— defining shugendo past and present: The restoration of shugendo at nikko and koshikidake by gaynor sekimori

A look at the historical development and recent revival of ritual practices at two traditional Shugendo centers, underscoring the religious role of lay people. The following article comes from world renowned Australian Shugendo researcher (and Haguro-Shugen practitioner) Professor Gaynor Sekimori.

Defining Shugendo Past and Present: The Restoration of Shugendo at Nikko and Koshikidake

Shugendô is notoriously difficult to define. The difficulty is related in part to its ability to absorb diverse ideas and practices, which allowed it to be responsive to a great variety of requirements over the centuries; on the other hand, this very ability also contributed to its banning in the early Meiji period as a superstitious and eclectic religion. Perhaps the one element that we can claim as being central to Shugendô is the mountain, yet mountains were equally important in ostensibly non-Shugendô practices too, such as the kaihôgyô of Mount Hiei. And people who practised in mountains were not necessarily all shugenja.

The problem is further compounded when it comes to English scholarship, where the word "Shugendô" is often used to refer to any practice associated with mountains, often regardless of the fact whether or not Shugendô actually existed as a conscious entity at the time being referred to. When can we start talking about, for example, Shugendô shrine-temple complexes, or Shugendô mountain-entry rituals, that is, making them semantically distinct from other religious institutions and phenomena? Japanese uses the word " shugen " adjectively to refer to mountain-associated people and practices in general, usually reserving the term "Shugendô" for the institution, which has a specific historical identity. Thus while we can talk about " shugen " rituals and practices, about " shugen " practitioners, the very action of changing adjective to noun in English limits its application and so may cause potential interpretative difficulties.

I want to propose a model for discussing Shugendô, not by using broad-based historical sources to disinter its origins, but by looking at specific examples of Shugendô practice that have undergone revivification in recent years. By comparing their historical context and their modern manifestations, I hope that I will be able to clarify to some extent what Shugendô has meant at a specific time and place in the past, and what it means today. This is particularly important, not just for scholarship, but for Shugendô itself in view of the resurgence of interest in it in contemporary Japan.

I will take up two examples for discussion and comparison, Nikkô Shugendô (日光修験道) revived in 1985, and Koshikidake Shugendô (甑岳修験道) revived in 2005. Both had disappeared in the early 1870s as a result of the early Meiji religious policy of shinbutsu Bunri (kami-buddha separation, or more correctly "Clarrification). Nikkô was a large-scale institution, within which, by the Edo period, Shugendô occupied a somewhat ritual role in what was quite an anomalous relationship between the older, existing shrine-temple complex (Rinnôji) and the new Tokugawa mausoleum (Tôshôgù). The fact that Shugendô has in fact twice disappeared from Nikkô, and twice been revived, allows for very interesting comparisons to be made, since each revival has been hampered by loss of records and/or oral traditions, permitting new rituals and traditions to emerge or be created and absorbed into its identity. Koshikidake Shugendô (Higashine, Yamagata prefecture) was formerly centred on the Tozan-ha temple of Kannonji and was revived by a direct descendant of the last priest in November 2005 as Koryù Shugen Honshu. It has a very rich archival collection, consisting both of ritual manuals, mainly from the Daigoji and Negoroji (Shingi Shingon) lineages, and a large amount of eighteenth and nineteenth century documents which attest to the diverse role occupied by village-based shugenja (sato shugen / mappa shugen).

I will briefly outline the history of Shugendô at both places, contrasting the situation at the "single-mountain institution" of Nikkô with that of the village temple Kannonji, thus building on studies made, and paradigms presented, by scholars such as Miyake Hitoshi, Miyamoto Kesao and Gakkô Yoshihiro. However the main thrust of my paper will concern the contemporary restoration and recreation of Shugendô at both places. What has been considered essential in that restoration? How is Shugendô understood by those central to the revival process in each place, and to what extent does it occupy a place in the minds of those who have become practitioners? What places Shugendô apart from other Japanese religious traditions, both traditional and contemporary? By attempting to answer these questions I hope to be able to suggest some tentative conclusions about the definition of Shugendô, for the past as well as the present.

The Historical Background

Nikkō Shugendō

Nikkô's cult derived from the ritual worship of Mount Nantai, on the northern bank of Lake Chuzenji which, by the eighth century, was associated with Kannon's Pure Land Potalaka and frequented by proto-esoteric Buddhist practitioners. This dating is substantiated by archaeological finds from the summit of the mountain, which include large numbers of implements mostly dating from the eighth and early ninth centuries. Comparisons made with contemporary items found in Nara show little variation in style or quality, a fact which suggests that those who practised at Nikkô at that time were mainstream ascetic practitioners who were part of the central Yamato court culture. The historical figure of Shôdô Shônin, who is said to have arrived in the area in 766, is regarded as the founder of Nikkô Shugendô, and he may well be representative of such early practitioners. His biography/legend pays tribute to his power at performing amagoi (rain-making) prayers on Mount Nantai, and such rites seem to have been an important ritual component of the early cult.

The shrine-temple complex grew up around two centres: a shrine on the shore of Lake Chuzenji called Futara no kami or Futarasan Jinja, and the temple of Shihonryùji in present-day Nikkô. Both became centres of combinatory worship in the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This is evidenced by a number of twelfth-century images of the Thousand-Armed Kannon (Senju Kannon) found on the summit of Mount Nantai, indicating that the kami of Nantai was regarded as an avatar (gongen) of Kannon. By the middle of the twelfth century, Futarasan Jinja was at the centre of a large shrine-temple complex, described by Fujiwara Atsuaki (1062-1 144) in his travel record Chuzenji shiki (1141):

There is a great temple called Chuzenji on the flanks of the mountain [Mount Nantai], whose main image is a large (jôroku ca 16 ft) Thousand-Armed Kannon. To one side is the shrine where the Gongen is venerated, and also a hall where the Lotus and Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutras are deposited.

