4K footage is contained on this website.

This website aims to provide a supplementary material for the main work “SANSUI”.

"SANSUI",Super 35mm digital black and white film,
2 channel continuous projections, Dimentions variable
Filmed by EUGENE KANGAWA, Ioint work with Spiber Inc. , Music by Marihiko Hara,
©EUGENE KANGAWA & Spiber inc.

The image that may the worship that may

have once existed gazed into.

Beauty that transcends its ascetic practices.

Mountain of the Sun, Mountain of the Moon ―

*This web site is archives of a footage produced in 2014 to 2015,
by EUGENE KANGAWA, a contemporary artist and Spiber Inc.,
a company settling in Shounai region, Yamagata prefecture,
those who were inspired by the beautiful and mysterious landscape of Shounai.
This piece will reach completion by projecting on the surface of water or display in the installation.

“SANSUI” drew it’s first breath when a man visited the Tohoku Region of Japan.
The man perceived there is something different from just an esthetic appeal in the atmosphere of the grandiose and subliminal landscape surrounded by the immense plains and mountains in here.

Formulating hypothesis throughout the conversations he had with local mountain ascetic hermits and the research, he determined a mountain worship and a mythical pilgrimage route which may have once existed. And then, he decided to visit there. This footage represents the scenery which the man gazed into. (The road he had walked was, by a curious coincidence, similar to the one Matsuo Basho had travelled in “Okuno Hosomichi” / “The Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Narrow Road to the Interior”.)

The dogma of the worship was orally passed down, because they insist that one must ‘physically go there’, to endure the hardships of climbing the mountain oneself. That’s why it disappeared behind the modernization.
Above materials will play a supplemental role for the main work.
We sincerely hope that the main video footage and this web site will help you to find out a condensed mythological viewpoint and its witchery left in the “inaccessible area”, Shounai region in Tohoku.

This footage depicts compelling images of the monochrome world in which snow mountain, whirling rivers, breathtaking waterfalls, immense forests, expansive earth and endless sky circulate on the pilgrimage route which connects the two brutal midwinter mountains in north, Mount Choukai and Mount Gassan (according to folklore, known as mountain of the sun and mountain of the moon respectively).

The scenery which evokes Japanese primitive mythology is the same image that the worship that may have once existed” experienced.

Also, the super-resolution sensor of the 6K camera allowed the artist the film peaceful and contemplative scenes despite the intense physical conditions. The footage, attained through near-ascetic physical hardships portrays a tranquil and contemplative experience in outstanding resolution.

This footage seeing the landscape walking in the sky gives a feeling viewers that they exceeds their ordinal perception and change their sense of time.

Researches and interviews which were conducted in a producing process, and essays and storyboards are provided here.
Above materials will play a supplemental role for the main work. We sincerely hope that the main video footage and this web site will help you to find out a condensed mythological viewpoint and its witchery left in the “inaccessible area”, Shounai region in Tohoku.
text by Y. Nishimoto

Script and storyboard by EUGENE KANGAWA.

A Geographic figure (which connecting Mount Choukai and Mount Gassan) and the natural elements surrounding it is written.

“Cherry Trees and Kerria Plants”
Attributed to Tawaraya Sotatsu
Courtesy of Tokyo National Museum

In Japanese tradition, landscape painting and poetry were analogous in terms of its abstractiveness. In“Cherry Trees and Kerria Plants”, for example, landscape painting and poetry are combined to depict the scene.

Chapter 2


This essay is composed with an “essayistic memorandum” by the man and
a “travel journal” by Haru Nakae who accompanied with him.

It is edited accordingly to the location with the references such as, brief note written down,
the picture back in Edo period collected, and “haiku” composed in the fieldwork and filming.
I would appreciate it if you refer to this website as an archive-like material for the main work.



In this part, you will find out the details of
the journey which the party travelled,
accordingly to the locations.
You would mainly discover that they
wandered on the line which connectss
Mount Choukai and Mount Gassan.

“Guide to Famous Sites in Shounai”
Courtesy of Chidou Museum

consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus
quis urna ac tortor semper tincidunt
in ut dui. Vestibulum rutrum justo eu
sem pulvinar molestie. Morbi cursus

Once I stand on the ground of Shounai, I can see Mount Choukai in the north and Mount Gassan in the opposite, and centering around Mount Gassan, Mount Haguro and Mount Yudono come into my sight. Since it is flatland, two mountains can be seen simultaneously from multiple spots. Connecting Mount Choukai and Mount Haguro, the line hits a big river, Mogami river. Also, Yamagata prefecture has the most number of waterfalls in Japan.

It is unsure when the man decided to visit mountains and river systems, but water flux becomes waterfalls in the mountain area. Thus, hiking the road between Mount Choukai to Mount Haguro means capturing the water flow and geographic character of Shounai by necessity.

Surrounded by mountains so stately, I can understand why topographic maps are used to depict this region.
This landscape makes people feel “here” is the center of mountains.

※The following footnotes are treated as the words of the man.

A partial figure of "Compendium of Two Domain of Shounai"
Courtesy of Tsuruoka City Local History Museum

Since it was in the midwinter, we estimated that the journey will be rough because of the annual heavy snow in Mount Choukai and Mount Gassan. Asking this year’s weather to the local villagers, we decided to head for the flatland on February and the mountains beyond the forest on March. Each mountains will become a quite severe environment in midwinter. Flatland is also in the abysmal weather in which terrible

local window blows and sunny day rarely lasts for multiple days. Then, we betook ourselves from the base of mountain, but accumulated snow stood up in front of us in the mountainside.

