Suzuki Masataka

Toward the Reconstruction of the Study of Mountain Worship and Shugendō in Japan


I will comprehensively address some issues about the state of the field and the main topics in Shugendō and mountain worship studies. First, in Japan the “multidimensional relationship between kami and buddhas” led to a peculiar development of Buddhism, which was based on complex reciprocal interactions and transformations between kami and buddhas. Such entanglements and conflicts favored the formation of ideas and practices related to mountain asceticism, mountain-Buddhism, Tendai original-enlightenment theories, combinatory paradigms between buddhas and kami, and Shugendō. The nature of the relationship between kami and buddhas has been hitherto analyzed according to the concept of “union between kami and buddhas,” but I wish to rethink the appropriateness of this paradigm and, at the same time, rise new questions about the state of modern scholarship. Second, I focus on a “rethinking of the separation of kami from buddhas.” The year 2018 marks the hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the Meiji restoration, in honor of which various commemorative ceremonies are scheduled. 2018 also corresponds to the hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the separation between kami and buddhas. During these hundred-fifty years dramatic changes took place such as the abolition of Shugendō, the cancellation of the areas forbidden to women, the disappearance, revival, reconstruction, and recreation of Shugendō, as well as the rebirth and decline of religious confraternities devoted to the veneration of sacred mountains. I will emphasize the necessity to reinterpret this historical period as the beginning of “modern Shugendō.” Third, I will analyze “ideas and contemporary aspects associated with mountain-opening discourses.” In the mountains of every region of Japan legends about the ritual opening of mountains have been transmitted as foundation stories or oral legends. In the narratives about the open-mountain a monk or an ascetic climb on a mountain, which has never been visited by human beings, to perform rituals and prayers. Even if there are doubts about the historical factuality of such legends, they functioned as discourses to infuse legitimacy to the sacred territory of the mountain. In Japan since 2000 there are commemorative ceremonies and rituals in the mountains of each region for commemorate the thousand-three-hundred years or the thousand-two-hundred-fifty years of the mountain-opening or temple foundation. Beginning from mountain-opening legends, which look at the Nara period as the “origin” of mountain veneration practices, I will explain the modalities through which Buddhism was received in Japan, the integration between Buddhism and mountain worship during the formation of the state, the mountains as trait d’union between locality and extra-locality, the persistence of mountains as sacred territories, and the orthodoxy and legitimacy of such sacred sites. Fourth, I will point out the necessity to overcome the “ambiguity in the definition of Shugendō.” Starting from the differences between terms such as shugen and Shugendō, yamabushi (山伏, 山臥), and gaken (臥験), I will bring up a classification of Shugendō according to different historical periods. Fifth, I will consider “post-modern Shugendō.” With the advent of modernity, mountain worship and Shugendō faced rapid transformations. The development of the transportation systems and high-speed information distribution changed mountain worship into a type of hiking activity. The current frequent redefinition of sacred mountains as cultural-natural heritages or places of great historical interest is also remarkable. This trend is symbolized by the fact that in 2016, a “mountain-day” was officially introduced as a national holiday. I will provide an outlook about the future of mountain worship and Shugendō, which are in the middle of fast metamorphosis into “heritages” and “objectification” processes.