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DESTINATION

SHONAI

Discover the hidden treasures of Shonai,
an ancient world that’s full of spirit.

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60 MINUTES

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Tokyo

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Osaka

Shonai

ABOUT

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  • THE HIDDEN TREASURES OF SHONAI, YAMAGATA

    Located in the northwestern part of Yamagata Prefecture, north Honshu, the Shonai region is an ancient land that for centuries served as the breadbasket of old Tokyo. Or rather, its rice bowl, since it was Shonai where the Tokugawa shogunate decided to concentrate their rice production in order to feed Edo in the 17th century.

    STAYING POWER

    Even today, the area hasn’t forgotten its roots, producing some of the best rice and, consequently, some of the best sake in the world. But Shonai isn’t just about physical nourishment. It’s also where you can replenish your spirit.

    A SPIRITUAL CENTER

    The Shonai region is one of the main centers of Shugendo in Japan. Shugendo is a syncretic religion combining aspects of Shinto, Buddhism, animism, and shamanism. It’s especially focused on mountain asceticism, as part of Shugendo’s beliefs is that mountains are where departed souls and the gods reside, and that in order to get closer to them on a spiritual level, one must first train their body and deny it earthly pleasures.

SEASON

  • SPRING

  • SUMMER

  • AUTUMN

  • WINTER

THINGS TO DO

  • ZENPO-JI TEMPLE

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    ZENPO-JI TEMPLE

    The history of Zenpo-ji goes back to around the mid-10th century when the monk Myotatsu taught Buddhism to two serpent deities, Naga and Nagi, at his secluded mountain retreat. Centuries later, when a temple was founded on the site of the retreat, the serpents returned and agreed to act as its guardians. In Japanese mythology, serpents are connected closely to water, so it’s no surprise that Zenpo-ji eventually erected a five-story pagoda dedicated to Ryujin, the dragon god who symbolizes the power of the ocean. Zenpo-ji’s ocean-centric pagoda is actually the only structure of its kind in all of Japan, which is why fishermen from all over come to pray and make offerings at the temple. For all those interested in following their example: the temple is located in Tsuruoka, is open all year round, and the entrance to it is free.

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  • HAGURO SHUGENDO

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    HAGURO SHUGENDO

    The Three Mountains of Dewa (Dewa Sanzan) are three holy peaks located in modern-day Yamagata, with Shonai serving as the gateway to the tallest one of them: Mount Gassan. Literally meaning “moon mountain,” Gassan represents death in Shugendo, which is why it’s usually the second stop of the Dewa Sanzan pilgrimage after Mount Haguro (roughly “Black Wing”), which represents life/birth. Incidentally, the third peak, Mount Yudono, represents rebirth. While technically not part of Shonai, Mount Haguro lies just on the border of the region and its influence on the local culture is undeniable. The modern idea of Japanese, ascetic mountain hermits traversing holy mountains, valleys, and forests in search of enlightenment comes directly from the Shugendo practices of Mount Haguro. Today, many pilgrims try to emulate these wandering wisemen, known as yamabushi, by climbing Mount Haguro, praying at its temple, and contemplating life and existence at the priests’ lodgings. The mountain peak and temple can also be reached by bus.

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  • THE SOMARO TEA HOUSE

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    THE SOMARO TEA HOUSE

    Located not far from northern Shonai in Sakata, the Somaro is a traditional tea house dating back more than 200 years. It was originally called Soma-ya, and back in the day it was known not only for its food and refreshments, but also for its dancing geisha and maiko (geisha apprentices.) Unfortunately, today, the geisha no longer appear in Somaro. But the maiko do. In fact, the Sakata Maiko hold daily dance performances for the tea house guests, but only after undergoing six months of rigorous training in the traditional Japanese arts, guaranteeing that their presentations are not only entertaining but also as authentic as possible. Please note that the private, lunch-time performances of the maiko must be reserved at least three business days in advance. The 2pm performance, on the other hand, requires no reservation, but admittance to it costs ¥300, as does the entrance to the tea house itself. The prices are ¥700 for adults, ¥500 for high school and middle school students, ¥300 for elementary school students, free for children under three.

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PLANS

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OTHER DESTINATIONS

  • SHONAI YAMAGATA

  • TOTTORI

  • SAGA

  • MIYAZAKI