It is impossible to predict weather in the mountain at all. I had known that it is exactly true that weather in the mountain changes ever hour at the point of research…
Careful observation on the sky and speed of cloud and making a rapid judgement will be required in this journey.

passage01Moutain En Haguro

“Narrow road to the interior”
at Mount Haguro


Since the altitude of Mount Haguro is not so high, it is easy to reach the crest. Yet, climbing up even just a little, there were 5~6 meter of snow there. As I ascended the mountainside, I realized it was much broader than it seemed from a distance.

We arrived at the crest. The snow kept falling and stopping. It was beautiful when it accreted on the cedar trees.(6:58 a.m.) / I could see mountains in a haze far away.

(8:45 a.m.) / We espied brooks and the other place while declining the mountainside.I wondered if the small stream, which became narrow because of snow cover would become wider than it was now.(11:14 a.m.) / The weather got worse and the winds blew strongly. We finished today by wondering around many spots.(1:07 p.m.)

“How cool it is in here―
A crescent moon faintly hovers
Over Mount Haguro”
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Basho Matsuo at Mount Haguro

Sunny and partly cloudy

We headed for Mount Haguro again. On the way, we found a superb crepuscular rays radiating toward Haguro. (7:00 a.m.) / We tried to behold a distant view of Mount Gassan from the suburban part of former Haguro-city. But the cloud covered the crest and interrupted us.
We haven’t been able to see the whole figure of Mount Gassan so far during the journey.(8:03 a.m.) / We arrived at Dewa Sanzan Shrine. The Five-Storied Pagoda and trees stand superbly. The morning sun poured on the temple and ground

covered with snow and it looked celestial.(9:08 a.m.) / We passed over the open patch on the way of going down the mountain.Clouds over Mount Gassan and Mount Choukai left and the face of two mountains appeared.We cloud not see Mount Gassan, which made it all the more breathtaking when we finally found it. The guide told us that snow piles more than 10m in midwinter, so we decided to head for Mount Yudono in a few days.(1:57 p.m.) / Since it darkened up, we finished filming. (4:09 p.m.)

passage02Three Mountains

“An Diagram of Process of Tsuruoka”
Courtesy of Chidou Museum


Dewa Sanzan Shrine is a collective term for shrines located on the top of Mount Haguro,
Mount Yudono,
Mount Gassan
which compose mountain worship in Shounai region.
In Mount Haguro, there is a Sanjingo-saiden Shrine, which enshrines deities of all three sacred mountains.

Each of three mountains represent “present” (Mount Haguro),
“past” (Mount Gassan),
“future” (Mount Yudono).
Mountain ascetic hermits undergo practice of life and death.

Falls springs between rocks is also a symbol of sanctification of one’s mind and body, and naissance. That’s why, not only mountain ascetic hermits who take the waterfall, but also people living Shounai region worshipped them as a deity of fertility. 2,446 stone steps and an ancient Japanese cedar trees 300~600 years old are popular as a beauty spot.

We went to Dewa Sanzan Shrine before the sunrise and looked up the Five-Storied Pagoda. Almost all of the worshippers do not come here in winter. It was much more harsh to go down stone steps than to climb the mountain. I heard a birdsong from somewhere.(5:23 p.m.) We set off homeward.


"The Narrow Road to the Deep North"
by Basho Matsuo at Mount Yudono


Mount Yudono… The mountain which symbolizes resurrection.

We headed for the crest of mount Gassan from the base.(5:12 p.m.) / I observed the view of the top of Mount Gassan and snow ripple on the ground which was shaped by the wind.(6:25 p.m.) / We arrived at open space. I could see nothing, but once I got used to the darkness, Mount Ishimidou loomed out of the moonlight. We would descend to the glen in the east side

of Mount Yudono and climb again. (0:10 a.m.) / We rolled down the almost 40 degrees ramp at once. This was a severe situation in which it felt almost like the right angle when descending. After having lunch at the swamp, we ascended again. (1:13 p.m.) / We sized up that we could not ascend any more in terms of time and stamina.Instead of going up, we watched Mount Yudono.The crest seemed just around the corner.(0:02 a.m.) / We started to descend. We passed downward gentle slope along the swamp fast. We hit a big snow cornice. We got to a closed road.(2:30 p.m.) / We arrived at the base and finished the sixth day.(4:06 p.m.)

“I cannot speak of
Yudono, but see how wet
My sleeve is with tears.”
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Basho Matsuo at Mount Yudono

We slung knotted paper cords around our bodies, and swathed our heads with “sacred crowns”. What they call a “strongman,” a porter, led us some fifteen miles through the clouds, mists, and mountain air, over snows that never melt. Would we, I wondered, be passing next through the cloud gate into the courses of the sun and moon?
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Basho Matsuo at Mount Gassan

It ought to freeze even in June.
The relationship of the three mountain is really alluring.
They build the imaginary relationship.
Mount Haguro at 500m elevation is less taller than Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono, but I felt it is much wider than I saw in distance.
An accessible carnal Mountain and unseeable mountain, Mount Gassan.
Because Mount Gassan looks round shape from a far, I wondered if it was used to be considered as a supernal flatland.

passage04A Thread from Heaven
Sunny, later snow, later sunny again

We went to the snow field near Tozawa Village in early morning. I feel cold from the inside.

It was almost desolate.(5:00 a.m.)/Judging by the weather, we headed for Shiraito Waterfall which was close by. (0:45 p.m.)

A popular destination, Shiraito Waterfall. Mogami River is wide and is fast flowing.

Heading for further north there were some waterfalls which flows into Mogami River.
Among these waterfalls, Shiraito Waterfall is one of the tallest and the most beautiful (which I had already depicted from old maps.)