Chuzenji was the jinguji attached to the shrine, where the kami was venerated as the avatar of Kannon. The combined nature of the rituals performed here may be gleaned from Atsuaki's description of a large-scale rite performed on the 22nd and 23rd days of the fourth month annually, when lecture meetings on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra and the Lotus Sutra were held on consecutive mornings, after which 33 trays of food offerings were made to Kannon and 180 to the Gongen and his retinue. Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Mount Nantai continued as the centre of cult, as evidenced by donations and deposits. At Shihonryùji, the cult embraced both the founder and the Gongen, while the Lotus Samàdhi (hokke zanmai) ritual was performed for the prosperity of the court and country.

Twin halls, the Hokkedô & for the Lotus Samâdhi and the Jôgyôdô for the veneration of Amida were built to the west of the main complex in 1145. These practices are closely associated with Tendai and so attest to a strong Tendai presence in Nikkô. To summarize, by the end of the Heian period we find an extensive combinatory cult in existence, centring on the worship of Mount Nantai and dominated by Tendai institutions and practices. Shugen practices and institutions, on the other hand, were formally introduced when Benkaku associated with the Kumano Shugendô tradition and with the ascendant Minamoto clan, was appointed temple head around 1210.

He subsequently embarked on rebuilding and expanding the complex, both at Lake Chûzenji and around Shihonryùji. Like many other proto-Shugendô temples, the Nikkô complex was manned by double clerical strata: Tendai priests {36 in number) and lower-ranking priests with shugen characteristics (around 300). By the early years of the fourteenth century, two indicators of the rise of Shugendô can be discerned: first, the development of the three Nikkô Gongen, following the pattern of the three Kumano Gongen (Hongu Shingu and Nachi), and second, a focus on Shôdô Shônin as the instigator of mountain-entry practices and the founder of Nikkô Shugendô. At Nikkô, the three Gongen were the Hongù dedicated to Mount Tarô (avatar of Batô Kannon), Shingu, dedicated to Mount Nantai (avatar of the Thousand-Armed Kannon) and Takinoo-sha:, dedicated to Mount Nyobô (avatar ofAmida). Benkaku set up these three deities in a newly-built Hall of the Three Buddhas (Sanbutsudô), on the site of the present Tôshôgu and this took over the functions of the former Kondô Benkaku thus created what became virtually an independent temple organization to the west of the old Shihonryùji complex, administered by a new Tendai temple called Kômyôin.

A third important indicator of the emergence of a conscious "Shugendô" is the formalization of mountain-entry (mineiri) rituals, and this is evidenced, by the beginning of the fourteenth century, by the development of "lodgings" called shuku within the mountains, where shugenja would stay and perform rituals during their seasonal practices, with Shôdô Shônin (and En no Gyôja to some extent), and the Three Nikkô Gongen as their focii of devotion. Such institutionalization of practice may be considered to constitute the watershed between " shugen " and "Shugendô." The paucity of extant records limits our knowledge of the details of ritual practices in the mountains, but archeological evidence suggests that the ascent (zenjo) of Mount Nantai, whether on an individual or a group basis, remained an important element.12 Long circuits evolved as Shugendô took shape, and were said to follow trails pioneered by Shôdô Shônin. The Winter and Spring Peaks, lasting 80 and 50 days respectively, traversed the mountains south of Nikkô, and the Summer Peak, lasting 62 days, was the most rigorous, incorporating both southern and northern peaks, but it seems to have disappeared around 1530.

Nikkô Shugendô fell into ruin when its major patrons succumbed to the might ofToyotomi Hideyoshi (1537?-1598), and most of its holdings were confiscated in 1590. Though it is said the Shugendô tradition was lost at this time, there are also records extant which tell us that certain mountain shuku were repaired or rebuilt in 1595 and 1601, a fact which casts doubt on the total discontinuity of the old practices. Shugendô was restored after 1613 by the Tendai prelate Tenkai (1536-1643) as an element serving the expanded Rinnôji shrine-temple complex and Tôshôgù in particular. Twenty Tendai subtemples and eighty lower-ranking Shugen subtemples, plus a number of kami lineages and shrine assistants, formed the institutional basis, and were funded directly by the Shogunate. Nikkô shugen priests had a heavy ritual load, consisting not just of shugen-type practices like mountain-entry rituals, which were compulsory and limited to Nikkô priests, but also duties in the various halls and shrines of the complex.

The loss of records, and gaps in the oral tradition in particular, meant that many aspects of former practices could not be restored, and new rituals or ritual formats were devised to fill their place. One such was the Gôhanshiki (also called Nikkôzeme), still performed today at Rinnôji. It symbolized the power of Nikkô, and by extension, the Tokugawa house. During the medieval period it had been the custom for shugenja to bring back with them the food offerings they had made to the mountain deities during their mountain-entry rituals and this was developed into a major ritual. As carried out today, "shugenja" (now Rinnôji clerics) serve selected laymen sake and large bowls of rice, which they are commanded to eat. Shugendô elements are readily apparent, particularly in how the ritual space is established and purified: the " shugenja " trace letters with a sword at the cardinal points and use mantras and the kuji for dramatic effect. The ritual symbolizes well the mutual relationships within and without Nikkô in the Edo period, and the role of the shugenja is indicative of their character and standing within the temple organization of the time.

A strict distinction was made between activities that Nikkô shugenja could take part in, and those open to lay devotees. Nikkô shugen priests had a duty to take part in the Winter and Flower Offering (Spring) Peaks. A shorter version of the abandoned Summer Peak, called Sôzenjô was constituted to traverse various sacred sites in the northern mountains over nine days in the eighth month. Unlike the medieval Summer Peak, it was not used to license shugenja as senior officers (daisendatsu). This function was taken over instead by a one thousand-day practice circuit called the daisendo which involved visiting over one hundred sacred sites around the Nikkô shrine-temple complex six or seven times a day for five months. It was clearly based on the kaihôgyô practice of Mount Hiei in Kyoto, and may be considered another example of the way Nikkô introduced new rituals to meet its requirements. This has not however prevented priests from attributing to it a medieval, Nikkô Shugendô provenance.

