The Best Season in Japan

Mountains of Wisdom: September 2021 Update

Tim Bunting AKA Kiwi Yamabushi

This story was originally published for subscribers to Mountains of Wisdom, my mailer about the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata Project. Sign up using the subscribe button in the header of my website.

Kia ora, and welcome to the third update on the Mountains of Wisdom project, my attempt to summit and document all 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata and introduce you to the wonders of the Tohoku region of north Japan.

The Best Season in Japan

Mt. Chokai in Sakata City looking glorious as it protrudes above the golden rice fields
Mt. Chokai amongst the rice fields of Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture

This morning when I woke up I was met by quite a sight. The rice fields were surrounded by a thin layer of fog, the likes of which I hadn’t seen here before. Those who have been following my Instagram updates would have seen that the rice paddies around my house are now well and truly golden, and there is a hint of silver on Mt. Chokai as the leaves slowly turn a paler shade of green. Autumn is here, which means it’s my favourite time of year to be in Japan!

Mountains of Wisdom

The 8th Station of Mt. Gassan of the Dewa Sanzan stands out amongst the blue sky and green marshlands of Midagahara
Mt. Gassan’s Eighth station and the Midagahara marshlands

Since my last update I have climbed Mt. Gassan (8) (twice), Mt. Kumanonagamine (9), Mt. Kyogakura (10) (twice), and Mt. Fujikura (11), which I am working on an article for at the moment.

On the video front, I’m afraid to say I’ve been a bit neglectful. It’s just been so rewarding to sit out in my backyard on the small foldable chair and write like there’s no tomorrow. When inspiration strikes, I want to do all that I can to let it flow .

This has come at the expense of video creation, although I think this could be put down to being too much of a perfectionist , at least in regards to videos. I’m going to focus on getting them out rather than mulling over how to make incremental changes. I’m thinking I’m going to need a schedule and more discipline to be able to get over the resistance here. Anyway, check out these mountains!

The Dewa Sanzan’s Mountain of Death: Mt. Gassan

Master Hayasaka of Daishinbo pilgrim lodge gazes over the green meadows of Mt. Gassan
Master Hayasaka of Daishinbo pilgrim lodge gazes over the green meadows of Mt. Gassan

I talked about it in my last update, but in August I climbed Mt. Gassan twice. This led to my longest ever blog post on the Dewa Sanzan’s tallest peak , which I am honoured to say was featured on my friend Donny Kimball ‘s Medium publication.

The first time I climbed with a group of friends from the 8th Station to the summit and back. I recorded a whole lot of footage, but lost it to a corrupt external hard drive (along with my Mt. Shogadake footage), which my friend Peeter was wise enough to tell me was all in the name of practice .

The second time around was what is called Juso 縦走, which I suppose in English would be to traverse the mountains. Led by Master Hayasaka of Daishinbo pilgrim lodge (pictured), we hiked from the 8th Station to the summit, spent the night in the summit hut (which was awesome by the way), then climbed down to Mt. Yudono, whose shrine gates you see in the very first image.

Traditionally, Mt. Gassan is believed to be where our spirits go when we pass away, so going there is one way we can pay our respects to our ancestors. A friend I was with had recently lost their husband, which was the original reason for going, but you can ‘say hello’ to anyone you have lost, in my case my father. I think this is a rather productive method of mourning, and am not sure if it exists anywhere else in the world, making this mountain and the Dewa Sanzan even more magical.

The footage I managed to get on the second round was amazing. I’m looking forward to putting it into a video some time soon.

Mt. Gassan Article

Bananas and Cokes, Leaches and Pit Vipers: Mt. Kumanonagamine

Yakushi Jinja (shrine) on Mt. Kumanonagamine has a mountain path through towering cedars and a stone bridge
The stone path leads over a small bridge amongst the cedar forests of Yakushi Jinja on Mt. Kumanonagamine

Mt. Kumanonagamine was a real adventure in the true sense of the term. We (well, I) very stupidly just plugged the mountain into google maps rather than using the link on yamagatayama.com . That path ended up taking us to the amazing Yakushi Jinja (shrine) at the base, but we weren’t to know we were on the completely wrong side of the mountain.

There was the remains of an old path that we followed through very thick bush before eventually making it to the summit. Once we got there, we came across a group of men clearing weeds from the marshes. Thankfully they very kindly offered us a lift back to our car, but not before we came across a baby Mamushi Japanese pit viper, and a bunch of blood-sucking leaches.

Mt. Kumanonagamine Article

Womb Passes and Monkey Crossings: Mt. Kyogakura

A Jizo statue tucked under a huge boulder at the top of Mt. Kyogakura, one of the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata
A Jizo statue tucked under a huge boulder at the top of Mt. Kyogakura, one of the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata

Mt. Kyogakura is a great little peak that I likened to Mt. Haguro due to its stature and past as a Shugendo mountain. Mt. Kyogakura is located behind one of Sakata City’s most famous waterfalls, the Juninotaki Falls, but I had no idea there was a mountain to climb there until I started this project.

It turns out that the Juninotaki Falls side is the largely uneventful side, which I figured out once I got to the summit. It’s best to climb from the Ennoji side as that’s where most of the action is, and I ended up climbing that way as well so I could get the footage I need. Again, video is in the works.

Mt. Kyogakura Article

Mt. Fujikura

Mt. Chokai floats in the blue sky, shot from Mt. Fujikura surrounded by greenery on all sides
Mt. Chokai seen from Mt. Fujikura, one of the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata

Lastly, on Saturday last week I got up at around 5 to hit up Mt. Fujikura in Sanze, a tiny port town on just south of Yura and Mt. Arakura, the mountain of Sakura I climbed in April.

Mt. Fujikura was the last of the five mountains in Tsuruoka along the Shonai Coast (the others being Mt. Takadate , Mt. Kumanonagamine , and Mt. Atsumi , with a special mention for Mt. Nihonkoku ). As such, it was quite similar to these peaks. Cedar forests, beech forests, and just my luck I also came across two pit vipers and got bitten by about five or so leaches, one under my toe, ouch!

As mentioned earlier, an article is in the works. To be honest though, Mt. Fujikura wasn’t as exciting as Mt. Atsumi or Mt. Arakura, although I did manage to get some good footage of Mt. Chokai and Sanze.

The port town of Sanze seen from Mt. Fujikura, one of the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata
Sanze seen from Mt. Fujikura

From here on out

I’ve conquered a lot of the mountains in Shonai now, although I am yet to do Mt. Maya, and the other two mountains along that ridge Mt. Yunosawa and Mt. Hokari. Looking forward to hitting them up sometime soon, maybe when the autumn leaves are showing a little bit more.

Otherwise, I’m planning on doing Mt. Ubagatake soon with some friends on the way up to Mt. Gassan. This one isn’t so hard to get to, it’s at the end of a ski lift, and I’m pretty sure it would have some amazing views judging on my experience up there in the past. We’re aiming for a day with good weather, and I think the autumn leaves would already be out by the time we get there (I know they are already down to the 9th station).

Please do share this with other people if you think they’d enjoy it, and also get in touch with me by replying to this email.

Thanks for tuning in!

Tim, the Kiwi Yamabushi.

Mt. Chokai during the summer

Originally published at https://mailchi.mp.

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Kiwi Yamabushi

Kiwi Yamabushi

Mountains and hiking in Japan guided by a practicing Yamabushi mountain ascetic.