Ascending the Sacred Peaks
Modern mountaineering was born in Europe in the second half of the 18th century. Offering vigorous exercise along with magnificent views, the sport of Alpinism soon caught on around the world and was introduced to Japan in the Meiji period (late 19th century). In Japan, people have been climbing mountains since ancient times, as an important part of their religious practice. Even today, many Japanese people venerate major peaks as the abode of the deities. Traditional rituals are held to mark the opening of mountain trails for the climbing season, and prayers are offered at sunrise on some mountain peaks. On this episode of Journeys in Japan, we revisit some of the sacred mountains that we have featured in the past, introduced by the director who made those programs. He will also climb Mt. Oyama in Kanagawa Prefecture, another peak that has been worshiped since the old days.

Mt. Oyama (Kanagawa Prefecture 1,252m)

Along with Mt. Takao and Mt. Tsukuba, Mt. Oyama is one of 3 sacred peaks in the vicinity of Tokyo. The entire mountain is considered a sanctuary, known as Oyama Afuri Jinja. From the lower shrine to the upper shrine at the peak, it takes about 2 hours to climb. Because the mountain is sacred land, it has not been developed and has a pristine natural environment.

Mt. Hakusan (Ishikawa Prefecture 2,702m)

As one of Japan's 3 major sacred mountains, Mt. Hakusan has been the object of veneration since ancient times, as the deity of life. Throughout the climbing season, a Shinto priest is stationed at Murodo, just below the summit. Each morning he climbs to the peak at sunrise to carry out a ritual. There are many sacred mountains in Japan, but Mt. Hakusan is unique.

Mt. Togakushi (Nagano Prefecture 1,904m)

Mt. Togakushi is the peak identified in Japan's ancient creation myths as Tenno Iwado. Several times a year a ritual is performed in Togakushi Jinja, the shrine at the foot of the mountain, featuring Gagaku (traditional Japanese court music and dance). The most difficult part of the ascent is a ridge called Arinoto-watari, where climbers may encounter a Brocken spectre. In the old days, people believed this rare natural phenomenon was a deity surrounded by a halo.

Mt. Myogi (Gunma Prefecture 1,103m)

This is believed to be one of the oldest sacred mountains in Japan. During an excavation at a site dating back thousands of years, a stone circle in the shape of Mt. Myogi's peak was unearthed. The mountain has long attracted practitioners of Shugendo, a form of ascetic religious training. It includes a very intense climbing course, culminating in the ascent of a sheer wall, to the top of a strange-looking rock known as Chosuno-kashira.

Mt. Fuji (3,776m)

The most popular route for climbing Mt. Fuji starts in Yamanashi Prefecture, but the original trail starts from the Shizuoka Prefecture side. Every year on July 10, a ritual is held to mark the opening of the climbing season at Murayama Sengen Jinja, a shrine at the foot of the mountain. The path runs through dense forest, past various places of worship, and up to the desolate landscape at the top. Finally it reaches the summit, where climbers can worship the sunrise from the peak of Mount Fuji, the highest point in Japan.

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