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 seen 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 transforms the kleshas 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 practices 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. 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 sceptical. 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 myself through demanding and inconvenient situations I began to realise how much I was conditioned towards comfort and convenience in my daily life. 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.

ubasoku | what is shugen?