Imagine a stone path of 2,466 steps leading up to the summit of a sacred mountain through a forest of very old cedar trees – this is not the setting of a Chinese martial arts movie but it is the real scenery that you will find on Mount Haguro, one of the Three Mountains of Dewa, or Dewa Sanzan, that are considered holy ground by the Japanese.
This stone path (ishi dan) is 1.8km long and it is set into a forest of cedar trees (Cryptomeria japonica), called sugi in Japanese. This stone path and the “avenue of cedar trees” (Sugi-Namiki) was constructed in the mid 17th centuries and it apparently took thirteen years and a lot of manpower to complete the task.
The ishi dan is not only a Designated National Treasure but it got also awarded three stars by the Michelin Green Guide Japan, published for the first time in September 2009.
Visitors will appreciate the shade of the majestic 350 to 500 years-old trees when climbing the steps on a hot summer day.
Luckily, at mid-point there is a rest house where refreshments and Japanese traditional sweets are served. This is an ideal spot to stretch your legs, have a drink and enjoy the splendid view over the surrounding countryside.
Even better, you will be issued a “Certificate of Achievement” with your name carefully printed on it celebrating “your strong legs”. If you are a foreigner, then you will get a certificate in English. It states that you have indeed climbed this heavenly staircase, although you have only made it halfway yet.
There is a convenient short cut to the summit by bus. However, taking the bus straight to the top of Mount Haguro means that you will not have a chance to admire the 29 meters tall Five-Storied Pagoda (Goju-no-to), a National Treasure worth two Michelin stars. This pagoda was built some 600 years ago and is said to be the oldest pagoda in Japan’s northern region.
Not only that but amazingly the architectural know-how of the “Center Column Vibration Control” (Shimbashira-Seishin) used to construct the pagoda centuries-ago was also used to erect the Tokyo Sky Tree, the Japanese capital’s new broadcast and observation tower, standing tall at 634m.
The pagoda is still standing after more than half a century which speaks in favor of this technology. Let’s hope that the Tokyo Sky Tree will make it that long too.