The Youngest Yamabushi in the Village:
An Interview with Onoseki Ryuuka (小野関隆香) who is in training to become the next Head-Priest of Daifuku-in temple (大福院) in Gunma prefecture, Japan.

Originally published in Japanese in 'Town Gunma's' [HUMAN] segment. Translation by Jisho.

I was born on the 14th of September, 1998 and live in Shinto village in Gunma prefecture. My first encounter with Shugendo came about after encountering a Yamabushi with a strong presence at the funeral of a relative when I was in high school. After graduating from high school I entered the priesthood at Shogo-in temple in Kyoto and completed two years of training and brought back licenses for methods such as Hashiramoto Goma, Saito Goma and Ground Breaking Ceremony. After returning home in 2019 I was taken under the wing of the chief priest of Daifuku-in temple, and assist with lecturing across various parts of Gunma prefecture.

I grew up in a salaryman/business family, but the funeral of one of my relatives in my first year of high school would go on to have a huge impact on my life path. Usually at funerals, the officiating monk is wearing black. The priest at this funeral service however was wearing a suzukake, the uniform of a Yamabushi. I was impressed by his character and his service made a lasting impression on me.

A Yamabushi is a practitioner of Shugendo, who cuts off the fetters through training in the wilderness and aims at the state of Buddhahood-in-this-very-Body. I was fascinated by the atmosphere and strength of this priest. My family had a relationship with Daifuku-in temple and when I requested information on how to begin training I decided to head to Shogo-in temple in Kyoto, the head temple of Honzan-shugen.

During the two years of rigorous training, what supported me was my strong determination. I would wake up early and tried my best during geza-gyo (下座行; humbling practice like cleaning) and mountain-ascetic training while learning the methods of the Shugendo. The training is harsh, and many people drop out. I was told by others that 'young girls won't make it!'. Repulsed by these voices, I clung to the training. In the fall of 2017 I completed the Omine Okugake ascetic practice (大峰奥駈修行). It wasn't until I managed to complete it that I noticed my toenails had come off. Gradually completing these practices, I began to be accepted by those who were skeptical. I chose not to quit, and had the support of my family who told me to come home if things didn't work out. Returning home I was taken in by Daifukuin temple, a temple without a heir. This is a temple with a history of nearly 900 years. 

By putting oneself in demanding and inconvenient situations one begins to realise how much we are conditioned towards comfort and convenience in our daily lives. My current motto is to "accept and try whatever comes my way" (何でもやってみよう)", to challenge the various conditioned-patterning in the same spirit as the chief-priests of Shogo-in and Daifuku-in.

I want to make Shugendo available to people of all ages and communicate something of the wonder of the practice. As for my future at Daifuku-in temple, I'd like to hold Dharma-talks and festivals, and bring back some of the bustle of the past. Going through the ancient Shugendo-related documents of the temple, I imagine what the Yamabushi of Gunma were like at the time. I can't read these old documents yet, but I'd like to devote myself to them and their revival.

Articles: An Interview with Onoseki Ryuuka

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