Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji and its Religious Traditions
Fuji Sengen Mandala
(photo courtesy of
Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha)
In honor of the inclusion of Mt. Fuji in the list of World Heritage properties, I am posting summaries of some scholarly papers related to its religious traditions. This will be along the lines of the posting on Amaterasu omikami and the origins of Ise Jingu.

In Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, I have included an eight-page entry on Fujisan Hongen Sengen Taisha, which literally owns the top of Mt. Fuji, as well as a number of shrines around the base of the mountain that figure in its history. While guide books and advice on climbing the mountain or lodging nearby abound, here I will review some English-language sources relating to the sacred history of the mountain. Of course, everyone in Japan knows Mt. Fuji and perhaps even a majority of the people consider it the preeminent symbol of the country, yet few are familiar with even the broadest outlines of its sacred history.

Finally, for those who would rather climb Mt. Fuji than read about it, I am happy to present this piece by American Shinto priest, Pat Ormsby, which comes to us via good friend John Dougill's Green Shinto blog. The original piece is here: and I highly recommend the blog for anyone interested in Shinto or in various aspects of Japanese culture. Several other pieces by Pat Ormsby are posted there as well.

While you're here, any readers who are interested in having a kamidana of their own, or would like to send one to a friend or family member, please check out this post:

Fuji: Seven Sacred Trails  (11 July 2013)
Reconnecting with the sacred paths of Mt. Fuji
by Patricia Ormsby
Mt. Fuji has been worshiped as a divine entity from as far back as anyone was keeping record, with pilgrimages undertaken to the summit in ancient times.  These days paved roads can take you half way up the steep slopes, and the climb from there is more popular than ever, but the old pilgrimage routes around the base and up the lower slopes have been all but forgotten.  There is not much of a view from the dense forests, and it takes real devotion to put in the long, hot climb required.  The ancient routes are nonetheless notable.

The Yoshida Trail According to the City of Fuji-Yoshida, “The original Yoshida Climbing Route starts from the Fuji Sengen Shrine, where the pilgrims of over 500 years ago came to pray before they started their climb up the sacred mountain.  Today, traditionalists still claim that the only way to climb Mt. Fuji is from the Fuji Sengen Shrine.”  This was the most easily accessed route from Edo, where the devotional Fuji confraternities (more on them later) were very popular during the Tokugawa rule.  Since it is the route of a marathon to the summit each July, it is the best maintained of all the hiking trails below the 5th Station.

The Murayama Route The Murayama Route is the oldest trail up Mt. Fuji, followed by the nearby Suyama Route.  It was developed about 1000 years ago together with a temple complex in the village of Murayama, just south of the volcano, which became a lively center of ascetic Shugendo practice.  The trail fell into disuse in 1903, but has been revived in recent years.  Several years ago, I attempted to follow the Murayama Route, but got lost when it entered a summer home community which had well developed recreational paths heading off in all directions, obscuring the ancient route.  Since then, however, more efforts to reestablish the trail have been made, and two years ago, accompanied by two Shugendo practitioners, I was able follow the entire route from the Murayama Sengen Shrine. The route was well marked, with a few obstacles. At the 5th Station parking lot, it joins the crowded Fujinomiya Trail to the summit.  My companions, in full yamabushi (mountain ascetic) regalia, were delayed several hours on the latter by hikers wanting them to pose for pictures.  Dedicated practitioners start their pilgrimage from the port of Tagonoura in Fuji City.  Their journey has three sections, the first of which is the urban-suburban roadways of what once was a grassy plain, and represented “this world.”  The forests of the Murayama Route represented a transition, and the bare slopes higher up, the world of the dead, to which the pilgrim could go and return.

The Suyama Route Similar to the Murayama Route, the Suyama Route has recently been rescued from oblivion.  It starts from the Suyama Sengen Shrine near Ashitakyama, an eroded volcanic remnant southeast of Mt. Fuji.  Its lower reaches pass adjacent to a golf course and other tourist facilities that lend it a certain quantity of litter and noise, but it is geologically interesting.   Mizutsuka, one of several old cinder cones along the way, is one of the few places on the mountain with reliable surface water.  The trail gives views of all three of the Hoei-zan craters, site of Mt. Fuji’s most recent eruption in 1707, before reaching the Ochuudoh and Fujinomiya Trails at the 6th Station.The Gotemba Route, which parallels it nearby, is the most difficult and picturesque route up Mt. Fuji, climbing through cinders from the Hoei eruption, but the trail appears to have no deep history.

