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HAKUSAN SHUGENDO

On May 12th, we visited Hakusan to gain an understanding of Shugendo - mountain worships and pre-Buddhism mixed religious sect in Japan.

It is said that Shugendo was formed by En no Gyoja in Nara period. It was established based on combining beliefs between ancient mountain worships. Though the strict training in sacred mountains, the practitioners “shugenja” were able to transcend above secular world. In Japan, there are several holy mountains for Shugendo, and Hakusan is one of the oldest ones.

Experiencing Shugendo is totally new to most of us. Thanks to our Guide Mr. Isobe, NPO volunteer tour guide member and Interpreter Ms. Kimura, we were able to have an insight into this mysterious and complicated culture.

Before going to the Shirayamahime-jinja shrine, we first went to the Furumiya Historic Park. We learned that shrine was moved from the Tedori-gawa riverbank to this park’s location because of the occasional danger of flood in ancient times. Since it supplied large amounts of water for local people, the shrine played the role of patron for locals to appreciate the blessings of the mountain god as well as their power to control the flood. After 1480, it was removed to where it is now located, the sacred place people can arrive at after walking across the bridge (has highly symbolic meaning. It represents the boundary between sacred and secular place) and up 108 steps. The holy and peaceful atmosphere along this avenue impressed me deeply.

According to historical records (probably including myth) Shirayamahime-jinja shrine has a history of almost 2,100 years. It is the headquarter of 3,000 Hakusan shrines across japan. Annually, 800,000 people visit this shrine. In ancient times, the practitioners came here with their families, did basic preparation such as cleaning their body to make sure they were well-purified both mentally and physically. In the shrine, we prayed in front of the shrine building and visited the artificial waterfall for purification.

Afterwards,we went to the museum. Preserved in that small but fully equipped museum are many important cultural relics. The most infectious objects are two pairs of wooden lions. They were made in high quality with vivid expression, from which we could both tell the traditional Japanese artistic features and the influence of Chinese art. Another impressive relic was a painting that depicted the process of the strict training practitioners used to do in the mountain. It not only showed the beauty of Japanese painting, but also revealed the historical scene. Since Shirayamahime-jinja shrine received worship from both officials and residents, many old documents kept there recorded the history of the shrine and Shugendo. We were very excited to see these precious cultural properties.

After leaving the Shirayamahime-jinja shrine, we took a bus to the kegasa-chugu shrine. It is said that this shrine was built in 957AD. It used to be a small shrine, then it was enlarged to be one of the three major shrines in this area. In ancient times, it was a sort of base camp practitioners prepared themselves for mental training and physical suffering as well as spending time with their families. From this place, they set off on their journey into the unknown.

Before arriving at the Kaho shrine practitioners trained themselves, they needed to walk across the Ozoe bridge (also has symbolic meaning, represents the boundary between sacred and secular place). The construction or appearance of the bridge is not outstanding at all. After Shugenja arrived at the Kaho shrine, they would have stayed there for a few days and purified themselves. For the practitioners, this place represents the beginning of the long way to the summit. However, for us, it meant the end of our field trip.

Although our internship just lasted for a couple of hours, following the worshipers’ footsteps to visit several sites still made me feel that I was one of that sacred sect. However, the shugendo was such a complicated religion that we were just able to have a superficial knowledge of it. I hope we will have another chance to experience it again.

(L.M.)

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