After visiting Musashi-Mitake Shrine, which sits on the summit of Mount Mitake, I descended the stairs to the base of the shrine and followed the path around the mountain toward the hiking trail that leads through the “Forest of the Gods.”
The trail wound through a towering forest. Crows called overhead, and every once in a while they flew across my path. One even landed on a nearby branch and stared down at me as if wondering why I chose to intrude on his territory.
Even though the rain had stopped several hours before, I didn’t see anyone else on the path. Aside from the crows, and the occasional rustle of wind through the trees, the only sound I heard was the thump of my tennis shoes on the earthen path beneath my feet.
After several minutes, I saw a wooden torii ahead on the path–the symbol of the entrance to a sacred space.
Beyond the torii, the path curved up to the right toward the entrance to the Forest of the Gods, but just to the left of the torii stood another famous landmark: the Tengu’s Seat.
In Japanese folklore, tengu are mountain demons, often portrayed as having long-noses or, sometimes, birdlike beaks. They often appear as a bird-human or bird-demon cross, frequently with claws and wings; their faces are generally (though not always) painted red or black. Tengu are shapeshifters, and can take human form, including the form of priests. Since the 13th century, tengu have been associated with yamabushi, mountain ascetics who practice Shugendō (a religious combination of Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintō).
Mount Mitake is believed to be the home of many tengu, and they feature prominently in the mountain’s history and legends. The Tengu’s Seat is a giant cedar whose branches naturally curve in the shape of a seat instead of stretching out perpendicular to the trunk as cedar branches customarily do–the perfect place for tengu to rest while watching over the forest.
The lowest saddle is too high for people to climb up and enjoy it (and doing so would be inappropriate anyway, since the tree is sacred) but it looks like a pleasant place for a rest.
After stopping long enough to admire the tree and snap a few photographs, I climbed a short rise and began my hike through the forest of the gods.
Click here to join me on the journey through the Forest of the Gods!