The Subashiri Trail From the vicinity of the Niihashi Sengen Shrine, established about 800 years ago in Gotemba, east of Mt. Fuji, there is a trail going up to the small secondary peak of Kofuji near the Subashiri 5th Station.  I can find nothing on the history of that trail, but have heard that in old times women were allowed access to a smaller peak on pilgrimages, and I have long thought that peak might be it. The main Subashiri Trail currently rises from the 5th Station and meets the Yoshida Trail at the 8th Station.  This causes confusion among hikers attempting to descend on the latter.  If the Ochuudoh route were better known, it would be a cinch for lost hikers to return to the proper trail at the 6th Station, taking about twenty minutes along a level course.

The Shoji Trail The Shoji Trail is one of the most interesting routes, leading from Lake Shoji to the northwest of the mountain to the 5th Station, where it joins the Ochuudoh and Yoshida Trails.  There is no shrine associated with it, and it bisects the haunted forest of Aokigahara, where families once abandoned their elderly to die, currently a destination for suicides. Compasses often do not work in the forest due to geomagnetic anomalies.  This is a shame, because otherwise, it is a most impressive route.  Devotees piled up basalt rocks to make the route smooth and straight, and the dense forest has largely protected their work from erosion. The road was broad enough to accommodate royalty and is still easily passable, despite fallen trees, and unmistakable for its entire course.  The minimal signs are more than adequate.  The two yamabushi and I hiked down it at night.  This trail and the Ochuudoh provide a sense of the degree of devotion once shown by pilgrims, ascetic practitioners and lay followers alike.

The Ochuudoh Literally, “the middle road,” this route circumscribes Mt. Fuji at the 5th to 6th Stations and was particularly beloved by the Fuji confraternity, who maintained at least one shrine along it which also provided lodging.  Representing the Buddhist injunction to avoid extremes, it was nonetheless the most difficult pilgrimage route, with a hazardous crossing of the Ohsawa Kuzure, an erosional gully on the west slope. The route fell out of use several decades ago when the gully became simply too dangerous to cross, but I have traveled nearly all of it and was able to ascertain its current status last October.  The entire route on the Yamanashi (i.e., north) side is in good condition, passing through forests which protect it from rock slides.  Parts of it near the Yoshida 5th Station parking lot have been paved with hand-hewn stones, presenting a broad, currently popular route.  Like the Yellow-Brick Road, however, things get wild further on and care must be taken to stay on course. The Fuji confraternity shrine is just short of the constantly rumbling chasm of the Ohsawa Kuzure in a dense foggy forest about 1.5 hours walk westward from the Yoshida 5th Station parking lot.  Eastward, just short of where it intersects the Subashiri Trail, there are the remains of another shrine.  Crossing over to the Shizuoka (i.e., south) side from there, however, the trail emerges onto bare slopes, where it was annually obliterated even when it had large numbers of travelers. A sandy slog of about an hour, angling slightly upward takes you into view of the Hoei-zan crater, where the Ochuudoh is clearly marked and well traveled, running along the shoulder of the cinder cone, then descending into the crater, emerging at the Fujinomiya Trail 6th Station.  Westward from there, however, it has been entirely obliterated by bulldozer roads, and its point of reentry into the forests beyond can be hard to locate.  There is at least one brave soul, however, who makes the complete circuit regularly, descending to the base of Mt. Fuji to cross the Ohsawa Kuzure, and climbing again on the other side as a summertime exercise when his real passion of cross-country skiing is not possible.

