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Mt. Tsurugi

This majestic mountain of legend is surprisingly accessible.

Mt. Tsurugi

Mt. Tsurugi is the second highest mountain in western Japan. At 1,995 m above sea level, it’s second only to Mt. Ishizuchi. Tsurugi means ‘sword’, and legend has it that the imperial sword of Emperor Antoku is buried on the mountain. This is one of the more plausible legends. Tsurugi is also said to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which probably resembled the mikoshi divine palanquins still used in Japan today. Archaeological excavations early last century revealed a complex of tunnels under the mountaintop, whereupon the excavations were ordered to be abandoned. The mountain is also said to be protected by a huge white serpent.

The mountain is sacred to the practitioners of the secretive Shugendo religion which combines elements of Shinto, esoteric Buddhism and Taoism. Believers dress in white cloth and animal skins, and undertake challenging mountain treks to develop their spirituality. Their rites involve blowing conch shells, and the mournful notes of this unusual instrument rolling over the mountain is an exhilarating and unforgettable sound.

Mt._Tsurugi_chairlift

Mt. Tsurugi may sound like a tough climb. And it is, but there’s also a chair lift that takes you to within 900 m of the peak. The lift starts at Minokoshi station and the ride up to Nishijima takes about 35 minutes. It’s the longest chair lift in Japan. If you’re planning to take it in cold weather, wrap up warm! The top of Mt. Tsurugi is above the treeline, and it’s carpeted with attractive sasa bamboo. There’s a lodge at the summit where you can stay, and in the morning, you may be treated to an amazing view of a sea of cloud. There’s also a shrine, weather towers, and wooden boardwalks that lead to various viewpoints with panoramic views out over the surrounding mountains. Dedicated hikers can climb the entire mountain from the trailhead at Minokoshi near the lower chairlift station. The hike takes about two hours one way. On a clear day the view from the summit reaches out to the Pacific Ocean, the Seto Inland Sea, the Kii Peninsula and Okayama Prefecture on mainland Japan.

Tsurugi is a sanctuary for about thirty black bears. These black bears with a moon shaped patch of white on their chest used to inhabit wide areas of the mountains of Shikoku, but hunting and increased reforestation have reduced their habitats. They live mostly at more than 1,000 meters above sea level where broadleaf deciduous forests remain. Since the bears are shy, you’re unlikely to see one. In summer the pretty yellow wax bell plant flowers along some of Mt. Tsurugi’s trails. This rare plant only grows on high mountains.

The mountain is the watershed of the Iya, Sadamitsu and Anabuki Rivers which flow into the Yoshino River.

Information

Name in Japanese: 剣山

Pronunciation: tsurugisan (also kenzan by locals)

Address: Mount Tsurugi, Higashiiyasugeoi, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0201

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