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Mount Osore sits in the Shimokita peninsula of Aomori prefecture. The mountain is one of the most sacred places in Japan, and much of its scenery has connections of some sort of allusion to hell or the afterlife. The mountain may be eerie, but it isn’t meant to scare its visitors. In a good way, it is the closest place to the afterlife, and maybe you can find a special, spiritual connection.

What is Mount Osore?


Mount Osore's Bodaiji Temple
Mount Osore is actually an active volcano, measuring 879 meters tall. It is located on the Shimokita peninsula of Aomori prefecture. Although its last eruption occurred approximately 20,000 years ago, there are still some minor movements in the volcano’s caldera lake.


Lake Usori, aka "Paradise Beach"

The lake on the mountain is named Lake Usori. The lake is a caldera lake, or a lake formed in a volcanic crater. Don’t be fooled by its gorgeous turquoise waters – the lake is highly acidic, as you can see from the bubbling and steaming surface. Though you can walk around the luscious white shores of the lake, the lake itself is prohibited from entering. The lake area has an especially strong odor of sulfur dioxide, due to the volcanic activity.

Mount Osore: One of Japan’s Most Sacred Mountains


Statues of six jizo deities

Mount Osore is one of Japan’s three most sacred mountains, along with Mount Hiei in Shiga prefecture and Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture. In particular, Mount Osore is well known for its representation and connection with the afterlife and, specifically, hell.


Jizo deity statues built on a pile of stones

There are many spots on the mountain epitomizing the underworld and paradise, but it is not to be taken as a scary or disheartening experience. Don’t let the initially eerie vibes of the mountain freak you out too much – the “sacred mountain” is supposed to give you a sense of connection and familiarity with the afterlife.

Bodaiji Temple – 菩提寺


Bodaiji Temple

Buddhist priest Ennin founded Bodaiji Temple in 862. After dreaming of a holy mountain, Ennin set on a journey to find the mountain he discovered in his dream. He walked up north and kept going until he reached Mount Osore, where he ultimately built his temple. Though the temple was abandoned in 1457, it became used again in 1530 and has been running since.

The deity worshipped at Bodaiji is said to bring salvation to those in suffering, and the people of the Shimokita peninsula have always had a close connection with the deity.

Sanzu River and the Bridge – 三途の川/太鼓橋


Sanzu River and the bridge

In Japanese Buddhist tradition, it is said that the dead cross a river, called the Sanzu River, before reaching the afterlife. A stream flowing from Lake Usori closely resembles Sanzu River, and has been nicknamed just that. A bright vermillion, arched bridge extends over the river, and you enter the holy world of Mount Osore. It is said that to sinners, the bridge appears to be made of needles, allowing them to not cross the bridge.

Sai no Kawara Bank – 賽の河原


Sai no Kawara
The pebbled by the Sanzu River is named Sai no Kawara. In legend, Sai no Kawara is a place for unborn babies and dead children to stack pebbles along the Sanzu River for their parents to see. The pebbles are constantly knocked down by the demon, but the babies and children’s souls are ultimately salvaged by the bodhisattva responsible for looking over children.

The Many “Hells” at Mount Osore

On the rocky grounds of Mount Osore, you will find “Hell Road (地獄道)”, where there are several different types of “hell” represented by the geographical features of the specific “hell” spot. Here are some of the different “hells” you will see:

Lake of Blood Hell – 血の池地獄


Lake of Blood Hell

The actual pond isn’t as scary as it sounds. The “Lake of Blood Hell” is sometimes red due to the rare occasion that it has moss growing in it. The pond is said to be dedicated to memorialize women who passed away in labor.