Shiraito Waterwall. It is much narrower than Mogami River.
It cascade down exactly like a thread from heaven.
Meanwhile, the flatland is very much horizontal.

passage05Tamasudare Waterfall 1

“Guide to Famous Sites in Shounai”
Courtesy of Chidou Museum

Cloudy, partly sunny

Walking on the deep snow, we visited Tamasudare Waterfall since our last visit at the end of the year./(6:12 a.m.)
I could look up Mount Choukai closely and see half of it from the bottom, but cloud covered the crest.

The entrance towards the waterfall was covered with a high wall of snow. We walked a little way from a swamp and filmed pine trees, Japanese cedar, and Mount Choukai upward. (7:14 a.m.) / Since our path had poor footing, our legs got buried up to knees-high.

I got really hot even in the snow.(9:58 a.m.) / We finally arrived at Tamazudare Waterfall after passing through the shrine gate. There was an ice cascade. I felt it growing colder from the water sprays. It may have been because of the snow coverage, but I felt the waterfall was smaller than the painting I saw at Chidou.(11:52 a.m.)

According to the notice sign, this waterfall was used to be called Shiraito Waterfall.
Curiously enough, this waterfall is located on the line which connects Mount Gassan and Mount Choukai.


We visited Tamasudare Waterfall again at dusk. (5:15 p.m.) / Since I was getting used to the snow mountains, I was able o arrive at the waterfall sooner than yesterday. It was a threatening environment with snows covering the tall pine trees nearby us sometimes dropped. I ran out of breath

easily with even just a few steps. (6:20 p.m) / When I approached the waterfall basin a large chunk of snow came rolling almost hitting me, but stopping just on time.I heard a sound of icicle gradually collapsing.(6:56 p.m.) / While we were descending, I filmed snow along the river.(7:25 p.m.)

The sound of ice falling down was so magnificent.
It was so loud that we gradually started to lose a sense of distance.
I could not tell if they were dropping close up or in a far distance.
The sound of a rushing creek also came from afar as well.

passage06The Mountain of the Sun 1-Somma, the Snow Dessert

I have visited Mount Choukai three times. The first time from the Yunodai entrance, the second time Fukura entrance and lastly from Nakajimadai entrance

We started our way with 3 professional guides. (7:00 a.m.) /Mount Gassan can be seen on afar. Closer by there was the crest of the soma of Mount Choukai and at the back of it was the crest of Mount Yudono.(9:24 a.m.) / To the forest limit. The beechwood forest was beautiful. (10:58 a.m.) / Passing through the forest limit I arrived to the first open plain. It got suddenly cold. I was able to see Mount Gassan and Mount Zao. I saw the summit of Mount Choukai close up. The creeping pines were beautiful. (11:32 a.m.) /

We climbed up further. The place was deserted. I was pulled down. We ate lunch in the rock shadow. (0:54 p.m.)/We arrived at a ragged desert like valley from the upland. The patterns as the snow cornice looked beautiful. In the further end I got the panoramic view of the Japan sea and the Shounai Plain. (2:08 p.m.) / The sun setting highlighted the jaggy ridge lines and patterns. I gazed in awe. I saw a golden eagle flying afar. There are only 4 of them in the Shounai area. Seeing them was a treasurable experience. (3:49 p.m.) / I waited for the sunset. The sun went down the somewhat cloudy sky. (5:00 p.m.) The sky was clear and the stars can be seen very well.(6:03 p.m.) / We arrived back safely. (8:07 p.m.)

The scenery overlooking from the mountain pass close to the soma was a supreme experience.
As it was an untouched area, it even looked like an endless dessert.
This day was, to quote, “miraculously nearly a windless day.”
The clear blue sky, The sun set and the “snow dessert” was indeed spectacular.

passage07The Mountain of the Sun 2-Whiteout

We started from Nakajimadai entrance today. We went through the forest road to the area where there was still snow. (7:10 a.m.) / We went all the way through the narrow cedar forest. The surroundings got less and less greenery. (8:00 a.m.) / Although there were much clouds it kept on passing. The moment they slipped through between was a beautiful site. As we were located in the almost same

altitude as the clouds, we frequently had whiteout. (9:57 a.m.) / We went to the highest point with no stop. We beheld the top of Mount Choukai, its surrounding mountains, the sun and the creeping pines. The strong wind and the blowing snow gave us a difficult situation. (0:27 p.m.) / It got cloudy again. We descended earlier because it was getting into a dangerous time zone as well. (3:13 p.m.)

The color of the sky is quite different today. The sun was hidden high up in the sky and it became a monochrome world. I think the sensory temperature was severely low. Carving snow in a transverse direction,
I felt warmth once entering the wind shelter. Although presumably that area was marking below zero as well.

passage08Tamasudare waterfall 2

This day was our second time at the Tamasudare Waterfall.
We travelled close to the Tamasudare. Although it is cloudy we can occasionally see the Mount Choukai.

The road to Tamasudare was quite easy to walk.(07:50 a.m.) / The strong wind

brought the water mists from the waterfall briskly. The wind was blowing towards us. (10:42 a.m.) / We saw clouds, Mount Choukai and the sun near the waterfall for a while.(0:53 p.m.)

