Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dewa Sanzan                                                                 UC
Sanshin gosaiden of Dewa Sanzan
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: According to tradition, Dewa Sanzan first became known as a religious center in about 593 when Prince Hachiko (Nojo Taishi), the first-born son of Emperor Sushun (r. 587–92), built shrines on the three mountains (sanzan) of Hagurosan, Mount Gassan, and Yudonosan. The current main shrine building at Hagurosan dates from 1818.
Address: 7 Aza Toge, Toge, Haguro-machi, Tsuruoka-shi, Yamagata 997-0211
Tel/Information: 0235-62-2355. A pamphlet in English is available.           
How to get there: To Hagurosan: JR Uetsu Honsen Line from Niitsu Station in Niigata to Tsuruoka Station. Then take the Shonai-Kotsu Bus for Hagurosan and get off at the Haguro Center to climb to the top. Some buses continue to the top (the last stop) if you wish to avoid the 2,446 steps of the omotesando stairs. Some buses that go to Hagurosan also continue to the Hachigome bus stop on Mount Gassan. A separate bus leaves from Tsuruoka Station bound for Yudonosan. Buses are infrequent (4 per day for Gassan, 3 per day for Yudonosan) so timing, especially on the return, is critical (the bus ride takes about 1.5 hours). Bus schedule also varies by season, with greater frequency in the summer. Gassan and Yudonosan are not accessible in the winter.
Enshrined kami: At Ideha Jinja (on Hagurosan): Ideha no kami and Uga no Mitama no mikoto (identified with Kannon). At Gassan Jinja: Tsukiyomi (Tsukuyomi) no mikoto (identified with Amida Buddha). At Yudonosan Jinja: Oyamatsumi no mikoto, Onamuchi no mikoto, and Sukunahikona no mikoto (identified with Dainichi). (note: The kami of all three mountains are also enshrined at the sanshin gosaiden hall on Mount Haguro.)
Prayers offered: Anything to do with the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.
Best times to go: Hagurosan is accessible year-round, but Gassan and Yudonosan close during the winter months due to snow. The mountain-climbing season is short, from July to mid-October. The natural surroundings are attractive at any time.

Gojunoto of Dewa Sanzan
Important physical features: The three sacred peaks of Dewa include Hagurosan at about 1,358 feet, Mount Gassan (6,500 feet), and Mount Yudonosan (5,000 feet). The three widely separated mountains have comprised a single sacred landscape since about the seventeenth century, but worship on these mountains is much older. Of the three, Hagurosan is closest to the Sea of Japan, making it a sort of spiritual base station when the heavy winter snows make the other peaks inaccessible. For this reason, of the three peaks it is by far the most frequently visited. The bus from Tsuruoka Station first takes you through the bright red, seventy-four-foot-tall ryobu torii built in 1929, which towers over the road to the shrine. The bus then leaves you in front of the second torii and the single-story zuijinmon gate that acts as the entrance to the entire Dewa Sanzan site. The irimoya-style, cypress bark–covered structure was originally a niomon gate housing Buddhist guardian figures. It was built in the late seventeenth century by the Satake clan, which ruled Dewa Province (a combination of present-day Yamagata and Akita prefectures).
            Through the gate, a red-painted, arched bridge crosses the river Haraigawa, and to its right is the suga no taki waterfall. Historically, pilgrims purified themselves here before beginning the ascent into the mountains’ sacred precincts. Slightly further along, to the left of the path, is a designated National Treasure and the oldest structure at Dewa, the five-story pagoda (gojunoto) of Haguro. It was originally built by Taira no Masakado in 937, and rebuilt by Fujiwara no Ujiie at the behest of Emperor Chokei in 1377. With only a ten-by-ten-foot base and ninety-five-foot height, it is diminutive compared with the likes of the pagodas at Horyuji and Kofukuji, but it is an exquisite example of the early-Muromachi wayo style. The weathered surface and its setting amidst towering cedars, some far older, add to its “organic” appearance. The pagoda somehow managed to survive the Meiji religious repression that devastated the shrine-temple complex on the mountain. It remains a fitting introduction to what was once one of the most important sites of shugendo mountain asceticism in the country.