Among lay devotees, the ritual ascent of Mount Nantai (Nantai zenjô) and other mountains in the vicinity, was very popular, as was the tour of sacred sites around Lake Chuzenji by boat (Hama zenjô or Funa zenjô). These practices were confined to males, since both lake and mountains were forbidden to female access. Since Nikkô shugen priests were not allowed to maintain traditional parish relationships, necessary lay guide activities were taken over by local Honzan group or Tôzan sill group priests, in particular those connected with the important ritual site of Kobugahara (Zenki), and with the temple of Myôgakuin in Nikkô. Kobugahara in particular developed confraternities in the Kantô region in the course of the Edo period. This probably explains why, when Nikkô Shugendô disappeared again in the 1870s, many lay practitioners (gyôja) centred their practice at Kobugahara, now renamed Furumine Jinja and the numbers of its adherents certainly rose after 1878. Individual temples in the area too maintained shugen traditions, some down to the present, notably the former Kobugahara bettô temple, Kongôsan Zuihôji (Daigo-ha, Shingon), now in Kanuma. But almost all the shugenja who had been affiliated with Rinnôji, already under severe economic strain by the middle of the nineteenth century, gave up their calling completely.

Koshikidake Shugendo:

The mountain called Koshikidake rises some thousand metres to the east of the city of Murayama in Yamagata prefecture and was from old revered as the abode of the mikumari (watershed) deity. Here too amagoi prayers were an important ritual component. Tradition says that Kannon was enshrined on the mountain in the seventh century. By the Edo period, the main religious centre was a Tôzan group Shugendô temple called Kannonji at the base of the mountain. Its priest was a married "village shugenja " (sato shugen) who performed a wide variety of services for the local community, civil as well as religious. Kannonji's rich archive contains letters related to shipping along the Mogami river, documents concerning village administration (mura nikki) and education (terakoya), Yoshida Shinto and Onmyôdô licenses, sùtras and divination manuals, plus more than 600 ritual manuals detailing the veneration of various deities (most according to the Ono-ryù of Shingon), and a large number of Ryôbu Shinto manuals, setting out rites such as the ground-breaking ceremony (jichinsai). This demonstrates how a village shugenja responded to the requirements of his neighbours, and collected ritual texts that could be applied to a great variety of needs. There is little information about mountain-entry rituals. Tradition states that eight trails connected the settlements at the foot of Koshikidake to the summit, and the remains of shukubô (lodgings) have been discovered at Nakazawa at the entrance to the main one. Four Fudô halls also existed at the bottom of the mountain. The recovery of the pre-Meiji sites and trails on Koshikidake is ongoing, and further light may eventually be thrown on old mountain practices in the process.

As a result of early Meiji religious policy, Koshikidake Kannonji became a shrine venerating Sukunahikona no mikoto in 1871 when the last bettô, Kanryu, laicized as Koshikidake Motoi. Unlike numerous other similar cases, Buddhist statues and documents were kept carefully down the generations. By the time of Motoi's grandson Kôjirô (d. 1957), the family no longer maintained the shrine; Kôjirô worked in the city office, but would however perform Shintô style rituals such as jichinsai, amagoi and kuyô (memorialization) if asked. In times of drought he would climb Koshikidake to offer prayers, and his son Ikuo sometimes joined him. Ikuo became a teacher in Hokkaido, where Kôichirô (Shôkai), the instigator of the revival of Koshikidake Shugendô, was born in 1958.

Patterns of Revival: Instigators

The revival of Shugendô at Nikkô and Koshikidake is a function of local conditions and in particular of those who instigated it. While at Nikkô a merger of a variety of religious streams led to its formal restoration in 1985, a situation that reflects the complexity of the pre-Meiji religious landscape there, at Koshikidake it was undertaken, as we have seen, by a direct descendant of the last priest of Kannonji.

Nikkō Shugendō

Kongôsan Zuihôji: At Nikkô, the afore-mentioned Daigo-ha Shingon temple of Kongôsan Zuihôji in Kanuma, Tochigi prefecture maintained links with the Shugendô past, despite being forced to move away from the site of Furumine Jinja in the 1870s and being nearly destroyed in flooding in 1919. Today it is the centre of a popular Fudô cult, and performs an annual outdoor saitô goma, with fire-walking, on the occasion of its annual festival in May. Its priest Inoue Zuigen was instrumental in reconstituting the Flower Offering, or Spring, Peak (Hanaku no mine) mountain-entry ritual in 1960, setting up the Gohô Sendatsukai Wk:&9cM1§ to support this practice, in association with Nakagawa Kôki (see below) and personnel and devotees from Furumine Shrine. A number of those connected with the present Nikkô Shugendô, including Iyano Jihô (Bihô) , its central figure, and Katsurajima Shunpô, a senior member of the group, received initial training at Zuihôji.
Nakagawa Kôki (b. 1937) is the preeminent historian of Nikkô and its Shugendô tradition. He is also the head priest of Kôun Ritsuin a temple with no traditional Shugendô connections, that was founded in Nikkô in 1731 as an independent Tendai temple specialising in the study and practice of the precepts. But today, through Nakagawa's involvement in restoring Shugendô to Nikkô, people consider it to be a "yamabushi temple." Nakagawa grew up in Nikkô, walking the Nikkô mountains as a boy and becoming increasingly interested in Shugendô as a result of finding religious remains there. His graduation thesis at Taishô University concerning Nikkô Shugendô made use of documents preserved at Rinnôji as well as his own survey material. After completing the hundred-day kaihôgyô at Mount Hiei in 1953, he resolved to restore Shugendô and its spiritual tradition to Nikkô, and subsequently visited other mountains, such as Yoshino and Haguro, where Shugendô had survived more intact, in order to gain an understanding particularly of mountain-entry rituals.

When he returned to Nikkô in 1954 he performed a saitô goma at Ritsuin, the first time it had been staged in Nikkô since the early Meiji period. In 1960, Nakagawa was involved in the restoration of the Flower Offering Peak (Hanaku no mine). Central to the restoration was the concept of shinbutsu shùgô (veneration of both kami and buddhas). Fifteen participants from Nikkô joined one hundred devotees from Furumine Jinja for the two-day practice, which started at Shihonryuji and with a kenmitsu goma service at Hoshi no shuku (Nikkô), and then, after a night at Kobugahara it continued with a service at nearby Jinzen no shuku and a pilgrimage through the mountains to Tachiki Kannon on the shores of Lake Chuzenji. As will be seen below, this represented a reconstitution of the route rather than the ritual of the original. While the participants apparently did not have a strong understanding of Shugendô, according to Nakagawa, for him restoring "original" Shugendô meant above all else restoring mountain-entry practices, and so this represented a crucial first step.

