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Home » 6. Belief and Practice » Mountain Beliefs and Practices
Ishizuchi Shinkō
Beliefs and practices related to Mt Ishizuchi (1982 m.) in Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku. Nihon ryōiki (ca 823) by Keikai, speaks of a practitioner called Jakusen who trained there, while Montoku jitsuroku (879) tells how Jōsen (), a follower of the priest Shakusen, practiced there and had spirits and demons under his command. Other ascetics whose names are connected with the mountain include Sekisen, Jōsen () and Busen. The influence of the Ōmine cult centering on Yoshino and Kumano is very strong. In Ryōjin hishō (ca 1169), Ishizuchi is described as an abode of hijiri (holy men, magico-religious practitioners) of equal importance to Ōmine and Katsuragi. Kumano Gongen gosuijaku engi (in Chōkan kanmon, 1163) says that Kumano Gongen, having crossed from Mt Tiantai in China, took up its abode at Kumano after having stopped off at Hiko, Ishizuchi and Awaji. The Yoshino and Kumano divinities Zao Gongen, Kumano Gongen and the thirty-six Ōji are venerated at Ishizuchi. Ishizuchi's founding legend, which appears in Shinzen kanjō keifu, says that En no Gyōja and his follower Hōgen opened the mountain and consecrated (kanjō) Kumano Gongen there. During the Edo period the bettō (supervisory) temple Maegamiji in Saijō had control of the shrine-temple complex, and, with the patronage of the local domain, encouraged through local sendatsu the formation of Ishizuchi confraternities () whose purpose was pilgrimage to the mountain. Such pilgrimage later became established as custom. Another temple, Yokomineji in Komatsuchō, also supported the institutional growth of the Ishizuchi cult with the patronage of the Komatsu domain. The confraternities grew rapidly from the middle of the Edo period, expanding first in the provinces of Iyo (present-day Ehime Prefecture) and Bingo (in present-day Hiroshima Prefecture), and then extending to Tosa (present-day Kōchi Prefecture), Uwa (in present-day Ehime Prefecture) and Bizen (in present-day Okayama Prefecture). Today the cult remains active over a wide area in Shikoku, Kyushu and Chūgoku. Konkō Daijin (Akazawa Bunji), the founder of Konkōkyō, was also influenced by it. As a result of the policy of separation of buddha and kami worship (shinbutsu bunri) in the early Meiji period, Ishizuchi Shrine came into existence and took over the cult, resulting in changes in traditional forms of worship. After World War II, Ishizuchi Shrine established a legal religious body called Ishizuchi Honkyō, a Shugendō-type organization incorporating mountain pilgrimage confraternities which had existed from before the Meiji era. It venerates as its object of worship (saijin) Ishizuchi hiko no mikoto (Ishizuchi Daijin) and its activities center on beliefs surrounding the experience of climbing sacred mountains. A number of Shugendō-type organizations have also formed centered on temples such as Maegamiji (head temple, Shingonshū Ishizuchiha), Yokomineji (Shingonshū Omuroha) and Gokurakuji (head temple, Ishizuchisan Shingonshū). Until very recently the confraternities maintained traditions of pilgrimage to the mountain under the guidance of a sendatsu, rigorous purification exercises (kessai), the exclusion of women (nyonin kinsei) and the practice known as sakamukae (the welcome of practitioners by villagers as they emerge from the mountain). Believers follow the Kurokawa, Imamiya, or other paths past the sites of the gyōjadō (ascetics' hall) and nyonin-gaeshi (former limit of female access) up the mountainside to Jōju. In the Edo period this was the site of the Jōjusha, the middle shrine of Ishizuchi Shrine, and Oku-Maegamiji, the inner temple of Maegamiji, as well as a large number of pilgrims' lodgings. The area from here to the summit, Misen, is sacred; important sites in this area include Zenshagamori, Tsurugiyama, Tenchūseki and Iwaya no Yakushi. Further beyond these places is the most important ritual site, the chain ascent in three places, called Kusari Zenjō, which practitioners scale to reach the summit. From the shrine there, Okunimoya Chōjōsha, the route goes through Raigōdani, the uragyōba (rear practice site), to the highest peak, Tengudake, associated with a tengu (mountain goblin) called Hōkibō. Kamegamori, rising to the east of Mt. Ishizuchi, has also long been a sacred site. Today the nearby temple Gokurakuji houses the image that had belonged to the former Tengaji, bettō temple of Ishizuchi Gongen up to the Meiji period. The major festival of Ishizuchi Shrine lasts for ten days from July 1 and marks the opening of the summer climbing season. Large numbers of white-clad pilgrims, called dōsha, belonging to confraternities from Shikoku and Chūgoku, climb the mountain under the guidance of sendatsu. Even now the first day is marked by the exclusion of women (nyonin kinsei). At the time of the summer festival, three small statues of the kami (goshinzō) are taken up to the summit, and then down again. Pilgrims who accompany them pray for health and protection by having the statues rubbed on their bodies. Another traditional practice that is maintained is the distribution of unique sendatsu talismans (efu), which act as certification for pilgrim guides.

— Suzuki Masataka
Mt.Ishizuchi as seen from Jōjusha

Ehime Prefecture, 1996

©Fujii Hiroaki

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