A spiritual hike up Niigata’s guardian of prosperity.
Positioned between the cities of Joetsu and Kashiwazaki, Mt. Yoneyama is considered a sacred local landmark in the Yoneyama-Fukura-Hakkei Prefectural Natural Park of Niigata Prefecture. It’s also believed to be a “guardian” of local residents, animals, rich harvests and abundant precipitation.
A trip to this mountain rewards hikers with a panoramic view of the Sea of Japan — or a starry sky at night — as you reach the top of the mountain that’s more than 900 meters tall. Basically, good things are to come after a climb.
Speaking of which, the climb to the top gets steep at times, but travelers can choose between the one-hour and two-hour courses that cater to their fitness abilities. Hiking up to the summit is a treasure hunt: One moment you find rows of Bodhisattva statues (which look like female buddhas!) among the bushes, and the next moment you find a little two-story rest house on the summit.
Free rest spot
In fact, that house is where you want to be. Whether just to have a lunch break or to crash for a night, the free-of-charge rest house is well-equipped with an abundant supply of futons, blankets, fans and maps.
In summer months, hikers like to ascend the mountain at night, take a doze at the house, and wake up to the sunrise with the view of Kashiwazaki lying below their feet. These types of rest houses are typical for Japanese mountains, but be sure to bring plenty of food and water for the hike, as these are not provided.
After ringing the bell at the nearby shrine, take time to soak in the spectacular view before making your way down.
To witness how the lives of the locals are intertwined with this majestic mountain, visit Yoneyama Station in Kashiwazaki on the first Sunday of June, when a public ritual prayer for safety takes place every year.
Or, if you’re more on the active side, take part in the annual Yoneyama-Sanroku road race in April. The run around Mt. Yoneyama’s neighborhoods will give you a close understanding of lives of those living in the rice country of Japan.