Monday, March 25, 2013

Tohoku Culture Paper 2: Dewa Sanzan

Dewa Sanzan is a term to refer to the three mountains of Dewa Sanzan. These mountains are important to the Japanese Shinto region and they were visited by famed Japanese poet Matsu Basho during one of his pilgrimages. Recently I was able to go to visit one of the three mountains for JAS 435 Exploring Tohoku Culture. The mountain that I visited was Mount Haguro. I was unable to go to the other two mountains Mount Yudono, and Mount Gassan because they were closed during the winter time.
Mountain with Yamabushi statues

 At Dewa Sanzan, Japanese mountain hermits called Yamabushi practice the religion Shugendō. Occasionally Yamabushi can be seen playing music with a conch shell. Shugendō is a Japanese religion made from aspects of Chinese Yin-Yang mysticism, Taoist magic, and other Asian religions. Besides Yamabushi, worshippers of Shugendō may also be known as Shugenja, Shugyōsha, or Keza. Shugendō emphasizes that worshippers must practice physical endurance in order to achieve enlightenment. Worshippers practice things like fasting, meditation, recite sutras, seclusion, and occasionally sit under water falls or sit in the snow. Worshippers may also place stone or wood markers on the ground in order to prove that they traveled that location. When entering at temple, a follower of Shugendō may make a special hand gesture or recite a classical Japanese poem.

 The founder of Shugendō is a man named En no Gyōja. It is said that he was a born at Mt.Katsuragi which is located between Nara and Osaka. It was rumored that he had magical powers and was using them to control demons and mislead people so he was banished to an area called Oshima. In addition, before being banished, it was rumored that he was also a skilled healer and was knowledgeable about using plants as medicine. After being banished, he used his powers to climb numerous sacred mountains within Japan. Shugendō had a brother named Tsukiwakamaru that was trained by mountain animals and discovered deposits of Mercury and Silver in the mountains.
 Followers of Shugendō come to Dewa Sanzan which is the center of Shugendō. Dewa Sanzan is located in a remote location so it is popular for followers to come to. Two famous temples that followers like to go to that my class and I were unable to travel to are the Churenji and the Daichinibo. Both temples are said to contain the bodies of men that mummified their bodies while alive known as sokushinbutsu. It is said that men that become sokushinbutsu drink sap from the urushi tree, or spring water from nearby Yudono-san containing arsenic. According to Japan-Guide, men that were successful in becoming sokushinbutsu became worshipped as Buddhas.
 Out of three mountains that make Dewa Sanzan, we could only visit Mt.Haguro. Mt.Haguro is the first mountain that most travelers visit and it is meant to symbolize birth. The shrine at Mt.Haguro can be reached by car, but the traditional way of transportation is by walking. Mt.Haguro contains a five story pagoda surrounded by cedars. In addition, there is also the Ideha museum nearby that contains information such as English translations about the Yamabushi or Shugendō.
The Five-Story Pagoda
A Monk'svegeterian diet
 At Dewa Sanza, we ate a vegetarian meal at a restaurant called Saikan. According to my professor, it was forbidden for monks to eat meat at this location. The food quality was acceptable, however other students had trouble eating the food. This consisted of rice, plumbs, miso soup, soy beans, and tofu. At this restaurant, we could eat on a tatami, and watch an early morning ceremony where we could see the monks performing some sort of ritual.
 Since Mt.Haguro is the only location opened all-year at Dewa Sanzan, Saint Gosaiden is a building that is said to represent all three mountains at Dewa Sanzan. This building was said to be built during 1818. At Mt.Haguro, there are numerous stone statues located and some of these statues represent things such as animals from the Chinese Zodiac.
 The three mountains that make up Dewa Sanzan are important parts of Shugendō. At these mountains travelers may explore these woods in order to learn about Shugendō and practice the religious customs for that culture. If someone comes during the right time, someone may see a Yamabushi practicing.

"Dewa Sanzan Travel: Churenji and Dainichibo." Dewa Sanzan Travel: Churenji and Dainichibo. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
"Dewa Sanzan Travel Guide." Dewa Sanzan Travel Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013
"Dewa Sanzan Travel: Haguro-san." Dewa Sanzan Travel: Haguro-san. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
"Shugendo - Japanese Mountain Ascetism, Shamanism, En No Gyoja, Enno Gyoja, Esoteric Buddhism, Tendai, Shingon." Shugendo - Japanese Mountain Ascetism, Shamanism, En No Gyoja, Enno Gyoja, Esoteric Buddhism, Tendai, Shingon. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.