Janine Sawada

Mt. Fuji Religious Culture in Transition


A wandering ascetic known as Kakugyō Tōbutsu (1539-1646?) and a small group of his followers are considered the founding members of Fujikō, an expansive network of Mt. Fuji pilgrimage associations that spread in late Tokugawa Japan. This early community, whose members regularly carried out austerities on the mountain during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, has been characterized both as having little substantial connection to Shugendō and also as having been an offshoot of it. In an effort to assess the relative value of these perspectives, in my paper I seek to ground the early development of the lay Fuji movement in relation to the pilgrimage system already in place at Mt. Fuji. The paper begins by summarizing the workings of the late medieval shrine-temple establishment, with special attention to its Shugendō component in the south. I then move on to examine changing images of the mountain in popular literary and visual culture during the late Muromachi–early Edo transition. The conception of Fujisan as a site of religious practice was inspired by mountain ascetic paradigms and embellished in medieval narratives, but as the lay Fujikō network took hold in the Edo period ordinary people’s understanding of mountain devotionalism evolved significantly. Under Sengen Shrine and Shugendō auspices the mountain had been represented as the site of an inspiring religious journey, but in the emerging Fuji religion it served more as an object of iconic gaze and ritual power.