We spend a very wet night, with the car rocking in the wind, but the morning rain is intermittent. The toilet in this road station has a notice requesting visitors to keep the place clean and there is a picture of a cute, cartoon lady with a big, smile happily cleaning the bowl. In reality, the elderly lady cleaning the facility is a sour faced, harridan. She looks daggers at a youngish woman, from a large camper van, who comes out of the Ladies with a dog litter tray. This sort of thing is, understandably, frowned on by local road station personnel and should be avoided before it gets overnight stays banned.
Mt. Haguro 羽黒山
We set off for Mt. Haguro. Haguro-san is one of the three mountains that comprise Dewa Sanzan (three mountains at Dewa). The other two being Gassan and Yudonosan. Dewa Sanzan is a very important site for Shugendo, an ancient belief of mountain asceticism that became reshaped by the entrance of Buddhism into Japan. For Shugendo followers, Mount Haguro represents the present, Gassan the past and Yudonosan the future. To complete the pilgrimage to all three is to be reborn. This is certain to involve more walking than the American variety.
We arrive about 9:30 to start our climb up the stone stairs. We pass Gojyu-no-Tou (5 story pagoda) and, this time, head on up. There is some gentle pavement through the giant cedars but most of the way is very steep, stone steps. Each individual step is quite shallow so it is like walking in low gear though, perhaps, not in a nice way.
The climb is enjoyable though, passing through the magnificent trees with small, wooden shrines dotting the way. We pass the temple where Basho spent the night, well the monument to Basho and the foundation stone, which is all that remains of the temple building he stayed in. He also wrote a poem there, which I haven’t read.
At the start of our climb, it was raining and cold but during our ascent the weather improves and there are patches of blue sky and very occasional sunshine. On the way up, there are 3 major stretches of steps and by the third we are getting tired.
Dewa Sanzan Shrine 出羽三山神社
On reaching Dewa Jinjya, the shrine at the top, we are surprised to find quite so many people as we saw few during our ascent. It is at this point we notice the car park. We doubt their righteousness. The Shrine itself is a large, red wooden structure with a magnificent, thatched roof and surrounded by yet more, but this time wooden, steps.
While we are admiring the temple, mountain mist wafts up through the torii at the top of the steps we arrived by, obscuring the near surroundings and wreathing all in mystery. After exploring the scene for a while, which included a small shrine with heaps of shoes, we begin our descent.
This is not so hard, but the steps are steep and sloping and possibly slippery. We have to concentrate on our feet, to the general exclusion of the scenery. This has its reward, as we notice some stones just very, very occasionally have some kind of inscription on them. One, for example, at the entrance to a food hall for monks showed 3 crudely etched sake cups and a tokkuri (sake bottle).
By the time we reach the bottom and the 5 story pagoda, we have travelled 1.7 km. up and the same down again. That is 2446 steps each way. This has taken us 3 and a 1/2 hours.
＊access to Mt.Haguro (Zuishinmon) ; bus 50min. from Tsuruoka city in Yamagata prefecture
; car 10km. from Tsuruoka IC, 15km
Michi no Eki Nishikawa
Off in search of lunch, which we eat by a river but it is not picturesque and then drive through the mountains looking for a road station. One has a kind of Turkish café and we consider staying there but it is not too attractive, so we head into Sagae to buy food for dinner. We check a road station with an onsen intending to stay if it is better that the Turkish café place. On arrival, we discover no onsen and little else so we retrace our steps to michi no eki Nishikawa This is new, well equipped and I write this after a relaxing bath.
＊Mizusawa onsen at michi-no-eki ‘Nishikawa’ ; 300yen/adult
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.