Mystical Mt. Myogi | One of Gunma’s Three Sacred Mountain

A cherry blossom tree in front of Mount Myogi.

Welcome back to another one of my crazy adventures in Japan. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Mt. Myogi and Myogi Shrine, the ancient sanctuary that sits atop this mysterious mountain. Found in the westernmost reaches of Gunma Prefecture, Mt. Myogi rarely if ever pops up on the radars of overseas visitors to Japan. Together with Mt. Haruna and Mt. Akagi, the topic of today’s article comprises Gunma’s trinity of famous mountains. Collectively known as the “Mountains of Jomo,” the weather-battered Mt. Myogi is a stark contrast to its siblings as well the hot springs that Gunma is best known for.

As is the case with many of Japan’s other major peaks, Mt. Myogi was historically a syncretic center of mountain worship that was centered around Myogi Shrine. Even today, you can still see all sorts of lingering evidence of this ascetic practice. For example, the many hiking courses that today snake their way up Mt. Myogi’s unusual rock formations were once routes used by the adherents of yesteryear. As you’ll see for yourself if you check some of the trails that begin behind the main shrine building, even hardcore hiking enthusiasts will be thoroughly challenged by vertical walls of sheer rock.

Visually speaking, Mt. Myogi is the odd one out of the so-called three mountains of Jomo. While many of Japan’s major mountains have visually beautiful shapes, the jagged slopes of Mt. Myogi has been battered by the elements into fantastic forms over the years. As you’ll see as you approach the craggy peaks, this bluff truly has one of the oddest outlines around. Especially in comparison to the likes of Mt. Akagi and Mt. Haruna, the strange silhouette of Gunma’s third sierra is something that will stick in your memory. I truly have never seen such a spectacle of Mother Nature in all of my travels.

Now, truth be told, I’ve been wanting to go to Mt. Myogi for some time now. Alas, an outing to this part of Japan always somehow ended up getting sidelined. Luckily for me though, a good travel companion recently discovered that this part of Japan is especially beautiful for cherry blossoms. Thanks to this newfound knowledge, I was finally able to cross this one off of the list this spring. I’ll get into the specifics later for those of you who want to enjoy the amazing views but suffice to say that this hidden gem definitely deserves to be on your bucket lists.

How to Get There

As previously noted, Mt. Myogi is located in the western extremes of Gunma Prefecture. In fact, the sacred alp is part of a hilly range that forms the border between Gunma and Karuizawa in neighboring Nagano Prefecture. During Japan’s medieval periods, the all-important Nakasendo trade route ran through this part of the country. What’s more, the pass that cuts through this mountainous part of Gunma was said to be one of the Naksendo’s most challenging. If you have a rental car and want to see a great view of the surrounding mountains like Mt. Asama, consider adding the Usui Pass to your itinerary. There’s even a hot spring at the start of the ascent!

Anyway, before I get too far off topic, let’s return to the logistics of Mt. Myogi and its ancient shrine. To be honest, access to this craggy peak could be a lot better. Found in Tomioka City, the crag is located quite a ways away from the nearest station. Moreover, at least as far as I can tell, there’s no convenient bus access either. This means that you’ll need to take a 10-minute taxi ride to the base of Myogi Shrine (it’s too far for most people to walk). All things considered though, I highly recommend a rental car to those of with confidence behind the wheel. This will allow you far more flexibility when exploring.

Regardless of whether you take a taxi or opt for a rental car, you’ll first need to take one of the bullet trains up from Tokyo to Takasaki Station. From there, you can either pick up a set of wheels or take the Shinetsu Line over to Matsuida Station. Since I went by car (I don’t drive so I was the co-pilot), I cannot comment on the availability of taxis but from what I could gather during our drive by, you might want to ask the attendant at Matsuida Station to hail you one. Note that if you’re coming via car, you’ll need to take the Matsuida Myogi IC over from Takasaki.

Venerable Myogi Shrine

Weeping Cherry blossom trees at Mount Myogi’s iconic shrine grounds

At least as far as similar sanctuaries in Japan go, Myogi Shrine is about as old as they come. According to local legend, the sepulcher was establish all the way back in the year 537 during the reign of Emperor Senka. As can be felt when looking up from the shrine grounds, the site pays homage to sacred Mt. Myogi. This fantastic yet odd rock formation was formed by a combination of volcanic activity and harsh weathers and ranks among the three most noted places of rugged beauty. As with many other enclaves located atop a mountain, Myogi Shrine was also once a center of Yamabushi practice and many of its trails are littered with evidence of this ascetic past.

In terms of the shrine compound, know that many of the current buildings date from the Edo period (1603–1868). As a result, the grounds have a truly historic vibe and have even been used to shoot many TV dramas and movies set during medieval eras. Unfortunately, Myogi Shrine lost a bit of its beauty back in 2015. You see, the main and rather arduous staircase that leads up to where you pay your obeisance to the gods used to be lined with 400-year-old cedars. In 2015, they started to lean due to insufficient space for their ever-growing roots. The problem got so bad that the stone stairs were starting to be dislodged. Eventually, the powers that be deemed that it would be safer for all if the trees were felled, else they come crashing down in the next storm.