Sunny with occasional clouds

We started our way to the Tamasudare Waterfall. We observed clouds, snow and Japanese cedar and closeups of plants at the entrance.(0:01 p.m.) / We arrived at the waterfall. The mists were playing in favor of us this time than last time, but this time it didn’t end snowing. (2:46 p.m.) / We saw

the moon peeking through the clouds. The moon slipped away after a short while so we waited, but the clouds gradually became thicker. Day 6 was over. (18:21 p.m.)

passage09The Mountain of the Sun 3-The pathway of the wind
Sunny, but heavy wind near the mountain top

We headed for Mount Choukai from the north side with the same guides who accompanied us from the previous 2 sessions. (5:00 a.m.) / We proceeded earnestly through the forest. (6:13 a.m.) / It was the most dangerous road so far. We proceeded occasionally getting lost along the way. We rollovered several times. When we pass through the forest, Mount Choukai came into our sight. It showed a different beauty from the ocean side of it. (8:07 a.m.) / The weather started to get more and more unstable.

The fresh snow was being blown away by the wind storm and it attacked us like a blizzard. It was cold and hurtful. The ascending snow was beautiful. (10:08 a.m.) / We have arrived to the furthest point. Our arrival was past the forest line, a place like a white desert. The surrounding was open and vast.(0:35 p.m.)

/ “I can see the wind”
I don’t think there is a more accurate word to describe the experience we had. Without exaggeration, the wind speed was at least 30m per second. Of course, it was even difficult to stay standing still and strong enough to knock down us. In order to capture the mountain peak it was necessary to set eyes on the wind.
A- When dusts appear in distance and the sound that the dust hugging on the ground several tens of seconds later. This is the sign of the blast.

We descended the mountain for we exceeded our limit. Our surrounding started to get covered with thick clouds and both the cold and heavy blizzard forced us to retreat once.(1:26 p.m.) / We had lunch at a open valley-like space. We could hardly eat as the wind was getting stronger. We start to walk down again.(1:55 p.m.) / As the mountain on the Akita prefecture side was steeply and dangerous there was the need to start our way back before sundown. We head down in quite a speed. We continued our way through almost

vertically dropping cliffs in the same manner as well. (3:48 p.m.) / Although stopping from overheat engine a couple of times, we arrive back before dark. We go back to the meeting place and thank our guides. They were all amazing people who were mountain experts and very reliable. With this we finished our filming at Mount Choukai. (18:04 p.m.)


Chapter 3


Producing this piece, we conducted fieldwork and some interviews.
In this page, we post interviews with Mr. Yutaka Honma, an administration officer of
Chidou museum, Miyuki Watabe, a curator of Dewa Sanzan History Museum,
and Yu Konno, a young mountain ascetic hermits.
These exploration build a plot and script of “SANSUI”.
It is our sincere hope these interviews to be a help for you to know more about the allurement of this land.

  • Interview 1
    Miyuki Watabe

    Dewa Sanzan History Museum

    Interview 1

    Mythological imagination of the
    Three Mountains of Dewa

    ーThe elements of waterfalls and Acalaー

  • Interview 2
    Yu Konno

    mountain ascetic hermit

    Interview 2

    Lost worships

    ーAn archeology of mountain ascetic hermitー

  • Interview 3
    Yutaka Honma

    Chidou museum

    Interview 3

    “Guide to Famous Sites in Shounai”

    ーWaterfalls in Shounaiー

Chapter 4


Extracted part of video is provided in here.
Please watch it with the location.

Chapter 5


SANSUI Web Archives
  • Miyuki Watabe (Dewa Sanzan History Museum)
  • Yu Konno (Mountain asetic hermit)
  • Yutaka Honma (Chidou Museum)
Supports for
  • Organize Back Country
  • Gassan Pole Pole Farm
  • Haru Nakae
  • Humio Yoshii
  • Atsuki Nagatani
  • Red Digital Cinema Camera Company
Image Courtesy
  • Chidou Museum
  • Tsuruoka City Local History Museum
  • Tokyo National Museum
Designed by
  • Lennon Yamada
  • Takuya Uemura
Text Edit by
  • Yusuke Nishimoto
Filmed by


A film maker and contemporary artist, born in the United States in 1989.
After graduating in design studies, he launched video footage and installations which is focusing on the script based on the research.
The significance in his beautiful video expression, which places importance on his creating process and uses live-action and found footage has given him acclaim and, in 2013, he participated in a project of the Serpentine Gallery in the UK.
He is, also, top researcher of ON (Object of Null, Inc. )and is taking part in urban planning, proprietary research, and joint research with R&D department.
In 2014, he held a joint work installation with the world-wide musician, Terry Riely.
Above his activity is now catching an attention as a new figure of an artist.
This work is produced by a contemporary artist Eugene Kangaawa and CEO of Spiber Inc., Kazuhide Sekiyama who find a congenial spirit in each other.

Joint work with
Spiber Inc.


Spiber was established in 2007 by Kazuhide Sekiyama when he studied synthetic spider silk in The Institute for Advanced Biosciences, Keio University.
Based on the industrial commercialization of synthetic spider silk and the other high-performance protein materials, which they succeeded to establish the basic technology, they are aiming at and committing the solution of the critical global issues and the advancement of humanity.
In 2008, they moved headquarter address to Tsuruoka city, Yamagata prefecture.
In 2013, they succeeded to invent the new bio-materials derived from spider silk, QMONOS.
In 2014, they founded a co-parent company, Xpiber which will develop and produce the synthetic spider silk.
In the same year, their "Industrial material revolution based on high-performance structural protein" program was approved for "Impulsing Paradigm Change through disruptive Technologies(ImPACT)" and appointed as the core research organization by the Cabinet Office.

-The beautiful and mysterious landscape of Shounai attracted and Mr. Kazuhide Sekiyama and EUGENE KANGAWA, and brought strong tie.
Then they co-produced "SANSUI", as a result.