Eight Inner and Eight Outer Lakes The Fuji confraternity was a sect founded in the early 16th century by Hasegawa Kakugyo, an ascetic who bypassed the thriving Shugendo community at Murayama and undertook his own ascetic practice in the Hitoana lava cave to the west of Mt. Fuji.  Highly popular as a lay organization promoting Fuji pilgrimages during the Edo period, it seems to have been bypassed by modernity, the most recent Hasegawa heir shunning the leadership. The remaining members are mostly old enough to remember the deprivations of World War II or its aftermath. Their liturgy mentions “uchisoto hakko no ryuujin,” meaning the dragon gods of the eight inner and eight outer lakes.  The inner lakes include the famous five lakes of Mt. Fuji and three other smaller lakes that are not famous.  The first of these is Lake Osensui, where the Dragon King of hand washing is said to reside.  That is the ritual of purification undertaken before entering sacred ground.  The second is Lake Yamanaka, where dwells the Dragon King of medicine.  The third is Lake Asumi, with the Dragon King of prophecies.  The fourth is Lake Kawaguchi, with the Dragon King of irrigation.  The fifth is Lake Saiko, with the Dragon King of green trees (that is to say, the haunted forest of Aokigahara), from where arise the seeds of our food.  The sixth is Lake Shoji, with the Dragon King of success.  The seventh is Lake Motosu, with the Dragon King of ancient origins from the mists of mythology.  The eighth is Lake Shibire, with the Dragon King of future outcomes. The Fuji sect followers still undertake pilgrimages to these, but travel by car. The Tokai Shizen Hodo, established in recent decades from Tokyo to Osaka, passes fairly close to most of the lakes, making a pleasant trip on foot possible. It would be less strenuous than climbing Mt. Fuji—unless one undertook the traditional ritual bathing at each lake. Fed by Mt. Fuji spring water arising from deep below the surface, they are icy cold. The eight outer lakes include Biwako, Ashinoko, Futamigaura, Suwako, Chuzenjiko, Harunako, Sakuragaike, and Kasumigaura.  Of these, Futamigaura is not actually a lake but a sea coast in Ise. However, it shares with the others the distant visibility of Mt. Fuji, if not directly, then from a mountain nearby. At Futamigaura, which has the famous married rocks joined by a rope of rice straw, the sun rises from directly behind Mt. Fuji at the summer solstice.  Visiting all of these would have been a labor of great devotion in times prior to modern transport.

Asama Jinja in Studies in Shinto and Shrines (6 July 2013)
by R.A.B. Ponsonby-Fane
Less well-known than Chamberlin, Sansom, et al., Ponsonby-Fane wrote extensively on the history of Shinto shrines and their deities in the 1920's and 30's. In his entry for Asama Jinja (Fuji Hongu Sengen Taisha) he begins with the story of the deity of the shrine as it was known at that time, Konohanasakuya-hime, as related in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki. He provides some detail about her father, Oyamatsumi, a deity which makes a number of unrelated appearances in the kiki but which seems to be simply a mountain deity. He then goes into the problem of how Konohanasakuya became the deity of the mountain, considering only that she was supposed to have been a deity of great beauty and the Fuji was regarded as the same. He then goes into the foundations of the shrine which according to tradition, was founded in Yamamiya and moved to its present site in Omiya (now Fujimiya) in 806, displacing a Fuji Jinja mentioned in the engishiki which is now a sessha of Fuji Sengen. In terms of the shrine building itself, he says that the first mention is in Azuma Kagami under the date 1223. The shrine burned during the Onin Wars and was rebuilt around 1578 but burned down again and the present incarnation was rebuilt by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 1600's. He then goes into great detail about the shrine buildings. In the next section on sessha and massha, he revisits the Fuji Jinja which is thought to be from the reign of Emperor Korei (legendary emperor whose reign is traditionally dated as 290-215 B.C.). He says that the deity of this shrine is Fuji Tayu  also identified as Oyamatsumi. He also relates an interesting story of how Mt. Fuji got its snow from the Hitachi fudoki. (Paraphrased) "In the old days, Miyoya no kami made the rounds of the abodes of deities and it was night when he came to Suruga where he wished to stay the night. The Fukuji no kami refused him saying that it was a festival day and the house was fasting. At this the Miyoya no kami became angry and said, You! why do you refuse your father? The mountain on which you dwell shall be covered  in snow winter and summer and there will be nothing to eat or drink." He mentions that Asama Jinja owns the top of the mountain above the 8th station but does not go into detail (for more on this, please see my book Shinto Shrines). The entry ends with some details of the priestly family of the shrine and some mention of its Buddhist history (which he refers to as a "contamination") before ending with some notes on the shrine's festivals. Ponsonby-Fane was a royalist and staunch supporter of the Emperor and as such, his research is somewhat tainted. Still, he relates interesting details that speak of the depth of his research.
Available from booksellers, published by Routledge which is happy to provide it to you, complete with a binding that falls apart inside of six months, for the meager price of USD 199.54 