Luckily for you, the reader, this hidden gem still retains a lot of its picturesque beauty. The grounds are home to some truly jaw dropping weeping cherry blossoms. These come into their prime during mid April and give the entirety of Myogi Shrine an otherworldly vibe. Moreover, those with a rental car are encouraged to continue past the shrine further up the winding roads to the so-called Sakura-no-Sato (lit. “Cherry Blossom Village”). As you might expect, located here are a legion of pink cherry blossom trees. Since Sakura-no-Sato is located near the highest peak, it can be difficult to time peak bloom right with the shrine back down below.

Note: While I cannot comment definitively due to never having seen it myself yet, I’ve read elsewhere that this part of Japan is amazing in fall when the autumn leaves start to turn…

Challenge the Hiking Courses

A map of all the course that you can hike to the various peaks of Mount Myogi

Dear reader, are you a glutton for punishment? Does the thought of hauling your behind up a sheer cliff face with only the assistance of a chain (al a the ascetics of yesteryear) excite you? Well then my friend, you definitely need to challenge Mt. Myogi’s many hiking courses! Be warned though; these trails are not for the faint of heart. In fact, the entire time that I was taking in the magnificent cherry blossoms, I kept asking myself how one would get themselves up to the Oku-no-In or “Inner Sanctum’’ where the mountain’s iconic 大 (refer to the map above) character resides.

Given my aforementioned warning, it should be pretty obvious by now that the multiple courses to hike are no walks in the proverbial park. Truth be told, the local governments in the region actually once tried to ban people from making attempts at summiting the highest peak following a string of horrific accidents. Thankfully for the trekking enthusiasts, this got vetoed when local residents pushed back. Instead of forbidding climbing Mt. Myogi all together, officials instead agreed to increase the number of chains and also introduced many courses for beginner and intermediate hikers to explore.

Unless you’re a very seasoned mountaineer, do not under any circumstances attempt to scale Mt. Myogi. I’m all for brash bravado but trying to climb this one without the proper gear is just asking to meet your Shinigami sooner rather than later. The insane-looking ascent and need to use chains alone should do a lot to scare away the non-lunatics. For the few of you out there with a death wish though, please make plans to meet your maker in a place where it’s easier for the authorities to recover your corpse.

Risk Your Life Paragliding

While it’s no Mount Fuji, paragliding is a great way to look down at the great view of the peaks

Thanks to modern technology, you don’t actually need to risk life and limb in order to see the great views that are on offer. Well… that’s a bit of a lie but you’re likely better off in the hands of a seasoned paragliding instructor than you are trying to rely on your own strengths to haul you up the precipice (at least you don’t need to worry about the chains coming free from their rocky fixtures). Though you’ll need a rental car to reach it, Myogi Sky Park offers the experience of flying with a certified paragliding pro for only 6,500. If you want to soar through the skies, this is one option to consider.

When I was there in the middle of April with my good friend Sandy, she, being braver than I, opted to give it a go. We took a hilarious reel together so check it out if you want to see what you can expect. Should you give paragliding a go, keep your eyes out of the really odd boulder atop the 1,103 meter-high Soma Dake, the highest of all of Mt. Myogi’s peaks. It’s just another example of the bizarre natural works of art that can result from the ongoing seismic and volcanic activity in Japan.

Other Nearby Attractions

Daruma dolls at Gunma’s Shorinzan Daruma-ji near Myogi-machi

While I do suggest that readers eventually check out Mt. Akagi and Mt. Haruna, you’ll likely only be able to fit one of the three mountains of Jomo into your time in Gunma. Seeing as the prefecture is best known for its great hot springs, I’d recommend that you experience one if not several onsen while in town. This all said, there’s a fair bit of other allures that are located between Mt. Myogi and Takasaki Station. Below are some of my recommendations if you’re eager to eke out more from this part of the prefecture.

As always, I’ll include links for further reading…

  • Shorinzan Daruma-ji
    This temple deserves a lot more attention than it gets. Pictured above, the temple allegedly dates from the late 1600s. What’s more, it’s also supposedly the birthplace of those bearded Daruma dolls that you see all over Japan. You’ll find it located equidistant between Takasaki Station and the topic of this article.
  • Byakue Dai-Kannon
    Situated at the summit of Takasaki’s 190 meter-tall Mt. Kannon, this massive effigy of Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy is as terrifying as it is awe inspiring. As if that weren’t enough, you can actually venture inside of the 9-story-tall Byakue Dai-Kannon. Note that the grounds around the statue are also great for cherry blossoms should you be visiting in spring.
  • The City of Tomioka
    This part of Japan gave birth to the country’s first modern silk factory. There’s all sorts of historical infrastructure dating from the late 1800s. Moreover, many of the mill buildings have also been enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 2014. Consider checking out the area if you’re into this epoch of humanity’s history.
  • Usui Pass
    Mentioned above, this was the most daunting part of the Nakasendo trade route. There are all sorts of homages to how difficult this area was to overcome. If you’re a locomotive fan, definitely check out Usui Toge Railway’s museum as well as the Megane Bridge. You’ll find more info about these in the link above.

Until next time travelers…

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Donny Kimball
Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media.

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