Gaynor Sekimori

Otake Dainichi Nyorai and Haguro Shugendō: Unearthing a Lost History 


In 1849, a degaichō at Ekōin in Edo drew enormous crowds. The object of the display was a statue of Otake Dainichi Nyorai, which had been brought from Hagurosan in the province of Dewa. The event spawned a vast output of woodblock prints, as well as popular literature and even a kabuki play. This deity was no traditional divinity however, but a simple servant woman noted for her piety, frugality and generosity, who is said to have died in 1638 and been buried at a small subtemple of Zōjōji called Shinkōin. How this essentially Edo figure became connected with Haguro Shugendō is the theme of this paper. A hall venerating Otake Dainichi existed in Tōge at the foot of Hagurosan by the late seventeenth century, under the management Genryōbō, a high ranking yamabushi family surnamed Haga. Unlike other families of similar status, Genryōbō did not have a strong power base deriving from the possession of parishes in the northern provinces. It may be suggested that its wealth derived from the profits made from four Edo degaichō organized between 1740 and 1849. The family’s involvement stems from a move into Kantō in the mid-seventeenth century by Haguro yamabushi eager to set up new parishes at a time when the hierarchical and affiliation structure of Dewa Sanzan was being restructured in response to Tokugawa religious policy. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Genryōbō fanned the flames of popularity by using etoki techniques in association with the degaichō to spread the narrative of Otake. At the same time the Otake discourse was creating its own independent narrative and in the course of the nineteenth century, secular art and literature transformed Otake from a servant-saint into a “beauty”. This paper uses a variety of sources to trace the evolution of the cult as it created a new reality that responded to the needs of urban Edo through the mediation of a Haguro yamabushi.