All About Japan

Delivering Holy Stones to a Mountaintop Shrine

| Mountains , Toyama
Delivering Holy Stones to a Mountaintop Shrine

Mount Tsurugi, standing at 2,999 meters in the Northern Alps of central Japan, is considered one of the most challenging mountains to climb. A Shinto shrine in the area worships Mount Tsurugi as a god. Priests there were tasked with a longstanding mission to deliver holy stones to the summit. In late September, they began their journey.

The adventure began at a climbing gateway at 2,450 meters above sea level. A small shrine located at the summit sustained major damage when it got struck by lightning in July 2011. Oyama Shrine repaired the structure and returned it by helicopter in 2014. The shrine was then covered with stone walls for protection. But they couldn't bring key items there for six years due in part to poor weather conditions.

Saeki Mutsumaro a priest at Oyama Shrine was among the group. "This day has finally come," he told NTV. "I've felt bad for the gods but it took this long as we placed priority on safety."

The sacred objects are two stones believed to contain the spirit of deities. They had been stored at a lodging facility located at an altitude of 2,475 meters. The priests spent the night there. Early the next morning, they carried out a departure ceremony.

The stones are covered with cloth as people are forbidden from looking at or breathing on them. Each of them weighs around 7 to 8 kilograms.

Mutsumaro: "I wonder if our trip was delayed perhaps to coincide with the coronavirus. I'm thinking of also asking the gods of this mountain to ward off the epidemic."

The priests put the holy stones in their backpacks and continued their trek. The Japanese name Tsurugidake means "sword mountain." It is one of the few mountains in Japan where glaciers can be found. They came to the most strenuous part of the ascent.

They held onto chains as they carefully made their way up the 20-meter high rock wall that is almost vertical. After this section, they had just a little more to go. They arrived at the summit about three-and-a-half hours after leaving the lodging. Placed inside the shrine was a wooden plate that lists the names of people who participated in building the sanctuary. The priest asked climbers in the area to take part in the ritual.

As the priests have completed their mission, a sea of clouds formed in the area. Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain, was visible in a distance. Complete with the holy stones, the mountaintop shrine is poised to provide spiritual support to climbers.