The 3 Holy Mountains of Japan, or sanreizan 三霊山, were sacred places of worship for mountain creed (sangaku shinko 山岳信仰). It is believed that the spiritual force that flows through the mountains and their rivers, from the peaks to the foothills, gives life to the land. This may be why some mountains are called sanmyaku 山脈, or “pulse of the mountain”. The grandiose presence of the mountains draw and overwhelm humans with their immensity. Mt. Fuji 富士山, the highest peak in the whole of Japan, along with Mt. Tate 立山 and Mt. Haku 白山 compose the trio.
- Height: 3776.24m
- Location: Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures
- Last erupted: Dec 16, 1707
Known for: Being the highest point in Japan, and is hence also very commercialized. Also known for being on various woodblock prints. There are 4 trails of varying difficulties to the summit; overnight climbs to catch the sunrise are very popular.
Season: July to September
- Height: 3015m
- Location: Toyama prefecture
Known for: Hot springs, or onsen 温泉, in Murododaira 室堂平, a lava plateau formed from the previous Tateyama crater. Murodo is a hall for meditation and prayers, and one was built there in the Edo period to worship the mountains.
みくりが池 Mikurigaike, whose sacred water was used in cooking for the mountain god, is cobalt blue in June and beautifully reflects Tateyama. Raicho 雷鳥, or Rock Ptarmigan birds, also reside there.
地獄谷 Jigokudani, or Hell Valley, has steaming clouds of volcanic eruptions looming over it. The sulfur smell is notoriously pungent and is noticeable when climbing the mountain. On the summit is Oyama Shrine, where climbers may receive blessings and warm sake from a priest. According to mountain religion, the climb to the top of Mt. Tate simulates the experience of “hell paradise” and the afterlife. One of the “hells” is the Blood Pond 血の池, which are pools in the wetlands red from high levels of iron oxide. There is also the well-known Tateyama Kurobe alpine route through the Northern Alps that is easily accessible by bus, and goes up to an elevation of 2450 meters.
Season: April to November. Peak is in April to June, when the famed 15-20-meter snow walls, Yukino-otani 雪の大谷 may be seen.
- Height: 2702.14m
- Location: Gifu, Fukui and Ishikawa prefectures
- Last erupted: 1659
Known for: Skiing and snowboarding, as well as being white from snow, hence the name Haku which means white. It remains snow-capped even when the surrounding peaks have changed colour. Mt. Haku was first scaled in 717 by Shintoist Taicho, and has since then attracted many worshippers. Hakusan National Park has few hiking trails and maintains a plethora of flora and fauna due to minimal human contact. There are numerous alpine plants which were discovered there. The Hakusan White Road, formerly known as the Hakusan Super Rindo 林道, is a 33.3km long winding scenic route that offers panoramic views of mountains and waterfalls. There is even a hot spring lookout point! The end point is the UNESCO World Heritage site, Shirakawago 白川郷. Besides the raicho, Ishikawa’s prefectural bird, the golden eagle, also resides on the mountain.
Season: May to October. Peak is during July to August, which coincides with the summer vacation. The best time to view the autumn foliage or kouyou 紅葉 is October to November.
Holy guacamole it’s time to put our hiking hats on and do some exploring!