The Formation of Emperor Worship in the New Religions—The Case of Fujido (6 July 2013)
by Miyazaki Fumiko
Despite the focus of this paper on the relation between emperor worship and the formation of the new religions of the late-Edo and early-Meiji periods in general, it gives a good understanding of how worship of Mt. Fuji underwent the change from shugendo and combinatory religion, to a "purely" Shinto-based faith. By the early nineteenth century, Fujido had become the largest of the Mt. Fuji fraternities (know as ko), which were derived from the followers of Kakugyo's and Jikigyo Miroku's teachings. These teachings were that everything was derived from the original father and mother which was also considered to be the sun and the moon. Believers were urged to apply their energies to peace and fertility, diligence in the family occupation and matrimonial harmony—in other words, the basic Confucian values of the Tokugawa era. Where they differed from these values was their stress on the equality of the social classes (warriors, farmers, artisans and tradesmen) and the equality of the sexes. In a time of much strife, Fujido was also one of a number of millenist or "world renewal" movements (such as the "ee ja nai ka", this one focused on the coming of the age of Miroku (Maitreya). While the motivation for many of the Japanese new religions is well known (the social upheavals, coming of Westerners, and the Meiji ban on mixing religions), Miyazaki examines the mechanism by which this change took place in the Fujido. In short, the pressure from the Meiji government to conform to its new standards for religion caused most cults to either close down or to totally revise their doctrines and rituals. While Fujido chose the latter, even changing the name of the organization to Jikkokyo and becoming one of the thirteen authorized Shinto cults. The transition was made by the ninth successor, Gyoga, and Shibara Hanamori who was influenced by the theories of Hirata Atsutane. As an example of how Fujido's views became transformed, Miyazaki talks about their view of history. They believed that for the first 6,000 years of human history, the world was governed by the original father and mother. For the next 12,000 years (the "Age of the Gods") rule was in the hands of Amaterasu omikami (as the child of the sun and the moon). The next 30,000 years were (and this had already begun, in their view) the Age of Miroku. In affecting the adoption of a new Shinto based on the divinity of the Emperor, one important point was the emphasis on "pure Japanese" (i.e. untainted by Chinese [Confucian] or Indian [Buddhist] culture) which existed in both Fujido and the new National Learning. This resulted from the prevailing "commoner (Fujido member) vs. the elite (Confucian-intellectual, Buddhist) mentality on which the new Meiji government made every effort to capitalize. Another factor was that the Age of Miroku came to be seen as a return to an earlier age, which fit in with the restoration (fukko) thinking of the Meiji leaders. This was the concept that the Japanese emperor's existed in one unbroken bloodline from the beginning of human time, and that the new government was actually a return to an idyllic ancient order headed by this demigod.
Available online at

Mount Fuji and Shugendo (6 July 2013)
by Byron Earhart
This paper is based on Earhart's research for his subsequent book "Mount Fuji", which was released in 2011. Unfortunately, I have not yet read the book but the present paper gives some idea of it's contents. Although I have previously summarized two papers on Mt. Fuji by Royall Tyler, it would probably be a good idea to read this one first. While it goes over much of the same territory, it gives a very good, overall view of the history of the mountain and its worship through the ages. While the same names appear in all three papers, this one gives a more detailed account of the rise and fall of Murayama Shugendo. It also makes clear how Kakugyo inherited the tradition but without revering the lineage of Matsudai and Raison. Instead, he set himself up as the direct receiver of revelations from Sengen Dainichi, after having been "sent" to Fuji by En no Gyoja, the anointed patriarch of the shugendo faith. Earhart makes clear how Kakugyo viewed the mountain and its deity as the source of all life. He then briefly touches on Jikgyo Miroku and his starvation-martyrdom, which spurs the spread of the religion to the common people of Edo, along with the foundation of Fuji-ko worship groups that survive to this day in a much modified form. While he does not go into the final phase of Fuji worship—where it turns from a shugendo based faith, to a Shinto based one—this paper gives a clear and easily understood overview of the faith practiced on the mountain for over one thousand years.
Available online at

