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Changing faces, shifting landscapes

Tohoku may have been devastated by an earthquake and tsunami, but recovery in theis off-the-radar region has been swift. This is an intruiging land of national parks, ancient forests and hot springs, where traditions and modernity blend seamlessly


Meisoumai meditation dancers on Mount Haguro; Tomiyama Kannon-do temple, Matsushima

A member of the Meisoumai meditation dancers on Mount Hagurot

A mystery sound. I first hear it while huffing and puffing up the rigorous 2,446 stone steps of Mount Haguro. It’s like a horn. Followed by a drum beat.

It throws me because I’ve spent an hour or more rising and falling with this ancient path, seduced into mountain mindfulness by another, repetitive soundtrack — the clump of my boots, the croaking of hidden toads, a gentle wind gossiping through centuries-old cedar trees. The air carries an earthy whiff after an afternoon rain, and I’ve encountered barely a handful of other hikers. At the top, my plan was to photograph the musty temples of this sacred peak, and to leave before the bugs started biting.

But something about that sound fixes me. Hunkered down near one of Haguro’s shrines, I hear it again. A low horn blow. Followed by a drumbeat. Then, out of the forest, comes a woman wearing a flowing silky dress. And another. Soon a group is walking towards me — several women in impossibly white robes and an older man in more traditional costume, trailed by a small band of onlookers. They pass me, turn towards the shrine, and the man and one woman go inside. There, he chants and she dances, waving her arms like tree branches in the wind.

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About National Geographic Traveller (UK)

This month, we ditch the jeep to discover Africa from a different perspective. Whether on foot, by boat or hot air balloon, we’re showcasing the continent’s wild side on an active safari across Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and more. We go north of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland; discover Japan’s Tohoku region; and spend a long weekend in Vilnius. Other highlights this issue include Lima, Fife, Budapest, San Francisco and Turin, while our photo story unearths the tradition of gold panning in Costa Rica.