In 1964 he reconstructed the route used for the pre-Meiji Daisendo based on old tebumi (memoranda) and did the practice alone for one hundred days. Two years later he restored the biannual veneration services to Arasawa Fudô at the Urami waterfall (May and October 28), 20 which had fallen into abeyance in the years after 1902, when much of the sacred site associated with the waterfall was destroyed in a strong storm, and the tradition of devotion had been forgotten. Nakagawa now performs the service in the form of a miniature outdoor goma, which both Nikkô devotees and Nikkô shugenja attend. He has also been instrumental in bringing back other lost practices such as the so-called Kugi nenbutsu associated with Jakkôji. In August 2005 he restored the Sôzenjô, a three-day practice traversing the peaks north of Lake Chuzenji, based on his reconstitution of the old routes and the identification of sacred sites through reference to tebumi . The original route has not been fully restored, since as with much at Nikkô, topographical changes and loss of documentation have made complete identification near impossible. The Winter Peak has not yet been restored, though Nakagawa hopes to achieve this as well.

Nakagawa worked over the years to win the trust of Rinnôji for the revived Shugendô. Today the temple actively supports Nikkô Shugendô and allows its sendatsu to wear its distinctive black shugenja costume on formal occasions, and it co-sponsors the spring and autumn mountain-entry rituals. Rinnôji itself has retained little of the Shugendô past, other than a fairly good archive, the Funa zenjo (which Nakagawa's devotees and Nikkô shugenja take part in), and the Gôhanshiki, performed by its own priests. Nakagawa describes his interest in reviving Shugendô as deriving from his central concern to revive the "original form" of Nikkô's spirituality, that is, the tradition of Shôdô Shônin. Of all the Buddhist sects, he feels Shugendô best suits Nikkô, providing "a direct connection with the natural world and with the kami and bud-dhas." In other words, nature itself is the dôjô, the place of religious training. 

Born in 1957, he is the son of an old sake-merchant family in Kanuma. He took ordination at Zuihôji and participated in the Flower Offering Peak under its auspices; he also came into contact with Nakagawa Kôki around this time. He trained in both the Tendai, Miidera and Shingon esoteric traditions, and has been an active collector of ritual transmissions, such as the star ritual called Sonjôôbô (Rite of the Monarch of the Venerable Star), which he learned from Fuke Eimei of Miidera. He also studied Shugendô in Yamagata under Honma Ryôhô of Enjuin and Honma Ryuen (1910-91) of Hôjuin, and received formal transmission from them. Like Nakagawa he sought out records detailing the Nikkô Shugendô tradition, and much of his research was based on the archive of the afore-mentioned Myôgakuin, which he discovered and which is now in his keeping, and on records remaining at the Ozakisan Mfêlil Shrine in Kanuma, a former Shugendô temple. He broke away from the connection with Zuihôji around 1988, but maintains close ties with Nakagawa. Nikkô Shugendô, formally reestablished in 1985, is physically located at a newly-built (1992) temple, Sannôin, in Kanuma, whose head priest is Ishizuka Jikô, former superior of Zenkôji in Nagano, and another of Iyano's teachers. Iyano is the deputy head priest of the temple as well as the head of Nikkô Shugendô.

The relationship between Nakagawa and Iyano is amiable. Nakagawa and his devotees and the Nikkô shugenja take part in each other's activities, though the two groups are not identical. Nakagawa and Iyano seem to occupy separate ritual spheres: for example, Nakagawa performs the principal rituals of the Flower Offering Peak, such as the kenmitsu goma at Hoshi no shuku, sûtra offerings at Hoshi no miya and the saitôgoma at Jinzen no shuku. Nikkô Shugendô members take part in the Funa zenjô, the monthly Daisendo, and the biannual Arasawa Fudô goma , in all of which Nakagawa is the central figure. This may be explained by the fact that, as we have seen, he played a pivotal role in restoring all of these. Iyano however takes a central role in the Akinomine, which is more closely associated with Sannôin, and in all Sannôin rituals.

Koshikidake Shugendō

Koshikidake Shôkai returned to Yamagata when he was nine to live with his grandmother, from whom he learned the Heart Sutra and various Norito. He became a television producer and director. From around the age of 30 he felt increasingly committed to continuing his family's religious tradition, partly in memory of his shugenja ancestors and all those who were victims of shinbutsu bunri. He first studied at Ryuzanji, a Tendai temple in Yamagata, and then took ordination and then post-ordination training (shido kegyo) at Hakusanji. He also began training as a shugenja at Hagurosan from 1992 onwards. In 1998 he moved his formal affiliation to the Jimon Onjôji branch of Tendai, taking ordination at Miidera under Fuke Eimei (also Iyano's teacher), but it was the sectarian complications that lay behind this move that determined him to re-establish his family's former temple of Kannonji and set up his own school of Shugendô. He "retired" as a Miidera deshi after he succeeded in formally restoring the temple and registering his organization, Koryu Shugen Honshu as a religious institution (shûkyô hôjin) at the end of 2005.

It was after doing his post ordination training that he discovered the ritual documents that had been in the safekeeping of his family, and began trying out some of the rituals. He published nine of them in 1999, all combinatory rites that had become very rare. Though Kannonji, as we have seen, had been affiliated with Shingon (Tôzan-ha), his study of its archive of ritual manuals confirmed for him the combinatory nature of the temple's traditions, and it was clear to him that there was no clear distinction that could be made between Tendai and Shingon.

