Hiking Guide: Mountains of The Shonai Region
Lying to the north-west of Yamagata Prefecture, The Shonai Region is characterised with the tallest peak in the Tohoku Region, Chokai-zan, as well as the three Dewa Sanzan mountains that lie practically in the centre of the prefecture. Then there are a few peaks connected to Chokai-zan, the Kinbo Shugen Mountains, and the ‘Shonai Alps’.
Chokai-zan stands out like a sore thumb. The 2236 m behemoth is the real star of the show in the Shonai Region, and is even known as Dewa Fuji due to its resemblance to Japan’s tallest peak. Chokai-san is generally only climbable from July to mid-October, when the snow starts to fall.
One of the peaks on Chokai-zan is Shoga-dake, known for its fields of alpine flowers. Shoga-dake is also only accessible when Chokai-zan is.
Kashiwagi-yama on the island of Tobishima is the lowest peak on the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata list, and is believed to have been formed from an eruption on Chokai-zan.
If you keep heading south on the mountains from Chokai-zan, 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, and 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-zan and Shoga-dake, these mountains are all below 1000 m, and can be hiked basically when there is no snow.
The Dewa Sanzan are 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 only open usually 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, which at a lowly 414 m above sea level is accessible year-round.
Lastly, Ubaga-take lies between Gassan and Yudono-san, and 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 honorable 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 is too hot, best to go to the taller mountains!). Some mountains are even low enough for snowshoe hiking in winter, such as Takadate-yama.
The Shonai Region comprises (from north to south) Yuza town, Sakata City, Shonai Town, Mikawa Town, and Tsuruoka City, with only Mikawa Town not having any 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata.
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