Visitors often find Osorezan eerie and other-worldly. It could be the sulfuric rocky landscape, or perhaps the ubiquitous piles of stones offered to the deceased, or even the frequent placements of Jizo statues to guide the souls of children passed beyond. Most likely for all of these reasons, Osorezan is viewed as the entrance to the world of the dead, where the locals believe all departed souls go.
Osorezan could be translated as “Mountain of Fear,” but you won’t see any mountain here. “Mountain” often means a spiritual center of Buddhism. Mt. Osore is in fact one of the three major Buddhist centers in Japan together with Mt. Hiei (Hieizan) in Kyoto/Shiga and Mt. Koya (Koyasan) in Wakayama. The temple, which belongs to the Soto sect, houses Jizo Bosatsu as its main object of devotion.
If you wander far enough through this desolate rocky landscape you will find yourself emerging into a completely different area. A caldera lake, Usoriko, and its white sand beach, Gokuraku Hama (“Paradise Beach”), present a strangelybeautiful atmosphere that resembles depictions of the Buddhist paradise. Although the water is crystal clear and the name resounds of the tropical playground off Cancun, the lake is too acidic for swimming with a p.h. of 3.5, and both the mercury and lead content are off the charts, discouraging even wading.
Even if the lake isn’t the place to take a dip, you can take advantage of the four Yugoya (bath houses) in the complex. These appear as little more than old shacks that house hot springs. The facilities are minimal and the baths are pungent with sulfuric water, but the rustic atmosphere and old wooden interior might be really appealing to some.
Osorezan is also famous for Itako, blind mediums that aid in communication with the departed. They are actually absent most of the time and are only present on Osorezan during festivals. You’ll see a line of people at those times wishing to speak to their deceased loved ones during that time. (Seeking their counsel during festivals is 5,000 yen per session.)
Location: Mutsu, Aomori
Access: 35-40 minutes by Osorezan Line Bus from JR Shimokita Station. Only 4 round trips a day and closed during the winter time (see below). More buses run during two festivals (once in July 20-24 and the the other in the second weekend of October)
Admission: 500 yen (no extra charge for hot springs)
Hours: 6:00 – 18:00
Note: Closed in the winter from November 1st to April 31st.
Accomodation: Osorezan has a great Shukubo, or pilgrim hostel for 12,000 yen per person including two shojin ryori (vegetarian) meals. Shukubo guests are expected to participate in morning prayer services at 6:30 a.m., pray before meals and appear at the designated meal time and return before the curphew (as if you’d want to be caught out in the dark of Osorezan…). The facility was recently remodeled and is actually quite impressive. You can expect a hotel-level comfort here.
Call the Osorezan office at 0175-22-3825 for reservations.