Motivations of instigators

Nakagawa, Inoue, Iyano and Koshikidake all share a common conviction that combinatory shinbutsu shùgô ideas and practices are central in reviving Shugendô. Nakagawa states that this concept was at the core of the restoration of the Flower Offering Peak, in which participants from both Zuihôji and Furumine Jinja joined in Shugendô as well as Shintô-style services. Shintô norito and purificatory rites continue to be performed on that occasion at Jinzen no shuku together with a Shugendô saitô goma. Koshikidake too says that reviving true Shugendô means reviving shinbutsu shugô , and to do this combinatory ritual practices, such as the incense goma (see below), must be restored as fully as possible.

The instigators also share a common view that it is important to make a distinction between Shugendô and mikkyô (esoteric Buddhism, especially as it is expressed by the Tendai and Shingon schools). Iyano understands Shugendô and mikkyô to be two different means (hôben) by which a practitioner can attain the same Buddhist enlightenment. Whereas mikkyô centres on the three practices of mudràs , mantras and meditation to attain buddhahood in this very body (sokushin jôbutsu), Shugendô, he states, focuses rather on the idea of "original enlightenment" (hongaku), allowing practitioners to experience directly that the phenomenal world in itself is the very realm of the Buddhas. This theoretical explanation actually seems to place the focus onto Tendai hongaku thought, which again raises the question of how Shugendô differs from the traditional Buddhist sects. Koshikidake's stance is somewhat clearer. Historical circumstances forced Shugendô into a strict Tendai/Shingon mould, he asserts, and this has resulted in its becoming completely esotericized. The question of the relationship between esoteric Buddhism and Shugendô is an extremely important one when attempting to define Shugendô, and this is a significant direction for further Shugendô studies.

All the instigators agree that the early Meiji religious policy that denied the validity of shinbutsu shùgô was at the core of the destruction of Shugendô, and that the separation/clarification measures spelled Shugendô's death knell well before the ban was enacted in 1872. For Iyano in particular public recognition of the restored Nikkô Shugendô is an important justification of his vision for Shugendô. Two events have marked significant milestones in this regard: the invitation by Kinpusenji (Yoshino) to perform the Nikkô style saitô goma in front of the Zaôdô in April 2005, and the celebrations to mark the twentieth anniversary of the revivification of Nikkô Shugendô in 2006. Kinpusenji had contacted all the main Shugendô groups in Japan to perform their own versions of saitô goma to celebrate the awarding of World Heritage status to the region in July 2004. That Nikkô was included was taken as recognition of the validity of its restored Shugendô tradition. As Katsurajima Shunpô stated, "Nikkô Shugendô has succeeded in relaying to the whole country that it has been restored." Iyano devised a totally new version of the traditional saitô goma normally performed at Nikkô, which is close to the standard Honzan-and Tôzan-ha forms, combining these with the miniaturized form created around the seventeenth century in Nikkô, the kenmitsu goma.

The instigators are also unanimous that restoring "original" Shugendô means above all else restoring ritual practices, especially mountain-entry practices. The training of members through ritual has thus been at the core of Shugendô's revival in both places. We will now examine the motivations of practitioners and supporters of the two groups, before looking at the nature of the revival of practice in greater detail.

Patterns of Revival: Practitioners and Supporters

Nikkō Shugendō

Nikkô Shugendô, based at Sannôin, has about fifty active members; most are male, most live in Tôkyô or the Kantô region, and all are required to take full ordination and do post-ordination training, according either to the Tendai (Hôman-ryù) or Shingon (Ein-ryu) modes. They are close-knit but not exclusivistic, their strong group identity being fostered by a variety of activities that means they meet together at least once a month. They all are aware that they are the central constituents in the revivified Shugendô, they know each other very well, and they are committed to the continuity of their practice. Above all, they share a deep admiration of Iyano.

The Internet is an important means of communication and a number of new members have come to Nikkô Shugendô through the Sannôin website.30 The structure of ritual and training reflects the fact that all hold down full-time, secular jobs. For example, post-ordination training is structured so that it may be done in the home, when and how it suits the practitioner. Katsurajima Shunpô says that the very fact it took him ten years to complete the 110 day Ein form of the practice means he has absorbed it in a way impossible for someone who has done it by more traditional means.

An obvious feature of Nikkô Shugendô is that there are very few women in the group. Before 1872, women were forbidden to climb most sacred mountains in Japan and could not join the exclusively male Shugendô groups. It was only after World War II, when Shugendô was again legally permitted to exist independently, that some groups began to permit direct female participation. Today women make up between 30 and 50 percent of the "ordained" members (kyôshi tfclqf) of the three chief temples associated with Ôminesan Shugendô, and at Mount Haguro between 15 and 20 percent of participants in the annual Autumn Peak (Aki no mine) are women, as are three of the fifteen deshi. At Nikkô there are only two women who are fully-fledged members, one of whom is Iyano's wife. Neither has as yet acted as ritual sendatsu in saitô goma rites, though this may soon change as they gain the required qualifications. Women may feel somewhat isolated in view of the strong group consciousness among the men and the fact that they have separate lodgings at Sannôin. There is also a residual feeling, especially among the older male members, that mountains are not really places for women. There is no animosity towards women joining group activities, but there does not seem to be active encouragement either. Women who persist here must be very strongly motivated.

Koshikidake Shugendō

Koshikidake Shôkai has around twenty deshi. They vary in occupation, and include an industrial designer, civil servant, company manager, estate agent, soba cook, taxi driver, transport manager, civil engineer, high school teacher, and masseur. The proportion of men to women is about 3:2. They come from all over Japan, including Tokyo, Kobe, Nara, Nagoya, Shizuoka IPISJ, Kyushu and Yamagata, and all have different reasons for joining, mostly unrelated to any idea of Shugendô. In general they want the support of a belief system and the protection of the kami and buddhas. Most are attracted by the idea of being able, as lay people, to learn and perform rituals and come into a direct relationship with the deities (kaji kitô). For example, a Tochigi construction manager wanted to be able to venerate his ancestors himself, a Sapporo ILK nurse wanted to learn ancestral veneration rites so she could memorialize those of her patients who had died, and a female office worker from Nagoya, after receiving instruction in the Daikoku ritual, decided to become a deshi in order to attain the spiritual authority to pray for women in particular. On the other hand, a karate teacher from Yamagata joined in order to gain mental and physical strength through ascetic practice.