Sound by
Marihiko Hara

Interview 1
Miyuki Watabe

Dewa Sanzan History Museum

Interview 1

Mythological imagination of the
Three Mountains of Dewa

ーThe elements of waterfalls and Acalaー

An interview with the curator of Dewa Sanzan History Museum, Miyuki Watabe.
The museum, which is located in the shrine on the top of Mount Haguro stores and exhibits historical materials about Dewa Sanzan.
Within the interview he speaks to us of the symbolical meaning of the Three mountain worship, the analogy of waterfall that plays an important role in ascetic training, which are the natural elements of fire, water, life and death.


Mr. Honma from the Chidou Museum has introduced me to you as a person who is knowledgable of the Three mountain worship and the practice of mountain ascetic hermits(Yamabushi). I will appreciate it if you can tell me about these topics today.

Well, I would like to talk about the Fire festival which embodies the concept of the worship glaringly. Although it is not directly related to mountain ascetic hermits. This festival is based upon an observance in Shounai region called “forest commemoration” in which the spirits of the dead will stay in the forest near the house to watch over his or her family. After several years, when the spirits are purified, they climb up Mount Haguro to get more cleansed.
Then they move to Mount Gassan and arrive at Mount Yudono where they resurrect. It is believed that if you make light of memorial service for your ancestor, or if you lose a home to return to, they will turn your soul into Koujin, which is a deity that holds violent forces bringing harm to your descendants. Therefore we have to commemorate the deceased.
That’s why people in this region make a fire to let their ancestors back to the place of descendants and treat Sake for those who doesn’t have place to back on August 13th of Bon Festival, a memorial service for their ancestors.
Also, there was a belief that moon it was decided through the moon whether if they would reborn either in on the earth or back to the God’s world. That’s why, Mount Gassan (which writes the “moon mountain” in Chinese letters) has a special meaning.
through the moon whether if they would reborn either in on the earth or back to the God’s world. That’s why, Mount Gassan (which writes the “moon mountain” in Chinese letters) has a special meaning.

Could you explain about the term “through the moon”, more?

It was considered that the human spirit becomes a deity or drops of rain through the moon in the past. Then this becomes a circulation when the water is taken into the human body. Within this thinking, the moon decides whether people are born on earth, in afterlife, or if they turn into deity without having to wonder around the Six Roads of Reincarnation.

Mount Gassan is located in the center of flatland and is the only mountain which does not run across other prefectures. So people used the mountain to resemble this attribute of the moon, didn’t they?

Exactly. From Shounai the mountain does not seem to be round shaped, but it can be seen a clear round shape from the upcountry. On the other hand, the purpose of the fire festival in on December 31 to January 1st is to burn away the year’s plagues. New year is the point when the power of fire burns down, so people need to fuel the fire for all of the people living in the 33 countries in Haguro territory. Bright sunlight is necessary for a rich harvest. In this way, Mount Haguro represents “present world”, Mount Gassan “other world”, and Mount Yudono “Resurrection”, and this unification is called the Three mountain worship.

The practice of mountain ascetic hermits is based upon this circulation of life and death. For example, it is said that divine deity is fond of being unsullied, so they purify themselves off with the waterfall before climbing up the mountain. Also, these ablution by mediating under a waterfall called Takigyo has a meaning to eliminate accidie and ambivalence. Acala has a child body, which represents an innocent mind. The sword held on the right hand means to cut off the hermit’s ambivalence and the rope on the left hand means to lead the way for hermits who are trying to drop out. Therefore Acala is also a hermit and will lead others. That’s why the mountain ascetic hermit’s practice is mostly not Tathagata or Bodhisattva, but is Acala.
Furthermore, keeping the balance between the opposite elements, such as between the flame which Acala carries and the waterfall plays an important role in the worship. Especially in the agricultural mountain area, both rain and sunlight are essential for living. Without rain in the rainy season rice planting can’t be done and without sun the rice can’t grow and there will be no harvest. The mountain ascetic hermits are the people who can control both fire and water here.

Ok. So, the mountain ascetic hermit’s practice are generated from the worship for nature?

Exactly. The mountain ascetic hermits practice waterfall meditation in the each three mountains. They initially go to the waterfall at Harai River in Mount Haguro that represents the “present world”. Amongst these places include a sanctuary where no one can enter except the mountain ascetic hermits.
Then they move to Mount Gassan. There is a place called Mitagahara on the eighth station of it. Although there is only a straight road going through it now, back in the days when Matsuo Basho lived, there was a left round root in which there was a big phallic shaped stone. Beyond this place there is Shishiga Waterfall near a mountain stream called Nigorisawa. This was the root that they always took to go to the ninth station. Finally, they will head towards Mount Yudono where the sacred object is enshrined. There is also a waterfall in Mitaki Shrine that is located in the bottom of Mount Yudono. The way these waterfalls are shaped is characteristic and popular to be taken photos of the scene of the line of the mountain ascetic hermits.
The waterfall pours down from the gap of stones. That’s not just a running down but also representing birthing - genitalia. So the reason why these monks choose to do Takigyo is because they are in the world of after life. The mountain express an alien world. Thus they venerate both of them in wish of rebirth.

I see.

The object of worship in Mount Yudono also has a yonic structure. The fact that hot water springs from there and the way it pours out also holds that kind of meaning. Thus, the practice of mountain ascetic hermit is this act of circulation between life and death before they present themselves before the object of worship.

It is an interesting story, which has a variety of key words. I usually quote natural elements into the motif, so the words such as “death and resurrection” or “fire and water” would have high synergy with my work. By the way, is it difficult to enter the sacred areas?