"The Book of the Great Practice" The Life of the Mt. Fuji Ascetic Kakugyo Tobutsu Ku 
(6 July 2013)
by Royall Tyler
The title of this paper is annotated with the words "Introduction and Translation" but it is more than that. The first half is actually a point-by-point description of the text that is translated in the second half, and of the ascetic author, Kakugyo. In the other paper by the same author, summarized below, Kakugyo is introduced in the context of Fuji's history of worship. Here he is brought to the fore. In the introduction, the author sets about informing us of who Kakugyo was and trying to separate fact from fiction as regards the history and the writings. Kakugyo is credited with the beginning of the doctrines and beliefs that characterized Fuji worship from the Edo period to early Meiji. These were handed down in several writings, of which the most important is known as "The Book of the Great Practice" and in Japanese as the "Kakugyo Tobatsu Ku." It is supposed to be a biography written in 1620 by Kakugyo's successor Engan. However, there are a large number of variations and additions that seem to have been made long after Kakugyo's death in 1646. Briefly, Kakugyo had a dream that En no Gyoja instructed him to go to Mt. Fuji and seek out the hitoana cave. This is where Kakugyo did his severe austerities. This is where the Sengen deity instructed him on the true meaning of the mountain and its deities. The name sengen is an alternative reading of the word asama, a common name for mountains in Japan. Both names were used from early times to refer to the mountain, while the name "Fuji" (also around from ancient times but using various characters) came into common use from Meiji. Kakugyo's teachings centered on the sun, the moon and the stars (called the "three luminaries"). Kakugyo viewed Fuji as the axis mundi and the source of all life. But Kakugyo also retains belief in Dainichi, the basis of the shugendo belief system that dominated the mountain until the sixteenth century. At some point, Sengen Dainichi tells Kakugyo, "I am called Konohananasakuya-hime, the beginning of the world and the origin of the human body." This may be the first time the name of the goddess of Takachiho in southern Kyushu is associated with the mountain. Nevertheless, it is this fully-Shinto deity who is now worshiped at Mt. Fuji.
Available online at

A Glimpse of Mt. Fuji in Legend and Cult (29 June 2013)
by Royall Tyler
This first paper is a general look at the worship surrounding and inspired by Fuji since legend and belief was first put to paper in Japan. He begins the survey with a poem from the Manyoshu of around A.D.759, which reminds us that "...the lofty peak of a god mysterious." While there are many legends of how the mountain itself came to be, like a number of other sacred mountains in Japan, the sacred history of this one is said to begin with the climb of En no Gyoja around 700. Since that time until the Meiji period, worship of Mt. Fuji was primarily Buddhist of the mountain ascetic, Shugendo variety. However the tradition of Fujisan Hongu is that it was established nearly 700 years earlier than that during the reign of Emperor Suinin. A full scale shrine is reported to have been built in 806, but the action doesn't really heat up until one Matsudai Shonin climbed the mountain several hundred times and built a temple to Dainichi Nyorai on the mountain in 1149. He is credited as the first to "popularize" climbing the mountain and bring Shugendo-style worship. He established the the first real Fuji cult at Maruyama near the southwestern base of the mountain. He was followed in the  early-fourteenth century by Raison who established the Fuji-gyo, attracting increasing numbers of laymen to the mountain. By the early seventeenth century, the power had shifted from Kyoto to Edo and with it, an increase in the number of worshipers coming from the east. Enter an ascetic named Kakugyo who spent many hard years in a cave called hitoana on Mt. Fuji, meditating while standing on a small block of wood, climbing up and down the mountain to do cold water ablutions, and writing is special "received" letters. Though he did not create a great following, his legend attracted others who did. One such was Jikigyo, an Edo townsman turned ascetic, whose "Record of Thirty-One Days" (his teachings recorded by a follower in the days before his death), became an essential part of the Fuji cult, which grew in size and popularity even as the population of Edo flocked to the mountain's slopes.
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