Koshikidake's website has also been an important method of information and recruitment. It was through it that a former yakuza from Kyushu who is now a company manager discovered he would be able to do the traditional post-ordination training that had been denied to him elsewhere. He had been drawn to Buddhism while in prison and on his release determined to go straight. Deciding that in order to do this he needed the intervention of the kami and buddhas, he took ordina¬ tion at a local temple affiliated with Mount Kôya, but he was refused permission to do post-ordination training at the head temple because of his tattoos and other reminders of his past. Both the above-mentioned Nagoya office worker and the Sapporo nurse also found out about the group through the website. Others have done so by meeting Koshikidake at lecture meetings or through personal recommendations. An example of the former is a company manager who was troubled by the personal relations involved in his job, and the latter the mother and son of the Tochigi construction manager mentioned above.

In addition to deshi there are around seventy families (130 people) who are devotees. These are mainly local people, from Yamagata and neighbouring Miyagi, who have come to know of Koshikidake through word of mouth. Most ask for rituals to alleviate illness and for business prosperity. This, as is to be expected, is a pattern reminiscent of the pre-Meiji functions of a village yamabushi, and of temples providing rituals for worldly benefits (kitôji).

Motivations and prior awareness of Shugendō

A common thread is that most active members of the two groups did not necessarily have a prior interest in Shugendô. For example, Ishijima Kôken, an early follower of Nakagawa Kôki, was stimulated more by his personal relationship with Nakagawa and his faith in Shôdô Shônin than by any direct concern for Shugendô. Similarly, participants in the restored Flower Offering Peak did not have a strong understanding of Shugendô, which at that time (1960) was neither widely known nor studied; rather they regarded the practice as purification through nature. Similarly, contemporary members of Nakagawa's devotees' group do not directly identify with Shugendô but take part in practices such as the Daisendo because it "feels good." Indeed they do not necessarily identify with Buddhism or any other religious tradition.

Members of Nikkô Shugendô, however, are today very much aware of Shugendô as an entity and of their identity as shugenja. This identification has given the group cohesion and its membership is consequently very stable, whereas only two of the original twenty members of Nakagawa's Daisendo devotees have remained three years later. Finding the practice difficult, they fell away, not being sustained by the broader identity that Shugendô perhaps provides. The division among Koshikidake's followers between active participants and passive clients is perhaps more typical of traditional Shugendô. An examination of the role of yamabushi within village devotees' groups in premodern times serves to confirm this. An informal comparison with other modern Shugendô groups suggests strongly that the frequency of events and the strength of the ecclesiastical organization are key factors in whether a practitioner identifies him/herself as a shugenja or not.

Katsurajima Shunpô, who took ordination under Inoue Zuigen of Zuihôji in 1980, is curiously atypical in that he started off with a broad interest in Buddhism and its esoteric form in particular. He was drawn specifically to Shugendô because of a prior interest in mountains, through being a member of his university's mountaineering club. As a student he had had a "mystical" experience while climbing, and this led him towards Buddhist practice. Shugendô was attractive particularly because it allowed him to experience everything directly, in a way other forms of Buddhism could not. Regarding Nikkô Shugendô in particular, he has a strong attachment to Iyano as a spiritual master, but he also likes the fact that Shugendô values the individual, neither prescribing behaviour nor limiting people from going where they want and learning what they like.

The Revival of Ritual Practices

It is clear from what we have seen already that the restoration of ritual practices has been central to the revival of both Nikkô and Koshikidake Shugendô. But when we discuss ritual practices, how do we distinguish what is Shugendô-specific from what is broad-spectrum mikkyô ,let alone from Shintô-style ritual elements and Onmyôdô-influenced practices? Indeed, is it possible to do so?

Ritual practices have had a twofold function in both of the Shugendô groups under discussion. The first function we may term "identification" and the second "cohesion." The instigators have made the restoration of ritual, and of mountain-entry practices in particular, the core that gives their particular tradition validity. This has been easier in the case of Nikkô than Koshikidake, since more evidence, both documentary and topographical, remains there. Though Koshikidake retains an impressive archive, as we have seen, the material is related to the usages and needs of a village shugenja rather than an ascetic practitioner, and so Koshikidake Shôkai, unable to use either existing routes or old tebumi , has himself constructed the routes and rites of his now-annual mountain-entry ritual, based on his own Shugendô experience. But it is telling that both groups have associated Shugendô inextricably with some form of group ascent of a mountain combined with ritual performance there. As Nakagawa has stated, restoring Shugendô is above all restoring the old mountain routes (and by extension, practices). But equally important for the future of the revived Shugendô is that participants, by performing such practices as shugenja, gain a sense of cohesion. The restoration of ritual practice, and the ascetic training of members through it, has been at the core of Shugendô's revival.

The way the ritual practices, particularly those associated with mountain-entry, have been revived aptly demonstrates the contrast between premodern and modern shugenja. While both are described as "neither fully clerical nor fully lay" (hanzô hanzoku) the nature of their identity is bound up in the social mores of the different times. Edo period shugenja were, on the whole, ordained priests who happened to have families. They were professionally bound to their position as shugenja, and most supervised village temples or small shrines and halls. They advanced in rank according to the number of mountain-entry practices they did. This is the pattern associated with the priests of Kannonji at Koshikidake. The Nikkô situation was somewhat different, in that the shugenja affiliated with Rinnôji could perhaps best be described as salaried workers, with specific duties and responsibilities to the temple. Thus the long and time-consuming practice circuits, for example, were part of their workload.

Modern Shugendô cannot support "professional" shugenja, and full-time ordained priests in Shugendô temples such as Kinpusenji are greatly in the minority. It is important therefore that Shugendô takes into account the fact that the majority of its practitioners work for a living. Thus the ritual calendar of Nikkô is organized so that most events take place on weekends, and mountain-entry rituals do not last more than two or three days. The situation is idealized by Koshikidake Shôkai through the figure of En no Gyôja, whom he sees as being both a part of the secular world and the sacred realm. Consequently he will not take students who do not hold down full-time secular jobs (he does not accept priests and those making money from religious activities), since he believes that a person must experience life in all its pollution because he cannot save others from suffering without knowing suffering himself. Here Koshikidake seems to be combining the bodhisattva ideal with traditional attitudes about purification; and this is a motif found throughout Shugendô as a whole, in the past as well as the present.

