Hiking One of Japan’s Three Sacred Mountains
Nature worship has always played an important role in Japanese culture. Stemming from Japan’s native religion of Shintoism, natural features including mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and many trees and stones have long been seen as sacred and imbued with a divine nature
Japanese folklore tells that mountains are the source of human souls; born atop the mountain and flowing down rivers to bring life and prosperity of the human world below. As the domain of the gods, mountains have long been revered and also feared in Japan – places where only ascetics or the most hardened, wild people would venture.
Mt Tate (or Tateyama) is one of three sacred mountains in Japan, which along with Mt Fuji and Mt Haku is considered to be divine. A place of pilgrimage for ascetics since at least the 17th century, Mt Tate’s tranquil summit represents paradise while the volcanic landscape of noxious vents and hot springs in the plateau below has long been regarded as the realisation of a hellish domain on earth.
Tateyama retains its spiritual importance for Japanese, a significance that only enhances the experience of hiking there. Regardless of your faith or background, the trails of Tateyama offer some of Japan’s best hiking and mountaineering. Best experienced from July onward, trails range from short, leisurely strolls of under one hour, to all-day hikes and more intensive multi-day trails which require expertise and proper preparations.
Trails span-out from Murodo Station across the Murodo Plateau and ascending to the summit of Mt Tate, while also leading to Mikurigaike Onsen. Below that point, the desolate and inhospitable sulfuric pools and vents of ‘Jigokudani’ (Hell’s Valley) brood – a threatening yet amazing sight.
Visitors returning to the Tateyama Station/Toyama-side of the mountain should also consider undertaking the leisurely trails leading from Murodo to Tengudaira and onto Midagahara. These well-maintained trails are devoid of visitors while offering some of the best views on Tateyama; and for those feeling even more energetic, descending the trails all the way down to Bijodaira will take you past Shomyo Falls – the tallest waterfall in Japan – and through virgin forest, home to beautiful beech groves and the Tateyama cedars. Estimated to be over 1000 years of age, the largest of the cedars have grown to 30 meters in height with circumferences of 6-10 meters.
Put simply, this is one of Japan’s most spiritually and ecologically important landscapes, best experienced on foot.
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