Yes. There are areas where only those who experienced practice of mountain ascetic hermits can access. Yet, you can visit Nakadai, for example. Mount Gassan, would also be good, but you must accompany guides.

Can I go in midwinter?

It will be impossible to go in the winter. There are no roads, so you can only go there between May to Autumn. But even in summer all you have are narrow roads, which is still hard to go through.

Do similar faiths or people like the mountain ascetic hermits exist in other areas?

In the past, there were mountains in which monks lived in all over the region, but as a result of the abolition ordinance of the ascetic practices that were exercised in Meiji 5 (1872) many of the practices faded away from these mountains. Some scholars said that studying old materials, Mount Haguro was the only place where these dogmatic old customs remained.
But as the details of the practices have been orally passed on, it is hard to determine whether this is true or not.

The practice of mountain ascetic hermit is unspoken isn’t it?

No no can speak of the memory when he or she was in the in their mother's womb. This is the same thing. As in it is something you can not speak of.

I understand. So what do you thing is about Mount Haguro that allowed it to remain the faith exactly?

In Kumano, for example, there were only guesthouses that were called Shuku-bo run by mountain ascetic hermits and the people who took the initiative to visit there were dispersed across all around. Thus, when the practice was abolished, these people disappeared at the same time.

In Haguro, however, the owners of the Shuku-bo went to call out for people by themselves. They committed to the practice not only as owners of the Shuku-bo ( a hostel which ), but as coordinators by discarding Fuda tickets. As a result, they were able to continue this tradition. Even now the Shinto priest here goes through the mountain ascetic hermit’s practice and wears the hermit’s outfit when they toll the temple’s bell on new year’s eve.

Haguro was systematically organized, which led it to keep this tradition.

Exactly. The temple town which used to have Shugendo*1 had died out, but Haguro. remains inevitably with this system. Another interesting fact to point out is that there were coordinators in Ichihara village in Chiba prefecture, who took the villagers to Haguro. The coordinators had connections with the host in Mount Haguro. This kind of relationship existed from the Edo period.

You have told me the origin of the name Mount Gassan, but how much is it prevailed amongst people living in that area?

Until recent years, all farmers climbed either Mount Gassan or Mount Choukai, which they attributed as mountain deities in summer. This was from the belief that good harvest were given from the deity of mountains. However the two mountains hold separate objectives. Mount Gassan holds the objective to hold a memorial service for ancestors and Mount Choukai to enshrine the Healing Buddha. On the bottom of Mount Choukai which represents Surya Prabha and Candraprabha until Meiji period, Nikko River and Gekko River flows. These two rivers are the symbol of Bhaisajya-guru and both of its sides were protected by the two rivers. It is said that Bhaisajya-guru is grateful god having powers to protect peasant from pest or bird injury.

As I thought, those faiths did exist.

Yes. Nowadays it is more common to offer money but they dedicated rice in the past, called Hatsu-ho. However, there are fewer people who climb the mountains and have had a person visiting for another to dedicate. Someone goes furthest they can get by car and get the Fuda tickets and some meet up at Mount Choukai, Mount Gassan and Mount Kinbo in some villages. On the bottom of Mount Kinbo, there is an area called ‘Kogane’ which means gold. So there might be buried treasure.

Are these stories only orally passed traditions or are there any documents about them left?

Most of the faiths relating to mount ascetic hermits are passed on by word of mouth. They were done as not to leave any kinds of materials. Their activities were some times shady if they were illegal or not. Therefore they have been careful not to leave ay trace of form or number to let anyone from the outside know.

Did any direct relationship between Mount Choukai and the Three mountains exist?

Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan, and Mount Yudono are a series of mountains, but Mount Choukai is a little far from there. So, the worship was concluded within the three mountains.

Do you know anything about Akumi District, where Tamasudare is located?

Well, Sakata and the riverside scenery of Mogami (Shiraito Waterfall, for example) do not have any relationship with the Three mountain worhip of Haguro. I have never hard mountain ascetic hermits go there for their practice. For monks, taking the waterfall means purifying oneself and being born again, so Sakata and Mogami can not be such places.

There is a tendency that people of Yamagata prefecture have a yearning towards resurrection and reincarnation. The fact that they have many waterfalls and mountains there may have something to do with it. The practice of mountain ascetic hermits in Haguro represents the circulation from hell to the Sukhavati. They use the mountains to resemble the transmigration. This is an idea that has been radicated back from the Edo era.

Are the present style of these ascetics practices the same as they were in the Meiji era or even sometime further in the past?

No, all of the traditions were abolished once before. Every top members of the temples converted into Shinto priests. The temples and the Five-Storied Pagoda were needed to be demolished. Everything in the mountains needed to be either moved or be destroyed. However they couldn’t afford to do it and while they were stuck in this situation they had the authorities coming in to check up with them. Then as a means to preserve the religious style they changed the deities into those which played similar roles, as to still let it be easy for the believers to understand. The authorities allowed this situation, in which they just changed the names of deities or said they had the same outcome. So the entire look of the religion did not change that much. It is just that the object of worship was switched from a Buddha to a Shinto god.

They worship the mountains by giving them names in order to gain psychic powers from deities of mountains. What they share in common is the fundamental of Shinto priests, which is to enshrine. Because it is Shintoism they both have “making everything into 0” in common. Hence this is where “death and resurrection” comes from. That is why the mountain ascetic hermit’s start their practices in fall by imitating their own funeral.

I see. So some of the religious meanings of the Three mountain worship that I have learned include the mountain hermit being derived from indigenous belief and that their ascetic trainings were naturally presided over life and death, which are in other words human and nature. Within this background, it was very informative to hear about the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism and the effect it brought to the stye of training, which included information passed on by oral tradition. Thank you very much.