Mountain-entry practices

At Nikkei, most of the pre-Meiji mountain-entry practices have been revived, though all in massively condensed form and with a considerable alteration of ritual structure and content. The ascent of Mount Nantai, the earliest form of ritual practice associated with Nikkô, continues to be performed formally in summer, not only by Nikkô Shugendô, but also by many devotees' groups, most of which are associated with Futarasan Shrine. The circuit of Lake Chùzenji too is well-supported.

The Flower Offering Peak has been revived in a double condensed form, as the Spring Peak in early June and the Autumn Peak in mid-September. In the Edo period it lasted fifty days (3.2 to 4.22), during which time shugenja traversed the mountains south of Lake Chùzenji and spent extended periods in a number of shuku îëf there performing set rituals.38 Nine days of preliminary rites (zengyô) held at one of the Nikkô subtemples included veneration of deities associated with the practice, confessions (zange/ sange) by participants, purifications, twice nightly sûtra recitations (gongyô) and circuits of the Nikkô shrine-temple complex. Shugenja entered the mountains from Kobugahara; they went there on 3.13 (the thirteenth day of the third month) via Hoshi no miya (Okorogawa), prior to moving to Jinzen no shuku (for ten days) and then Kakeai no shuku, where a saitô goma was held (3.25), Furuya no shuku (six days), and then on to Utagahama no shuku on Lake Chùzenji (twenty days), before returning to Nikkô. There were strict procedures governing entry to and exit from the shuku , and daily activities included siitra recitations and collecting firewood (kogi tori) as well as tokosôji (which was not simple cleaning for it also had a ritual element). Special series of rituals were additionally performed at specific shuku , such as practices that symbolized the realms of rebirth, hashiramoto goma, and consecration (kanjô) at Jinzen and the hashiramoto goma again at Furuya and Utagahama; however details of many have now been completely lost.

The modem Spring Peak of two days takes participants from Nikkô to Jinzen, incorporating veneration of Oiwake Jizô in Imaichi a circuit of Shihonryuji in Nikkô, a performance of kenmitsu goma at Hoshi no shuku above the Sacred Bridge in Nikkô, veneration at Hoshi no miya (now Okorogawa Shrine) and Hachioka IW (where pre-Meiji shugenja had their midday meal before arriving at Kobugahara), saitô goma at Jinzen no shuku, and an ascent of the peak known as Zanmai-ishi. The Autumn Peak, on the other hand, begins with a formal reenactment of the ten realms practice (jikkai-gyô) at Sannôin, and then shugenja enter the mountains, again from Kobugahara, and overnight traverse a series of peaks before descending to Lake Chuzenji and Futarasan Jinja. After performing a saitô goma at Chuzenji (Tachiki Kannon), they return to Nikkô, where the following day they make a circuit of the shrines and temples there. The practice concentrates on walking through the mountains, paying veneration at certain sacred sites, with the saitô goma (with fire walking) at Tachiki Kannon the ritual highlight.

The Sôzenjô, itself an Edo-period condensation (nine days) of the medieval Summer Peak, has also been revived, as we have seen, by Nakagawa Kôki, but it too has been condensed to three days and the route, though demanding, is considerably shortened (Futarasan Jinja [Nikkô], Nyobôsan, Komanagosan Ômanagosan Nantaisan, Chùgùshi [Lake Chuzenji]). It has so far only been held twice, in 2005 and 2008, under Nakagawa's auspices, because of the complicated support system it needs. A number of Sannôin-afiïliated shugenja have taken part both times. They also support Nakagawa's monthly Daisendo, formally restored in June 2004, one acting as sendatsu on a rotating basis, while Nakagawa himself guides his devotees and explains the divinities associated with each site.

Koshikidake Shôkai held his group's first mountain-entry practice (buchù shugyô) on Mount Koshikidake in 2006. His main purpose in doing so was to demonstrate the "undefiled Shugendô world view" to his deshi, but he has expressly stated that it had a social element too, education about environmental protection. The three-day practice incorporates two motifs: ten realms practice and purification, and it clearly represents Koshikidake Shôkai's commitment to the shinbutsu shûgô ideal. The mountain and the everyday world are ritually separated, the former being associated with the abode of the kami and buddhas as well as the realm of the dead. Participants must be purified to enter the sacred realm but they must also be ritually dead. Thus initial rituals include a short service at the Yama no Kami Shrine to seek the kami' s permission to enter the mountain, the sekka rite where the sendatsu purifies participants with sacred fire to prevent the world's pollution being taken into the mountain, and a formal procession that is described as a funeral. Throughout the practice, ritual actions symbolize the six realms of rebirth. For example, the ban on the use of speech which pertains during the initial ascent of the mountain is associated with the animal realm, fasting with the hungry spirits, and confession and repentance with the human realm. Both fire and water play central symbolic roles, as they do in other Shugendô traditions. For example, participants perform ritual ablutions in a sacred spring on the mountain to gain release from rebirth in the six realms, and drink sacred water to seal their determination to complete the practice.

Koshikidake Shôkai has adopted part of the Haguro rite of chigaigaki to mark the symbolic transition between the lower and higher realms of enlightenment; lit torches are twirled around and then touched together, "lighting the darkness of ignorance and showing the way towards the heavenly realm." The incense (senkô ) goma ritual is performed to burn away the karmic burdens of participants, and they jump over a small fire to show they have escaped rebirth in the lower realms. On the final day participants climb to the summit of Koshikidake, symbolizing their attainment of buddhahood, and follow this by a performance of saitô goma (in the Honzan-ha style), whose fire is said to represent the participant's own cremation pyre (a Haguro interpretation) as well as an offering of oneself to the kami and buddhas dwelling in the mountain. Koshikidake Shôkai insists that the practice, though intended to purify the spirit, is not a withdrawal from the everyday world; rather through the ten realms practice, participants will experience fully the joys and pains of the world, not simply passing through the hells, for instance, but fully experiencing their torment.

