Hiking Guide: Mountains of The Shonai Region of Yamagata
The Shonai Region is in the north-west of Yamagata Prefecture, adjacent the Mogami and Murayama Regions. There are five municipalities in Shonai; from north to south Yuza Town, Sakata City, Shonai Town, Mikawa Town, and Tsuruoka City. Mikawa Town is the only one of these not to have any mountains.
The Shonai region consists of the Shonai Plains with mountains on three sides, and The Sea of Japan to the west. Tobishima Island off the coast of Sakata is the only inhabited island in the prefecture.
The Shonai Region is home to the tallest peak in the Tohoku Region, the active volcano Chokai-san that lies along the northern border with Akita Prefecture. The three sacred Dewa Sanzan mountains lie in the south-east and are practically in the centre of Yamagata prefecture.
These are the main peaks in the area, but there are many more. A few peaks connect Chokai-san with The Mogami Region. Further south sit the Kinbo Shugen Mountains, and the ‘Shonai Alps’ along the Sea of Japan coast.
Chokai-san stands out like a sore thumb. The 2236 m behemoth is the real star of the show in the Shonai Region. Chokai-san is generally only climbable from July to mid-October when the snow starts to fall.
One of the peaks on Chokai-san is Shoga-dake, known for its fields of alpine flowers. Shoga-dake is also only accessible when Chokai-san is, although you probably could get there earlier in the summer.
Kashiwagi-yama on the island of Tobishima is the lowest peak on the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata list. This mountain is believed to have been formed from an eruption of Chokai-san.
If you keep heading south on the mountains from Chokai-san, you will come across three peaks near the border of Sakata City and Mamurogawa and Tozawa Towns.
Kyogakura-yama is a mini Haguro that backs on to Junino-taki falls. Directly to the south lies Taizo-san. Along with Yozo-san, Taizo-san was formerly one of the main paths connecting the Shonai Region with the Mogami Region.
Then, along the Mogami River lies the former ski field Tsuchiyu-yama on the borders of Shonai Town and Tozawa Village.
Besides Chokai-san and Shoga-dake, these mountains are all below 1000 m, and can be hiked basically when there is no snow.
The Dewa Sanzan is the collective name for the three peaks of Haguro-san, Gassan, and Yudono-san that have been revered for millennia. At 1984 m, Gassan is the tallest of the three and is only open for hiking from July to mid-October. Yudono-san is more known for its shrine. Yudono-san shrine is usually open from the start of Golden Week in early May, to the start of November. All other times of the year, the two Kami of these peaks are moved to Dewa Sanzan Jinja on Haguro-san. At a lowly 414 m above sea level, Haguro-san is accessible year-round.
Lastly, Ubaga-take lies between Gassan and Yudono-san. Shojiga-take, Tengusumotori-yama, and Ito-dake all lie along the south-east border of Tsuruoka City.
The Shonai Region also boasts the Kinbo Shugen peaks that were once branch temples of Haguro-san; Kinbo-zan, Hokari-yama, Yunosawa-dake, and Maya-san.
Nearby lie the ‘Shonai Alps’ along the Sea of Japan coast; Takadate-yama, Arakura-yama, Fujikura-yama, Kumanonaga-mine, and Atsumi-dake, with an honourable mention for Nihon-koku that lies further inland.
Besides Maya-san, all of these mountains are below 1,000 m and are great places to explore in spring and autumn (summer can get very hot, so it is best to go to the taller mountains). Some mountains are even low enough for snowshoe hiking in winter, such as Takadate-yama.
Ever since En no Gyoja (En the Ascetic) enshrined Zao gongen there in 671, Kinbo-zan has been a popular destination for Yamabushi ascetics; My own first Yamabushi training included. Sometimes stylised as Mt. Kimbo and mistakenly on Wikipedia as Mt. Kinpo, the 471m high peak boasts great views of Tsuruoka City, the Shonai plains, and …
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