1. Shugendo is a Japanese specific religion. It is a combination of mountain worship with multiple religions ( such as Animism, Shintoism, Taoism, and Confucianism.)

Interview 2
Yu Konno

mountain ascetic hermit

Interview 2

Lost worships

ーAn archeology of mountain ascetic hermitー

An interwiew with Yu Konno, who takes after the quadricentennial tradition of Yamabushi, Japanese mountain ascetic hermits.
I listened to the background of Yamabushi from the begining when it was based on “syncretism of kami and buddhas” to its separation in pre-modern. It gave me a speculation over the lost worship.


What is the current relationship between the shrines and the temples in the Three mountains of Dewa (Dewa Sanzan)?

The temples and shrines in Three Mountains of Dewa are still feud with each other. Therefore they practice the ascetic training that begins from the end of August named “Akinomine"*1 separately. This situation came about from of the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism which has taken place since the Meiji Era. After the Meiji government was established, Sugao Nishikawa who was appointed as the chief monk of Dewa Sanzan Shrine attempted to abolish all temples and proselytize them into shintoism. This was known as “Haibutsukishaku”. *2

However, the sincere voices of the mountain ascetic hermits who wished their Akinomine would not disappear, resulted in developing a shrine style of Akinomine and this tradition continues today as well. Although these monks continued their temple style, the places of their practice were controlled by the shrines (Shintoism) and many temples were taken down at the same time. The only temple that continues to exist from that is Koutakuji.

(Pointing to a map) Is Koutakuji on this map?

I don't think it’s here ...well, here is the big temple called the Ougondou.... but it doesn't seem to be here.

Anyway, which side do you practice? Shintoism or Buddism?

I practice in a shrine but I'm doing research together with Daisaburo Sakamoto who is a mountain ascetic hermit and a writer who practices in a temple.

I have seen his book in the museum.

He is like a friend who has been practicing in temples for a long time. I wouldn't say that I study it but I'm investigating various things about the history of mountain ascetic hermits together with him so I feel like I’m well-informed on both sides.

I see.

For example there is a record that says there were nearly 300 guesthouses that were called shuku-bo, which were run by mountain ascetic hermits.

These were places where people came to go through the mountain ascetic hermits’practices from the outside, right?

Yes, there were about 30 temples between Zuishinmon, the entrance gate for the pilgrimage route on Mount Haguro and the top of the mountain.
In these guesthouse, only bachelors were allowed to live in and they took on male apprentices. Downward of the gate, married mountain ascetic hermits lived in.
These temporal monks run the guesthouses. Although women were not allowed to enter shrines, they were able to enter temples.

Do shrines completely ban women from entering?

They don't accept women to the Akinomine but they have started a different training for women called Miko Shugyou. Fukikoshi-komoridou is currently doing this practice. Each Shuku-bo has its individual sacred object and the Daishoubou that I am obliged to enshrines the Seoritsu-Hime, a muse who govern water and exorcism in Nigorisawa shrine.

Is that the same as Ontaki Shrine in Tamasudare?

No, that is completely different. There are a few Ontaki Shrines in Mount Yudono.

This place has been kept for generations by the Daishoubou, but I was not able to go there for a while after a landslide. Actually, there was a person who went mountain plant picking about 3 or 4 years ago. There he accidentally found 3 lines of waterfalls similar to the one in Ontaki Shrine in Tamasudare. I went to see it the year before last. It was so beautiful. However, it’s difficult to access there in winter so you should go around in spring. It's a shame I don't have the pictures with me right now.

I would like you to send them to me if you have any.

Actually, the Haguro group accused the Yudono group for following the Tendai practice too closely but they did not succeed. They tried to get approval from the royal court by pushing forward the founder Hachikono Ouji who was called Noujyo taishi. During this process Hachikono Ouji was offered a title of Shokendaibosatsu, which led the argument to continue. It is said that the court granted him this title because Mount Haguro and Dewa Sanzan held so much power that the Court wanted to be close with them.
When I saw old materials it told that Mount Haguro used to be very popular in all of eastern Japan and there were vast amount of donations which is equivalent to several billion Yen at to day’s price given to them. They received a vast amount of donations with a value of several billion Yen. Furthermore, the waterfall in Ontaki Shrine behind Mount Yudono is the most popular waterfall for Takigyo where meditation is practiced by sitting under it.

I see. I had a very scary experience when I went to Mount Haguro at the end of the year. It got completely dark in the early evening.

I know, it’s a very difficult to climb over there.

I couldn't go up because the ground was frozen. Does anyone go there in winter?

Some people climb from the base of the mountain during the Seireisai festival that is held on December 31st. In the winter it is very difficult to climb it but in the spring it offers such a beautiful view. Mount Gassan doesn't have many waterfalls but there is a pond called Kohama, which is the only place where you can see water. Actually, the water coming down from the Kohama pond has become the waterfall for the Nigorisawa Shrine enshrines Seoritsu-Hime.

How long does it take to get to Ontaki Shrine if you try going there in winter?

It takes quite a lot of time in spring because you need to cut through the bushes to proceed.

How about Mount Choukai?

It has many rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Even more than Mount Gassan. Waterfalls and rivers are abundant everywhere. I heard that there was a practice called Ukaishugen in Mount Ukai in the past, which no longer exists. However I have not seen any records of them in writing.

So it’s an oral tradition.

Yes. I have heard that they lost the fight to Mount Haguro.

Mount Haguro is very unique, isn't it. It was solely successful in remaining which was a result in using a systematic method. I find it interesting that the reason of its survival was because of its difference from Yoshino.