Other rites and activities

Besides mountain-entry rituals, Nikkô Shugendô performs a wide variety of other rites and ceremonies, principally at Sannôin, both general Tendai and Buddhist rituals, such as the new year Shushôe, the Kanbutsue, the Jôdôe, and the Nehan'e, celebrating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death respectively, and the Segaki for the repose of souls.

None of these can be called Shugendô per se, but Shugendô ritual in shrine-temple complexes has always involved a strong underlay of standard Buddhist practices. A second type of ritual are associated with goma both indoor and outdoor. For example, the hoshi matsuri (star festival) follows the rare Sonjôôbô format, which Iyano introduced simply because of its rarity value, not because it has any intrinsic connection with Nikkô Shugendô. The hashiramoto goma is a rarely performed Honzan-ha ritual introduced for similar reasons. The traditional saitô goma (performed on the occasion of the annual festival in May and during the Autumn Peak) are done according to standard Honzan-ha format, while the goma performed for Arasawa Fudô at Urami ga taki by Nakagawa is an outdoor version of the standard indoor goma , while the kenmitsu goma is a unique Nikkô modification that was developed in the seventeenth century. Iyano also devised a hybrid kenmitsu and standard saitô goma which was performed for the first time at Kinpusenji in April 2005.

Nikkô Shugendô also puts sustained and organized effort into teaching its members to become aware of Shugendô as an entity and of their identity as shugenja. The most obvious way this is done is through monthly lecture meetings, which had in 2006 for example, the Shugendô classic Shugen sanjùsan tsùki (Shugendô shôso) as their theme. Members also meet monthly to practice blowing the conch shell (horagai) and they are encouraged to attend the other rites and rituals held at Sannôin and to take part in periodic work groups.

Koshikidake Shugendô on the other hand has, in the mould of the traditional village shugenja , centred on teaching ritual to students and providing healing and counselling services to clients and devotees. Individual training thus takes precedence over group practices. To be accepted for ordination, potential deshi have first to perform one hundred sessions of the incense goma ritual (senkôgoma kitôhô), and post ordination they learn further rituals in predetermined stages. These are all indoor rituals reconstructed from family documents. The incense goma is completely different from the goma rituals performed in mikkyô temples; it consists of burning incense in a large bowl to the chanting of verses and sutras, and then performing divination according to how the incense has burned. The remaining ash and salt are later used to purify the homes of devotees. Incense goma can be performed at any time and anywhere, since it does not need elaborate equipment. Thus it was used widely in the past by shugenja as a ritual that could be performed for, and in the homes of, lay people.

Post ordination training does not consist of the shido kegyô as in Tendai and Shingon, but in learning a hierarchy of rituals: the Gyôja daibosatsu hô, centred on En no Gyôja; the gosonbô; rituals to five deities, Fudô, Jûichimen Kannon, Daikoku, Yakushi and Bishamonten; single offering (kataku) goma; Juhachidô (Hôman-ryù), with the use of saimon; the Genpi shitsugen kitôhô rituals centred on Shôgun Jizô, Izunaten and Dakiniten; Shintô goma (according to the Yoshida house); Hashiramoto Shimpo and others.

Koshikidake Shôkai says explicitly that most of his students know nothing of Shugendô at first. Since his practice and teaching, unlike that of Nikkô Shugendô, is not particularly redolent of Shugendô as it is popularly portrayed, it was important that he provides an opportunity for students to perform rituals in mountains. The annual mountain-entry practice was devised to teach them a Shugendô world view and to bring them to a realization that belief and nature merge. He readily admits there is a social element here, teaching the deeper meaning of environmental protection. In this Koshikidake demonstrates a major shift in the modern understanding of Shugendô. Whereas in the past the mountain was the realm of the dead, a place where spiritual power was gained through contact with the deities, today mountain beliefs are equated very much with nature and the environment. Now the mountain is a place where people can go to experience "nature." It is not an accident that Shugendô claims contemporary relevance (as does Shinto) as an environmentally responsible organization. Iyano too uses this reasoning to justify Shugendô as having the potential to be a spiritual teaching that can reach out to the world: it is "a universal religion that possesses the essence to deal with environmental problems and conflicts on a global scale."


The restoration of Shugendô at both Nikkô and Koshikidake pinpoints many of the losses and compromises forced by the break in tradition represented by shinbutsu bunri. It also highlights those points by which modern Shugendô may be defined: group consciousness, commitment to practice, study of the Shugendô past, and an emphasis on mountain-entry rituals. Both groups emphasize the restoration of pre-Meiji combinatory rituals, the reinvigoration of shinbutsu shûgô as the core of Japanese religious life, and the recovery, before they are lost forever, of Shugendô practices such as ways of blowing the horagai and patterns of cutting gohei. At the centre of their practices is the conviction that there is too great a gap between belief and everyday life. Because Shugendô allows people to gain a high degree of spiritual attainment within the lay life, and to pass on their attainments for the benefit of the community through performing rituals, it seems very well suited to contemporary needs.

This paper has taken two forms of Shugendô which in their traditional sense could be called a single-mountain institution and a village shugen temple respectively. In both cases the restoration of ritual has been central, with mountain-entry practices more dominant at Nikkô and deity rituals more common at Koshikidake. This certainly reflects the traditional division. What is particularly interesting is that it has been the ritual forms central to each tradition that have been restored. Secondly, though doctrine is not emphasized overmuch, the underlying reasoning behind the ritual restoration has been the conviction that shinbutsu shûgô is the paradigm upon which Shugendô must be revived. Shugendô itself does not seem to be the prime factor attracting participants, at least initially. It depends on the attitude of the groups' leaders how much Shugendô is emphasized and how members are brought to identify themselves as shugenja. What places Shugendô apart from other Japanese religious traditions, as far as the informants are concerned, is the fact that it provides a religious role for lay people within a recognized organization, distinguishing shugenja from gyôja at large. The ritual content, centred on mountain-entry practices, serves to confirm this identity. In other words, what people do, and the context within which they do it, foster their consciousness as shugenja.