Mt. Yoshino (吉野山)
Mt. Yoshino is located in Yoshino-cho, Yoshino County in the central part of Nara Prefecture. The mountain is designated as a historic site as well as a place of scenic beauty by the state.
Geographic maps published by the Geographical Survey Institute do not show where the summit of Mt. Yoshino is, and each map of each publisher presents the summit at different locations at different altitudes. Mt. Yoshino usually refers to the entire region from the area called 'Shimosenbon' near the Yoshinoyama Station of Yoshino-oomine-ke-buru bus corporation to the area called 'Kamisenbon' surrounding the Yoshino Mikumari-jinja Shrine, which is located south of Shimosenbon.
Mt. Yoshino serves as a base for climbing Mt. Omine as an object of worship, and has often appeared at turning points in Japanese history. It has been famous for beautiful flowers since ancient times. The area where Mt. Yoshino is located was designated as the Yoshino-Kumano National Park in 1936. Sacred sites and pilgrimage routes spreading from Mt. Yoshino and Mt. Koya to Kumano Sanzan (three major shrines, Kumano Hongu-taisha Shrine, Kumano Hayatama-taisha Shrine and Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine) were also registered as a World Heritage site as "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range" in July 2004 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
For Mt. Yoshino in classical Japanese dances, refer to the section titled 'Mt. Yoshino and Art.'
Mt. Yoshino for Religious Climbing
Mt. Yoshino is a sacred mountain site connected to Kumano Sanzan through Mt. Omine and is a north entrance to Omine Okugake-michi Path for training. There is Kinpusen-ji Temple, grand head temple of Kimpusen Shugen Main Sect, whose main object of worship is Zao Gongen which is believed to have been sculptured by EN no Gyoja (a semi-legendary holy man noted for his practice of mountain asceticism during the second half of the 7th century) (EN no Ozunu). Mountains where Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts) training is conducted are called Buchu, and a training course starting in Kumano, located in the south, and finishing in Yoshino is referred to as Junbu while a training course where one starts in Yoshino and climbs and descends mountains is referred to as Gyakubu. These training routes are also said to have been opened up by EN no Gyoja.
There is Yoshino Mikumari-jinja Shrine, which controls the water distribution, in the Kamisenbon area. In the Okusenbon area, there is Kinpu-jinja Shrine (Yoshino-cho) which is dedicated to the tutelary deity of Mt. Yoshino.
Mt. Yoshino with Flowers
In Mt. Yoshino, there have been many cherry trees since ancient times, and some 30,000 wild cherry trees, the original species of cherry, grow close together in four areas of Shimo, Naka, Kami, and Oku, in order from bottom to top of the mountain, making the mountain a viewing site. Each of the four areas is called 'Hitome Senbon' (a place one can look over 1,000 cherry trees at a glance) and given the name 'Shimosenbon,' 'Nakasenbon,' 'Kamisenbon,' and 'Okusenbon,' respectively. Cherry trees come into bloom from early to late April, starting from the foot and proceeding to the top of the mountain. During this period, millions of people come to Yoshiono to see cherry blossoms.
Mt. Yoshino in History
Mt. Yoshino appears in historical facts and legends which marked turning points in Japanese history.
In 672, Prince Oama (later Emperor Tenmu) left then capital Otsu and lived away from the world in Mt. Yoshino to enter the priesthood, but after being informed of the death of his older brother Emperor Tenchi, he fled to Mino where he raised an army, and came into power by destroying the Emperor Kobun, a son of the Emperor Tenchi. Refer to the Jinshin War.
Prince Oama wrote the following poem about Yoshino on this occasion. "Look carefully over this Yoshino which great people observed as a great place and admired. Great men, look over Yoshino well" ("Manyoshu" [Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves]) is a famous poem.
Around 690, the Emperor Jito who was attached to Yoshino had a detached palace built in Miyataki and visited it more than 30 times. KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro and others who accompanied the Emperor wrote choka (long poems).
It is said that MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune, Musashibo Benkei, and others who had been pursued by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo's men left Shizukagozen in Mt. Yoshino and fled to Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region), and some historic sites are found in Mt. Yoshino.
