Coast-to-Coast Pilgrimage: Walk, Savor, Connect
The coast-to-coast pilgrimage connects the Pacific coast of Miyagi Prefecture to the Japan Sea coast of Yamagata Prefecture, showcasing the natural beauty of both its coastal and mountainous areas and their respective cultural and culinary highlights.
Trek your way through the stunning natural sceneries as you encounter three different ‘pilgrimage’ routes: the ancient spiritual training grounds of the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa (Dewasanzan), the inspiring Michinoku Coastal Trail, and the Narrow Road to the Deep North, a path once followed by prolific Edo period Haiku poet, Matsuo Basho.
Along with your friendly guides, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with local farmers, fishermen, artisans, and Yamabushi (mountain priests). Follow the journey of each local ingredient you eat—from farm or ocean to plate—and be inspired by stories of family tradition and history and the locals’ deep respect for both the blessings and ferocity of nature.
Walk in nature, savor local flavors and connect with the people and culture of Japan’s deep north.
- 1Yunohama Onsen
- 2Dewa Sanzan:Mt. Haguro
- 3Dewa Sanzan:Mt. Gassan
- 4Natagiri-Toge Mountain Pass
Depart from Yamagata Station, connect with the locals!
This itinerary begins with a warm welcome into the home of a friendly local family at Chikeiken, their farmhouse restaurant. Feast on locally sourced vegetables and seafood and enjoy a comfortable chat with the proprietors.
Having satisfied your stomach, it’s time to head to Yunohama Onsen on the coast of the Japan Sea for an orientation session at your hotel before you watch the sun set over the ocean from the outdoor hot spring baths. Toast to the journey ahead over a delicious kaiseki course meal featuring fresh local seafood and local sake!
Savor the flavors of Tsuruoka, UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy!
Blessed with the fruits of the surrounding mountain ranges, sprawling plains, and ocean at its doorstep, Tsuruoka City has been globally recognized as Japan’s only UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy! Today is all about discovering why this is the case. Start by getting your hands dirty! Join a local farming family on their field and try your hand at some farm-work, harvesting seasonal fruits and vegetables like local specialty Dadachamame (a regional variety of edamame bean) or grapes. Leaving the fields, follow the journey of the local produce from farm-to-plate! Enjoy a decadent course lunch at local restaurant Alchecciano – Italian cuisine made solely from local ingredients, including many heirloom vegetables.
In the afternoon, enter the spiritual realm of the Dewasanzan – the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa. For over a thousand years, pilgrims from across Japan have traveled to these holy mountains to train their bodies, minds, and souls deep in the pristine nature of Yamagata. The pilgrimage through the three mountains known as the ‘Journey of Rebirth’ traverses the world of the living in the towering cedar forests of Mt. Haguro, death and the afterlife on the high peaks of Mt. Gassan, and rebirth at Mt. Yudono, the holiest of the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa.
Starting with an introduction to the history and story of the area at Ideha Cultural Centre, take a guided hike to the five-story pagoda and up the 2446 stone steps to the peak of Mt. Haguro and Dewasanzan Shrine, guided by an authentic Yamabushi (mountain priest). After the hike, check in to your lodging for the evening, ‘Miyatabo’ – authentic Shinto pilgrim lodging.
Dinner will be a spiritual experience in and of itself as you learn how to make and correctly savor traditional shojinryori vegetarian cuisine. While widely associated with Buddhism, the shojinryori of the Dewasanzan is a fusion of both Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, and the consumption of the meal is seen as a form of ascetic practice. Assist with harvesting the ingredients before watching how some of the dishes are prepared. Eat the meal in a state of mindfulness and experience a Shinto ceremony to prepare your mind and body for the continuation of your pilgrimage the following day.
A Journey of ‘Rebirth’
Wake up early for a private Shinto prayer ceremony and breakfast of shojinryori to prepare your mind, body, and spirit for the pilgrimage ahead.
