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Spiritual Sphere of Mount Hakusan

Spiritual Sphere of Mount Hakusan

On May 10th, 2016 it was a great opportunity for me to learn about Shugendo that is an incorporated Japanese religious belief (Shinto) and Buddhism. Shugendo literally means the way to spiritual power through discipline and practitioners called Shugenja. We went to Mt. Hakusan, a famous mountain, which has been considered one of the Japan’s sacred mountains. There are three peaks and the tallest peak is 2,702 meters. We met our guide, Mr. Isobe Yūzō and Mr. Gart  Westerhout, an interpreter. Mr. Isobe led us to the first place that was “Furumiya historic park” there were a large amount of pieces of pottery (small plates) discovered around 500 years ago (AD 1480). But it was burned later on so it was removed to where Shirayama Hime Jinja Shrine is now located.

After that we were ready in front of the Torii, the stone gate from natural rocks. We should bow before crossing the gate showing respect to god. A Torii gate is most commonly found at the entrance of a shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the secular to the sacred place. Not only Torii gate but a bridge also represents the boundary between secular and holy area. There at the shrine is an 800 year-old tree; with the rope being called “Shimenawa” represents power of god. Before approaching the shrine we washed our hands and mouth at the purification spring to purify ourselves. Shirayama Hime Jinja is the main shrine of approximately 3,000 other branches in Japan dedicated to this mountain. The worshipers come here to pray for various desires such as bountiful harvests, safety commute, academic excellence and marriage. Mr. Isobe taught us to pray and pay respect to god who lives inside the main building “Haiden” by bowing twice, clapping hands twice and bowing once again.

Afterward, we went to the museum. There are many preserved ancient treasures such as the big “Katana,” Japanese sword. Our guide doesn’t think ancient people would actually use the big sword in the war he said it might be the way they symbolically represent power. I saw the maps and pictures showing different routes that the former practitioners used for climbing up to the peaks of Mt. Hakusan. And also various features that were found in this mountain preserved in this museum. The most interesting relic for me is an 800 year-old wooden “Komainu” or lion-dogs, these  relics were once sent to the British Museum as an important historical and religious items from Japan and were sometimes sent out to other regions of Japan  as well.

 After we left the museum, we took the university micro-bus to Chugu jinja. In the  past, the practitioners took a narrow mountain path along the Tedori River up the hill but on that day we took a bus along the road. The road at the beginning was flat and wide but it became narrow and steep after that. Even though it took around 10 minutes for us by bus, practitioners and their families took several days walking to Chugu jinja in the past and they stayed there for a couple days before crossing Ozou Bridge (it also represents the boundary between sacred and secular place) to Kaho jinja. At the bridge itis the real farewell for practitioners and their families, Shugenja might walk by themselves or by group from the bridge to Kaho jinja. There are big rocks hanging over the deep cliff behind the shrine building which is a place to pray.Shugenja spent a couple of days there to prepare their mental and spiritual states, and also to purify themselves for the long journey ahead. Kaho jinja was the last place for us on that day, but for the practitioners, it is the real starting point for their paths to enlightenment walking up more than 2,000 meters to the peak of the holy mountain Hakusan.  

I learned a lot from this field trip. The places I visited were an informative look into Japanese culture and beliefs. I found that Japanese shrines are very functional for Japanese people, as a Christian I also have sacred beliefs, praying to a God, and asking him for blessings. Therefore, I understand what the worshipers are doing at the shrines. Moreover, I realized how dedicated the practitioners were to reach enlightenment. Their destination might not be an easy journey but what they have done made me realized that everyone can achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.

(S. R.)