In 1336, the Emperor Godaigo fled from Kyoto with sacred imperial treasures to Mt. Yoshino where he built another imperial court (Southern Court). This is the beginning of the period of the Northern and Southern Courts which lasted until 1392, and in the Yoshino Court, Emperor Gomurakami, Emperor Chokei, and Emperor Gokameyama from the Southern Court side took power in sequence.
This period saw so many wars that it used to be said 'Mt. Yoshino in poems is certainly touching, but Mt. Yoshino in war books is more dolorous.'
Mt. Yoshino and Art
Mt. Yoshino of Snow
It is thought it was in the late Heian period that Mt. Yoshino came to be known, as it is today, for the image of cherry blossoms.
Until then, people commonly thought of Mt. Yoshino as a place where 'spring came late and it snowed hard.'
Cherry blossoms first appeared in KI no Tomonori's poem, 'When I saw Mt. Yoshino covered with cherry blossoms, I thought it must have snowed' (Spring Poems Part 1), in Kokin Wakashu (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry), but around that time, snow poems remained more common, such as 'At dawn, when the sky began to lighten a little, I saw sparkling white snow that carpeted the country of Yoshino and I thought the moon might be lingering' (Winter Poems) by SAKANOUE no Korenori, which is selected for One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets.
From Snow to Cherry Blossoms
Since cherry trees were treated as sacred trees which EN no Ozunu, a founder of Shugendo, offered to Zao Gongen as Shugendo developed in the Heian period, the cherry trees in Mt. Yoshino came to be well known (Some say that that is because the number of the trees increased extraordinary as a result of planting trees actively). After the time of Shinkokin Wakashu (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry), positions of cherry blossoms and snow reversed completely. Saigyo Hoshi (Buddhist priest Saigyo), an author of the poem 'I hope to die under the cherry blossoms in spring, around the time of full moon in April,' is one of the most famous poets found in Shinkokin Wakashu and frequently visited Yoshino where he wrote many excellent poems. Saigyo-an Hermitage site is also found at the top of the mountain.
Classical Japanese Dances
A ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater) and kabuki story titled "Yoshitsune Senbonzakura" (Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees) was played for the first time in the Edo period and became a big hit, and 'Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi,' a dance number performed in the story, also gained a good reputation and was affectionately called Mt. Yoshino. The story is frequently played for other than commercial purpose, making it one of the major Japanese classical dance stories. Gidayu-bushi as well as Tokiwazu-, Tomimoto- and Kiyomoto-bushi Melodies are used for dance stories.
Lodgings in Yoshino
Mt. Yoshino Ryokan Association
Yoshinoyama Mine no Shirayuki Fumiwakete Irinishi Hito no Ato zo Koishiki. Before the enemy Yoritomo, Shizukagozen put a separation from Yoshitsune into this poem. I miss him (Yoshitsune) who disappeared from my sight, making his way through white snow in Mt. Yoshino. (Modern Japanese translation is excerpted from the translation version of "Gikeiki" (A Military Epic about the Life of Yoshitsune) by Taku TAKAGI published by Kawade Shobo) This poem was written based on MIBU no Tadamine's poem above.
Tetsudo Shoka (Songs of Railways)
In 'Tetsudo Shoka Series Five: Kansai, Sangu, and Nankai' written in 1900 (by Tateki OWADA), Mt. Yoshino appears in three verses. Mt. Yoshino, as well as Mt. Koya and Wakayama City, are thought to reflect the author's commitment to history and scenic beauty.
46. Well beyond the Kino-kawa River we are crossing again, Mt. Yoshino of flowers stands in the clouds; we are going to visit there because it is spring.
47. In the place where the Southern Court sadly set up the Imperial Palace for a little while, do clouds still overshadow Yoshimizu-jinja Shrine every night under the darkened moon?
48. Characters engraved with a tip of an arrow, which still remain on a treasure house of Nyoirin-do Hall, pierce my heart more deeply than sad cry of owls in the evening.
Get off at Kintetsu Yoshino Line Yoshino Station (Nara Prefecture). Yoshino-oomine-ke-buru bus corporation operates the cable car service from near the station to the top of the mountain.