21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
Few places in Japan will bring you as close to the ancient gods and the natural world as Tottori’s Mount Mitoku—provided that you’re willing to brave the journey. Often described as “Japan’s most dangerous National Treasure,” the climb is a challenging one, but it’s sure to prove a life-changing experience for anyone with a love of nature or Japanese religious and architectural history.
Upon arriving at Mount Mitoku and entering the temple of Sanbutsu-ji, you’ll be greeted with steep staircases lined by majestic trees, statues, and temple buildings before you arrive at the Main Hall—the starting point for a journey that will take you beyond the boundaries of our modern, mortal world.
Before beginning the pilgrimage up the mountainside—the path mirroring the Buddha’s own path to enlightenment—your footwear will be inspected. If your shoes are deemed too slippery (or potentially damaging to the natural environment), you’ll be asked to change into waraji, traditional Japanese straw sandals whose simple, rustic appearance belies a remarkable resilience and firm grip that will serve you well on your journey. At the same time, you’ll don a ceremonial sash that marks you as a pilgrim to the realm of the gods.
Step through a sacred gate marked by two trees, cross a bridge over a river that symbolizes the boundary between the realm of the living and the afterlife, and your journey will begin in earnest. From here, you’ll climb stairs formed by the roots of primeval kazura trees, scale steep and slippery rock faces with the aid of iron chain-link ropes, and more. On your way, you’ll also pass through beautifully preserved temple halls built ages ago, where you can stop to admire stunning mountain vistas.
At the summit, marvel at the spectacular sight of the inner hall, or Nageire-do (seen in the topmost photo)—a designated National Treasure built into a sheer precipice that dates back to Japan’s Heian Period (794 to 1185). Existing in perfect harmony with nature, it stands today as a living embodiment of the ancient Japanese belief system.
When you complete your pilgrimage (about 90 minutes round trip, on average) and return to the world of the living, you’re guaranteed to feel as if you’ve been reborn.
From Izumo Airport, take a shuttle bus to JR Matsue Station (about thirty minutes). From there, take a JR San’in Main Line special express train to Kurayoshi Station (about one hour). Buses are available from Kurayoshi Station to Misasa.
Hours: Visitors may climb Mount Mitoku from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Admission: A fee of 800 yen (adults) and 400 yen (elementary or junior high-age children) is required to climb to the top of Mt. Mitoku. Visitors who wish only to visit the main temple hall may do so for half price. A discount is available for groups of twenty or more.
Mitokusan Sanbutsuji Temple
1010 Mitoku, Misasa-cho, Touhaku District, Tottori 682-0132