            From there begins the famous set of 2,446 steps to the top of the mountain. There are said to be thirty-three images of lotuses, gourds, and saké cups engraved in the stairs, bringing good luck to those who can find them all. The trek takes about an hour through an old forest of tall pines and Japanese cedars—one of which is thought to be over a thousand years old. To be sure it snows here too, making the stone steps treacherous in winter. At the top is the third torii and the main compound of the shrine. There are about fifteen structures in all, but the main one is the sanshin (or sanjin) gosaiden. It is said to be the largest thatched-roofed shrine in Japan (ninety-two feet tall, eighty feet long, and fifty-six feet deep). The thatch itself is kaya (miscanthus), almost seven feet thick and beautifully packed, curved, and trimmed. The roof is an irimoya-zukuri type, with chidorihafu and a karahafu step canopy. The building is lacquered in red inside and out, except for the four posts supporting the step canopy. Like the ornate sculptures of tigers and dragons under the eave of the karahafu, they are painted white. The building was reconstructed after a fire in 1818 and enshrines the kami of the three mountains, combining both honden and haiden in one gongen-zukuri building.
            Directly in front of the shrine is a pond called mitarashi ike or kagami ike. Hundreds of small bronze mirrors were excavated from the pond, most dating from the Heian and Kamakura periods. As women were not allowed within the precincts, they would send small mirrors as offerings to the kami, which were thrown into the pond. A number of them, together with other treasures, are on display in the shrine museum (open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for an entry fee of ¥300). Another important structure is the bell house built in 1618, the second-oldest structure at the shrine. The bronze bell that it houses, is inscribed with the date 1275. The bell is 5.5 feet in diameter and 7 feet tall, making it one of the largest in Japan.
            The next of the three peaks is Gassan, which can be reached on foot or by bus from the station in front of Hagurosan (it’s a twelve-mile walk). Even if you decide to take the bus, it leaves you at a place called the “eighth station,” and from there it’s another seven miles uphill to the peak. Most of the walk is a gradual slope, some of it through marshy land, before you arrive at the nakanomiya. From there it is more than two hours to the peak, over some rough hewn stone paths and through fields of tall grass punctuated by alpine plants. There is no great edifice but only a “purification hut” that you must pass through to get to the small shrine at the summit. A priest performs purification (harai) for a ¥500 donation. If the skies are clear, you will be rewarded with a magnificent 360-degree view. If it is rainy or foggy, you might experience something of the desolate and lonely journey undertaken by yamabushi  ascetics, and something of the confrontation with self that is an essential part of their training.
            If you plan to continue on, the next leg of the journey must be made on foot. It’s another two and a half hour walk—but this time all downhill. Mount Yudono is fifteen hundred feet lower than Gassan, and the valley where the shrine is located is another fifteen hundred feet lower still. While most of the walk is down gentle slopes on rocky roads, one part known as the gakko zaka (“moonlight slope”) is a sheer drop of more than seven hundred feet. There are narrow steel ladders and chains to cling to and keep from falling. It gets a little less hairy after that, but is still a long way to the shrine. There is also a roundabout bypass road that you can take, if you don’t feel the need for such Spartan training. You also have the alternative of taking a bus directly from Tsuruoka Station that leaves you at the front entrance to the shrine (the bus would also be the way to return to the city).
            Here, as at Gassan, the shrine is not about architecture but about ritual practice in nature—this time in the form of a huge rock over which hot water gushes (the characters for “Yudono” mean something like “hot water place”). Before entering the area, purification is performed, with shoes and socks removed. The floor around the spring is red from the iron-saturated water, as is the rock—which has grown over the centuries from the accumulated effluent. The proper way to worship is to walk clockwise around and across the rock through the hot water, with hands folded in prayer.