Muken-jigoku Hell – 無間地獄


Muken-jigoku Hell

Muken-jigoku is said to be the most painful of the eight types of hells in Buddhism. This catastrophic hell is known for bringing constant pain and suffering, and making the other seven hells seem bearable.

and finally… Paradise Beach! – 極楽浜


Paradise Beach

After going through hell, you’ve finally reached paradise! Paradise Beach is the nickname given to the shores of Lake Usori. Lake Usori’s mystical, dazzling teal waters exude a heaven-like aura. But don’t jump into the glassy, glittery lake, since it is highly acidic and entering the waters is prohibited. In fact, due to its acidity, there is only one species of fish surviving in the pond – the big-scaled redfin.

Mount Osore’s Hot Springs

Originally, the hot springs at Mount Osore were used to purify one’s body before entering the mountain’s holy grounds. Now, visitors can use the hot springs at any time during their visit to Mount Osore. The baths contain sulfur, which keeps your skin soft and smooth.

“The Fountain of Youth” at Mount Osore


The Fountain of Youth

There is one point in the Mount Osore area where there is fresh spring water. The water is said to be kind of like the “fountain of youth”. It is said that drinking one cup of the water will make you 10 years younger, drinking 2 cups will make you 20 years younger and after the third cup you will get younger and younger – until you die. Supposedly, the spring water is also drunken by the spirits hovering in the area.

Events

Mount Osore Festival – 恐山大祭 (July)

The Mount Osore Festival in July is the largest festival at Mount Osore. Along with the everyday prayers at Bodaiji Temple, special prayers are held on the few days of the festival. The entire festival acts as a memorial service for the deceased.

The highlight of the festival is the Sanshu-jozan-shiki, where a group of waka (Japanese ancient poetry) readers and priests march from the vermillon bridge into the temple grounds, while the chief abbot is carried in a special basket. Also during the festivities, itako, or Japanese mediums, are present at Mount Osore, and can provide readings to visitors to connect them with the dead.

Mount Osore Autumn Pilgrimage – 恐山秋詣り (Oct.)

The Mount Osore Autumn Pilgrimage is the autumn version of the Mount Osore Festival. During the span of the festival, special prayers are read and the itako are present for readings. The autumn version of the festival is held to pray for deceased ancestors and to pray for a successful harvesting season.

Access

Nearest Station:
・Shimokita Station (JR) 下北駅
・Osorezan (Mount Osore) Bus Stop

From Aomori Station 青森駅

【Aomori Sta.】Aoimori Railway / for Hachinohe
→【Noheji Sta.】Shimokita Rapid Service Line / for Ominato
→【Shimokita Sta.】Shimokita Kotsu Bus Osorezan Line
→【Osorezan (Mount Osore)】

From Hachinohe Station 八戸駅

【Hachinohe Sta.】Shimokita Rapid Service Line / for Ominato
→【Shimokita Sta.】Shimokita Kotsu Bus Osorezan Line
→【Osorezan (Mount Osore)】

From Aomori Airport 青森空港

【Aomori Airport】Aomori Airport Line / for Aomori Station
→【Aomori Sta.】Aoimori Railway / for Hachinohe
→【Noheji Sta.】Shimokita Rapid Service Line / for Ominato
→【Shimokita Sta.】Shimokita Kotsu Bus Osorezan Line
→【Osorezan (Mount Osore)】

Information

Address
3-2 Usoriyama, Tanabe, Mutsu-shi, Aomori
Phone
0175-22-3825
Hours
6:00a.m. - 6:00p.m.
Closed
Nov. 1  to Apr. 30
Fee
¥500

Nearby Destinations

Hotokegaura – 仏ヶ浦

Hotokegaura is a series of large rocks carved by the Tsugaru Strait’s rough and rapid waves. The set of rocks span across 2 kilometers along the rocky western coast of the Shimokita peninsula. In the summer, blue sky and ocean help bring out the features of the jagged, carved rocks.

Yagen Gorge – 薬研渓流

Yagen Gorge locates on the northeastern area of the Shimokita peninsula. There is a walking path set by the gorge, so you can stroll around the area and enjoy the green surrounding. There is a hot spring in the area, Oku-yagen Onsen, and you can bathe in it after your walk. Visit during the autumn and be greeted by a stunning scenery of the fall foliage.