It is one of the three biggest mountains for ascetic practices. Mount Haguro guarded 33 places in the east Japan region and is the only place where they took the form of mixing Tendai and Shingon Buddhism. It was originally Shingon Buddhism but it turned into Tendai after a person called Ten-yu become a pupil of Amami who was originally on the Shogunate side. The Mount Yudono side was a dedicated Shingon Buddhism area, so the Haguro side was opposed to them and there are stories that say this situation developed into killing each other in the end.

It's a very complex story.

There were attempts to ban ascetic practices and change them into shrines to oppress them. There were so many things going on. But this story appears to be fictional and was something that was added later. According to my research I have found that Hachikono Ouji was actually on the shrine’s side.

I see. There are many cases like that. Thank you very much for telling me various precious stories about the history of mountain ascetic hermits.

1. Akinomine is one of the annual ascetic practices of the mountain ascetic hermits. Since ancient times, they have undergone ascetic practice retreating in mountains within all seasons. The practice, which starts from August 25th at Dewa Sanzan Shirine is the most important one amongst the four sessions.

2. Haibutsu kishaku (“to abolish Buddhism and destroy Shākyamuni”) is a term that indicates a current of thought that advocates the expulsion of Buddhism from Japan, which continuously exists in Japan's history.

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Konno’s email.

How are you these says in this spring which has brought us consecutive bitter cold days?

I'm writing to you today to answer your question about "the worship which connects Mount Choukai and Mount Gassan” that we discussed when we last spoke.

unfortunately I could not find any materials which would clarify this.

Although these are just my personal ideas…
It seems that the Gassan Shrine is enshrined in Kuchinomiya, which is located in Fukura. Therefore I am certain that there was a period when the Three mountains of Dewa consisted with Mount Gassan, Mount Choukai and another mountain.

Also, there is a mountain called “Gassan forest” within the somma of the Mount Choukai. I think this name comes from the culture of “forest commemoration.”

It is said that when people die the first thing they do is to climb a small mountain (which is Hayama) After that, they spend 33 years to climb a high mountain and finally they become gods.

According to some article which I read before, Gassan forest is located at the true north of Mount Gassan’s peak. There is a possibility that Gassan forest was seen as a mountain that implies the meaning of “Hayama”, which means the mountain of leaves from its Chinese characters. I think in this case, we can derive the connection between the Mount Choukai and Gassan.

Although I may not have been able to answer your question completely, this is the best answer that I can give you now.

I am wishing you the very best. I am sorry I could not be of much help, but I will contact you again if I find any information that seem useful.

Best regards,
Yu Konno

Interview 3
Yutaka Honma

Chidou museum

Interview 3

“Guide to Famous Sites in Shounai”

ーWterfalls in Shounaiー

An interview with Mr. Yutaka Honma, an administration officer of Chidou Museum.
Within this museum, where National Treasure and Important Cultural Properties are preserved, Mr. Honma shows us historical documents such as landscape painting of Shounai back in the Edo period.
(A part of these documents will be shown below.)


How waterfalls have been treated in Shounai region?

In the ascetic training of mountain ascetic hermits (Yamabushi), waterfall has played an important role for a long time. For example, a waterfall called Tamasudare Waterfall, its torrent waterfall with 63m height and 5m depth from the rim to the basin, is a one of the most famous waterfalls for their practice. Also, Suga Waterfall which is on the way to visit Five-storied pagoda in Mount Haguro and the one near Mount Yudono Shrine are renown too.
Waterfalls are connected with ascetic practice (Shugen) and Acala. Therefore even the small waterfalls usually have a shrine built besides them. Tamasudare Waterfall that you have visited recently has Mitama Shrine as well.

I heard that Tamasudare Waterfall was used to be called Shiraito Waterfall.

Yes, but it was called so until the Edo period. Now it is called Tamasudare Waterfall and is the largest waterfall in Yamagata prefecture. I think the waterfall, which is known as the Shiraito Waterfall today is the one that runs along the Mogami river that is more of a touristic destination.

How waterfalls were depicted in “Guide to Famous Sites in Shounai”?

“Guide to Famous Sites in Shounai” is a pictorial guidebook which illustrates picturesque landscape in Shounai. For example, Masuda waterfall is illustrated so oblongly. Ni-no Waterfall was also dynamically depicted.

Besides this, it depicts the scene in which people crossed on the rope called “Saruko Watari” which running though the valleys around KomenoKo Waterfall of Bohnji River by the upper Aka River. There remain only two ropes. “Aka River, Life and Culture” introduces waterfalls which can be identified today.
Up until the Edo period, there were places independent from Mount Haguro and the Shounai domain and did not belong to the shogunate government. Therefore, there were some areas beyond shogunate supervision in which Shounai’s vernacular culture such as waterfall and Three mountain worships were kept. And they were mainly the mountain ascetic hermits’s who chiefly inherited these historical backgrounds.

I see. These“Inaccessible areas” are not only talked within the geographic condition, but also holds some cultural meaning.
I appreciate your kindness to show me many precious materials today.

The materials introduced in this interview
“Aka River, Life and Culture”
“History and Culture of Shounai”(pictorial record)
“An Diagram of Process of Tsuruoka”
“History of Waterfall of Masuda”
“Guide to Famous Sites in Shounai”
(Author unknown. Created in late Edo period)
“Oizumi Collection of Articles” Volumes 19,21,22
(Some of the description on waterfall are included as reference)
“A List of Pictures from Valley of Mogami River in Oshikiri to Kashiwazawa”
“Grace Pictorial Collection of Dewa Sanzan”
ictorial Diagram of Mount Haguro”