Self-mummified figure of Daijuku Bosatsu
preserved in Yudonosan Dainichibo temple
(photo from temple website:
Important spiritual features: Although the shrines collectively known as Dewa Sanzan enshrine kami and are therefore revered in Shinto, by far the most important spiritual feature is its history as one of the main centers of shugendo mountain asceticism. Shugendo developed out of a combination of esoteric practices of Buddhism, kami worship, Taoism, and yin/yang (onmyodo) beliefs. Its adherents are known as shugenja or yamabushi (“those who lie down in the mountains”). They sought enlightenment by becoming "Buddha in this body" and superhuman powers to control evil spirits through ascetic practice in the mountains. Buddhism was originally able to flourish by supporting and being supported by the ruling class. Most monks were of high birth and led sheltered lives within religious communities. The yamabushi tended to be hijiri (“wandering holy-men”) or gyoja (“those undertaking practice/training”). Such unordained monks and ascetics were originally branded outlaws and often banished for proselytizing among the lower classes. Eventually the practice became widespread but shugenja and many of these men also travelled the country as religious guides (sendatsu) who lead pilgrimages to famous religious sites. The gradually became organized and aligned with major Tendai or Shingon-sect temples, which were responsible for their activities, until they were ultimately required to do so at the beginning of the Edo period. Dewa Sanzan remained unaffiliated with a honzan (main temple of a particular sect) until the mid-seventeenth century.
            Dewa Sanzan claims a heritage that goes back to Prince Hachiko no miko. It is said that he left the capital in 593 after his father was assassinated at the command of Soga no Umako. Though he was the rightful heir he was ousted by Suiko, the first Japanese empress. Legend has it that the prince sailed to the province of Dewa and there came upon a three-legged crow (yatagarasu) that led him to the mountains around Haguro. Given that the Dewa area was well beyond the borders of the fledgling Yamato state in the sixth century, inhabited by a feared people referred to as the Ezo or Emishi, and given that it was a mere forty years after the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, it seems likely that worship here is from a later date. In fact, the yatagarasu is from a story in the Kojiki concerning this bird/kami guiding Emperor Jinmu through Kumano on his way to establish the Yamato state. The symbolism would seem to point to a later date (the Kojiki was written in the early eighth century), and to a connection with Kumano shugendo.
            The first mention of a shrine named Ideha Jinja in Dewa comes from the Engi shiki of 967, possibly the village shrine of Gassan. By the mid-thirteenth century, Hagurosan was already well established as a shrine-temple complex called Hagorosan Jakkoji, and was a major center of shugendo practice. Other centers (such as Omine and Kumano), were affiliated with the Honzan-ha (Tendai) or Tozan-ha (Shingon), but Hagurosan retained its independence. In the mid-seventeenth century, a betto (shrine monk) at Hagurosan named Tenyu reorganized and affiliated the complex with Tendai Buddhism. In this way it became associated to Toeizan (Kaneiji) in Edo. The aim, it seems, was to protect Dewa Sanzan from the manipulations of the rulers of the local domain, but the result was to bring Hagurosan—which also controlled Gassan—into conflict with Yudonosan, which had a strong Shingon heritage. Tenyu’s attempts to bring Yudonosan under Tendai control caused an enduring schism.
            In 1813, a new betto named Kakujun moved to have Jakkoji recognized as the Ideha Jinja mentioned in the Engi shiki. He also wanted the shrine’s legendary founder, Nojo Taishi, to be recognized as Prince Hachiko. Jakkoji was subsequently raised in rank and, although it was not completely clear that Jakkoji was actually Ideha Jinja, the move strengthened a claim to Shinto (i.e. non-Buddhist) roots. This had further consequences when the Meiji separation orders of 1868 forced the removal of all Buddhist elements and the laicization of monks serving the shrine. In any case, by now the point of protecting shugendo worship was moot, as the Meiji government disbanded the religion, forcing members to become either Buddhist or Shinto. However, important rituals of the shugenja were preserved at nearby temples.
            Today, the Akinomine-iri (“autumn peak”), the “mountain-entering ritual” that was the most important of shugendo activities, is continued on a less ambitious scale. Though entering the mountains was once an individual pursuit lasting seventy-five, a hundred, or a thousand days, it is now conducted almost entirely in groups and generally lasts seven days. The Akinomine-iri is a rite of symbolic death and rebirth, which is carried out on Hagurosan from 26 August each year. The mountains are considered to be the place where the kami first descend and where the spirits of the dead reside. As with other forms of shamanism, the yamabushi attains power by visiting the land of the dead and communicating directly with the gods. He carries out self-purifying rituals such as fasting, sleep deprivation, and repeatedly performing misogi water ablutions. In this way he moves from being symbolically dead to being reborn and revitalized. While the original purpose was enlightenment and the attainment of supernatural powers, the yamabushi came to have a two-fold purpose as healers and as guides for pilgrims. In the later role, they acted as providers of lodging and conducted ritual prayers. At Hagurosan, a large community of shugenja resided in the village of Toge at the foot of the mountain, and since the end of World War II, Toge (also called Haguromachi) has once again become the departure point for the Akinomine-iri.

