hundred Mountains of Japan, about his favourite peaks throughout the country. This book proved extremely popular following an endorsement by Crown Prince Naruhito, the current Emperor, and an English version was even published in 2014.
Then in 2016, in homage to the original Hyakumeizan, Yamagata Prefecture whittled down their 2,774 mountains into a list of their own 100 famous mountains. My challenge is to summit all 100, and document it on this blog and accompanying YouTube Channel.
Historically, Yamabushi have used training in the mountains as a way to provide salvation to the ordinary people who are struggling in their daily lives. I am dedicating this project to all those who have lost their lives to nature, including my father, and during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In the process, I am hoping to encourage more people to get out into nature, and to the Tohoku Region, a remote part of Japan that less than 2% of overseas travellers ventured to as recently as 2019.
Now, let’s learn more about the mountains…
The original Hyakumeizan were selected by Fukada according to three criteria: grace, history, and individuality. In contrast, Yamagata’s list was selected by locals from the 35 municipalities according to the following:
Some mountains are going to be easy to climb. Some of them you don’t even need to climb and can reach by car. However, the taller mountains especially may require staying on the mountain. Some are very far away from Sakata, which also requires a night away, and some of the mountains are also dormant volcanoes, so due care must be taken. Last, one mountain is on an island and requires a ferry ride.
The list includes mountains lower than 1,500m, a key difference from Fukada’s original list. In fact, at 58m Mt. Kashiwagi the lowest mountain on the list is a bit of a stretch to call a mountain. However, the list does include 45 mountains above 1,000m, and four above 2,000m, the tallest of which, Mt. Chokai at 2236m, is the tallest mountain entirely in the Tohoku region.
In Japanese, there are a few names for mountains. Yama is probably the most common, which is also read as San (Hagurosan), and sometimes becomes voiced with Zan (Chokaizan). The terms Dake and Mine are also sometimes used. Both are mountains in English, but dake is generally characterised by a sheer or steep drop. Mine, also read as Po or Bo, is commonly referred to as ‘peak’ in English.
Yamagata Prefecture, one of six prefectures in the Tohoku region of northern Japan
Yamagata Prefecture, one of the six prefectures in the northern Tohoku region of Honshu, is famous for its natural beauty exemplified by its mountains. The name Yamagata literally means ‘mountain shape’ or ‘shaped by mountains’, a rather apt name as 72% of the prefecture is mountainous. In olden times, however, the name used another Kanji character, kata 方 or ‘in the direction of’, owing to the thousands of people from all over Japan who travelled to Yamagata over the centuries.
For many, the mountains sought after were the famed Dewa Sanzan, the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa, nestled in middle of the prefecture. These three holy peaks were even the destination for Matsuo Basho during compilation of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Japan’s perennial Haiku collection. In addition, Yamagata prefecture is home to the tallest mountain in Tohoku, Mt. Chokai (although it shares a border with Akita Prefecture), otherwise known as Dewa Fuji.
Yamagata Prefecture is home to Tsuruoka, the only UNESCO certified City of Gastronomy in Japan. A lot of this is due to the surrounding mountains providing abundant nutrients for food in the area to grow well.
In addition, Yamagata Prefecture boasts four Japan Heritage sites, the mountain temple Yamadera, The three mountains of Dewa, otherwise known as the Dewa Sanzan, the Kitamaebune North Sea Ships, and Samurai Silk.
With all these mountains, Yamagata is a source of some of the freshest water in the whole of Japan, a country known for its water. The prefecture is famous for having the highest number of waterfalls (over 5m in height). In addition, at 224km the Mogami river is the longest contiguous river in one prefecture, and played a huge role in the development of Edo, modern-day Tokyo. Plus, there are also 507 Onsen Hot Spring facilities in the prefecture, at least one in each municipality, so you’re bound to find somewhere to relax after you climb.
MOUNTAINS ABOVE 2000m
MOUNTAINS IN JAPAN’S TOP 100
HEIGHT OF MT. CHOKAI
TALLEST MOUNTAIN ON THE LIST
HEIGHT OF MT. KASHIWAGI
LOWEST MOUNTAIN ON THE LIST
LENGTH OF MOGAMI RIVER
LONGEST RIVER IN ONE PREFECTURE
ONSEN HOT SPRING FACILITIES
AT LEAST ONE IN EACH MUNICIPALITY
THE MOST IN ONE PREFECTURE
ARTICLES AND CLIMBING GUIDES
A list of mountains I am yet to climb.
BY REGION: MOGAMI
The Mogami Region is located in the north-east of Yamagata Prefecture and is home to the Kamuro Mountains and a lot of smaller local mountains.
BY REGION: SHONAI
BY REGION: MURAYAMA
The Murayama Region is in the centre of Yamagata Prefecture and is home to the Zao and Gosho-zan Mountains to the east, and Gassan and the Asahi Mountains to the west.
BY REGION: OKITAMA
Located in the south of Yamagata Prefecture, the Okitama region is home to the Azuma Mountains to the south, Ide Mountains to the south-west, and Asahi Mountains to the north-west.