Day three will arguably be the most physically challenging of the itinerary as your group tackles the remaining two peaks of the Dewasanzan – Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono.
Once again, you’ll be joined by a Yamabushi priest to guide the way and instruct you in the ascetic elements of the pilgrimage, including a visit to both Gassan Shrine and Yudono Shrine at the peak of each mountain. A packed lunch is provided for this leg of the journey.
It is forbidden to speak of exactly what occurs during the blessing ceremonies at each shrine, but you will require an open mind and a small towel.
The pilgrimage of spiritual ‘rebirth’ is complete after ascending Mt. Yudono. Drive deeper into the mountains and stay overnight at the charming Hijiori Onsen hot spring village. Soak your weary muscles in the hot-spring bath before being rewarded with another feast of traditional dishes made from locally sourced ingredients.
Walk Basho’s ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’
Start your day with a morning walk in the forest behind Hijiori Onsen, enjoying beautiful views over the town. The morning’s activities will continue at a leisurely pace with a relaxing river cruise down the Mogami River that once played an important role in supporting the kitamaebune boat trade between Sakata City and the Kansai region. Enjoy a delicious local lunch on the boat as you take in the scenery and listen to the hauntingly beautiful songs of the boatmen.
In the afternoon, take a trip back in time to the Edo period and set out on a hiking adventure along the Natagirikogen Mountain Pass – the same path followed by haiku poet Matsu Basho while composing his great collection of poetry, Narrow Road to the Deep North. Stop for a coffee break in the forest as you take in the very same scenery that inspired his poems.
Your final destination for today will be across the border in Miyagi Prefecture’s Naruko Onsen, boasting over 1000 years of history as a place for healing and recuperation after the year’s harvest.
The personal connections continue over dinner as you tuck-in to a feast of dishes made with locally sourced ingredients at farmhouse restaurant Satonowa overlooking sprawling rice-fields. Savor the rare chance to share a table with the local producers who created the meal in front of you!
Walk the path of recovery along Miyagi’s coastline.
Leaving the mountains behind, it’s time for a dose of vitamin sea! The Pacific coast awaits in all its beauty, supporting the local lifestyle with its fertile fishing grounds. Jump on a local fishing boat and be taken out to oyster farms in the middle of the bay. Be guided by a local oyster farmer as you enjoy an up-close view of each step of the cultivation process while also hearing first-hand stories of how the industry has recovered following the devastating earthquake of 2011. For lunch, freshly harvested oysters will be the star of a meal made from locally sourced seafood and ingredients at an oyster-shack run by a fishing family!
In the afternoon, walk along the Karakuwa Peninsula of the Michinoku Coastal Trail a new 1000-kilometer walking route stretching along the Pacific coast of Tohoku, from Aomori in the north to Fukushima in the south. Take in the stunning scenery of dramatic rock formations along the Sanriku coast and reflect on both the raw beauty and ferocity of nature.
After a day of reflection, share stories and memories of your journey over a delicious dinner at Brewer’s Table in Kesennuma City. Joined by some local producers, dine on local cuisine made with freshly caught seafood and expertly paired with local sake from ‘Otokoyama Honten’ Brewery.
An offering of peace and gratitude
Spend your final morning in Tohoku experiencing one of the region’s spiritual traditions—kiriko—the art of making ‘divine ornaments’ made from paper cuttings as offerings to the Shinto gods. In a region historically battered by natural disaster whilst simultaneously reliant upon the ocean and nature, a deep reverence for nature is reflected in the local customs. Kiriko are cut into shapes that reflect the town’s prayers for successful fishing seasons, marine safety, and expressions of gratitude and hope for the bright future of the town.
Upon completing the kiriko experience, travel south down the coast to Sendai Airport, from where you can make your way back home.
The contents of this page are meant as an example to use in creating your travel plans and do not represent a package tour. Lodgings, travel, guides, and all other accommodations must be arranged for by the traveler.