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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Rituals in Daily Life
Yamabiraki
"Opening of the mountain," this term refers to the event with which a mountain is first opened for that year's mountain-climbers. The event at the end of the season is called yamajimai ("closing of the mountain"). Since ancient times mountains have been regarded as sacred, being the places to which the spirits of the dead went, as well as places to which deities descended or had their dwellings. Furthermore, for the farmers living in the flatlands the mountains were also the dwelling place of Mikumari no kami, the tutelary deity who brings water. Entering the mountains was taboo, however, except for those who had made the mountains their living place, such as the hunters and those cultivating the land with the slash-and-burn method. Later, due to the promotion of ascetic practice by the mountain ascetics (shugenja, see shugendō) who used the mountains as places for their belief and practice, it also became possible for the people living in the flatlands to enter the mountains to worship at specifically permitted time periods. Shrines that have mountains as objects of worship hold festivals for opening the mountain called yamabirakisai or kaizansai; often at the beginning of autumn a ceremony for closing the mountain (heizanshiki, yamaosameshiki) is performed. The dates for these events are not uniform due to regional variations. For example, at Fujisan Hongū Sengen Jinja Shrine and Fuji Omuro Asama Jinja Shrine the festival for opening the mountain is held on July 7 and the one for closing the mountain is held on August 31. At Ontake in Kiso the yamabiraki is performed on July 10 and the closing of the mountain happens on September 15, but often in between these dates the eighth day of the fourth month (April 8) is also chosen as a day for entering the mountains for worship. This is an important time in which actual farming should begin, and festivals to invite ancestral spirits (sorei) and the tutelary deity of the rice paddy (ta no kami) are held. One can therefore think that mountain belief has been superimposed on elements of popular folk belief. Today yamabiraki is seen as the beginning of the mountain climbing season in a sporting sense, and following this example kawabiraki ("opening of a river") and umibiraki ("opening of the sea") are also now held.

— Iwai Hiroshi
Footage of the yamabiraki ceremony at Ōyama Afuri Jinja.

Kanagawa Prefecture, 2007

©Ōsawa Kōji

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