A mountain ruled by Kami
and the prayers of the people
A village in the Heart of Mt. Iide
In the Iide Mountains straddled by the three prefectures of Yamagata Prefecture, Fukushima Prefecture, and Niigata Prefecture lies the Town of Iide. Water flowing from 2,000-meter-tall mountains create fertile land in the north-eastern area perfect for growing good quality rice. The hills in the area are known for cattle-raising. And then, in the south, there are many towns spread out among the mountains around the Mogami River cultivating a lifestyle in which nature and people come together.
84% of the Town of Iide is made up of forest. The people who lived in the mountainous area or close to Nakatsugawa wild vegetables and mushrooms, and made preserved foods to outlast winters. The mountains with its rich pickings and the agriculture became targets for industrial development in the Japanese economic miracle, and nameko mushroom factories were built among the settlements. And in the 1950’s due to the government’s tree planting project, there were many people planting cedar trees during agricultural off-seasons. With the passing of time the industries changed, but the feelings of admiration toward the mountains and the connection with nature continued.
Mountain Worship, and Festivals
To people who work in the mountains, mountains are objects to be revered as it is the home to many kami that protect the trees and animals. Even now there are people who put their hands together in prayer when going into the mountains. They also avoid the mountains when the kami prohibit it. There is a legend that on the 17th of every month in the Kawanaido region if you go into the mountains, you may get hurt or unable to find your way home. On this day, people who work in these mountains take the day off to rest.
Also, once a year during the mountain kami festival, people make food from the wild harvest, give thanks and pray for sound health, and drink omiki sake after clapping and bowing before a shrine. The mountain kami festival is held on different dates depending on the town, but it was born as a means to pray for safety for mountain workers, and continues to be an important custom.
People who worship and protect the mountain kami
There is an area called “yama no kami” at the southernmost tip of Iide Town just out of the way from Hirokawara settlement. It was a settlement with rows of houses with thatched roofs, but currently only a single couple, the Takahashi, and their house are there. The 150-year-old house that the Takahashi live in doesn’t have plumbing, so they use water from the mountains, and keep food reserves of wild mushrooms and vegetables for their nearly self-sustainable lifestyle. Next to their rice fields lie a small shrine dedicated to the mountain kami that their family for generations prayed at.
Every year in May they call on a Shinto priest to attend a festival. The Takahashi and mountain workers pray to the mountain kami for mountain work safety. There used to be a pre-school, some schools, and a community center during the Showa period. Even though it snows up to 4 meters blocking the view from windows in winter, the reason they continue to live here and protect the shrine is because “this is a small village and shrine from the past.” “Mountains don’t work as planned. That’s why we pray.”
Harmony with Nature, Speaks to the Soul
A Sign of Spring, Submerged Forest
People from the past felt that the surrounding many blessings of nature were unseeable powerful beings. Weather and natural disasters were also thought of as the same. Mountains were kami and deified as such, and when it runs wild there is nothing humans can do. In 1967 in Iide, 20 houses were flooded, 34 heavily damaged, and 23 bridges swept away during the Uetsu torrential rain. The Shirakawa Dam was completed in 1981 in order to prevent flooding, to protect the natural environment, and to provide hydropower and water to agricultural/ industrial businesses, as well as for tap water. Upstream from Shirakawa Dam a “submerged forest” can be seen as spring approaches. The water from the melted snow fills up the dam and submerges the trees that are on the lake shore. The willow trees look as if they are growing straight out of the water’s surface creating a magical scene. Every year close to May, the submerged forest shrouded in mist with lingering snow, cherry blossoms, and new green leaves catch the eye of tourists.
Feeling the Life of Every Blade of Grass and Tree
There is a stone monument called the Plant Tower that contains the wishes to honor felled trees, and to wish for vegetation growth. Most Plant Tower monuments are located in the Okitama region, and there are about 20 in the Nakatsugawa, town of Iide. New monuments have been built in recent times showing the affection for vegetation carved into this region.
Harmony between nature and humans reflect in the hearts of people. The starting point to this beautiful town is here.
INFORMATION & MAP
- Iide Town’s Commerce and Tourism Division
- 〒999-0604 Yamagata Prefecture, Nishi Okitama County, Iide Town, Oazabaki 2888
- Iide Town Tourism Association
- 〒999-0604 Yamagata Prefecture, Nishi Okitama County, Iide Town, Oazabaki 1974-2
Tour of the Submerged Forest
A tour to traverse the submerged trees on the emerald green lake’s waters can refresh the soul. We teach the basics of how to paddle a boat, so even beginners can enjoy this experience.
Even outside of the submerged forest, you can experience canoeing, kayaking, and SUP at Shirakawa Dam. How about visiting with your family, classmates, or local group this summer vacation?
Submerged Forest Canoe Experience 90 min. course
Period：April to Late-May
Cost：adults 6,000 yen children 5,000 yen
※Insurance cost and tools included
Transportation：JR Yonesaka line About 20 minutes from Tenoko station by car
Inquiries：Iide Canoe Club