from "Shinto Shrines:
A Guide to the Sacred Sites
of Japan's Ancient Religion"
Description: The remote mountains of Dewa Sanzan have been the site of ascetic religious practices since ancient times. Along with the Omine Mountains of Wakayama, this area is one of the few places that have managed to protect, however tenuously, the heritage of mountain worship. It is also a shrine with a very strong flavor of Shinto-Buddhist syncretic practice—both physically and spiritually. The people who join the Akinomine-iri these days are from all walks of life, not just those who seek spiritual power. They are also male and female—a twentieth-century innovation. Women were forbidden to enter these mountains in the past, but this is not to say that they did not play an important role. Female figures called miko were and a part of Japanese religious practice from at least the third century and an integral part of the yamabushi’s shamanism. The miko of Hagurosan were generally the wives, mothers, or daughters of shugenja. They performed exorcism, prayers, and healing independently and in conjunction with shugenja and had an important role as vessels for spirit possession.
            The community around Toge is still a place where you can find temple lodgings called shokubo. The lodgings are Spartan by hotel standards, with communal toilets, baths and tatami mat rooms (guests sleep on futons on the floor). The set meals are a variation of shojin ryori (temple food), comprising mostly vegetables and fish. There may also be a requirement to join morning meditation. Many of the shokubo are run by he same shugenja families who have lived here for centuries.
            Two final points of interest related to Dewa Sanzan asceticism are the designation of "three peaks" (sanzan) and the practice by certain monks of self-mummification. One of the greatest authorities on shugendo, Hitoshi Miyake, conjectures that the "three peaks" which are common to all shugendo holy sites, did not refer to actual mountains. He believes the original reference was to the kami of the mountain, the "guide" who represented the local residents who worshipped the kami, and the Buddhist "mountain-opener" who lead by the guide to this holy ground, established the first temple and brought Buddhism to the mountain. It is only later that the symbolic "three mountains" were transposed onto the physical landscape. The second point relates to a temple called Yudosan Dainichibo which lies between Hagurosan and Gassan. It houses the famous mummified figure of Daijuku Bosatsu Shinnyokai-Shonin, who died in 1783 as a result of the singular practice of sokushunbutsu. It was carried out most frequently in the area of Dewa Sanzan and the purpose was to become a “Buddha in this body” to save mankind from suffering. Tradition has it that Kobo Daishi introduced the practice on his return from China in the early Heian period. There were a number of monks at Yudonosan who practiced mokuji—eating only nuts and seeds for many years. Coupled with vigorous ascetic practices, the diet radically cut body fat. In some cases tree bark and roots were also eaten as part of the final preparations. In the next stage only salt and water were taken, and finally, a tea made of the sap of the lacquer tree was drunk. As this is a poisonous material, it caused vomiting and further loss of body fluid. It also made the body resistant to maggots. The monk was then shut in a stone enclosure underground in a lotus or crouching position. A bamboo pole served as an air tube, and a string was attached to a bell on the surface. The monk rang the bell every day until he was dead. Other monks would then seal the tomb for an additional thousand days. When the tomb was opened, if the body was still intact it was a sign that the monk had attained Buddhahood. There are said to be about twenty-eight self-mummified monks from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries, of which sixteen or so can be viewed—one being in Yudono Dainichibo temple. The oldest Japanese sokushinbutsu, the monk Kochi who died in 1363, is housed in Saishoji temple in Niigata.

The Flower Festival of Dewa Sanzan
Festival: Annual Festival/Flower Festival, 15 July. The mikoshi of all three shrines are paraded around the kagami ike of Ideha Jinja. Along with the shrines are long poles with flowers grouped at the top, from which long thin poles with more flowers are hung. The pole and flowers represent a rice stalk, and participants try to pull flowers off the stalk as it passes by. Grabbing a flower brings well-being to the family for the coming year. 

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