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Home » 6. Belief and Practice » Mountain Beliefs and Practices
Dewasanzan Shinkō
Beliefs and practices associated with three mountains of Dewa (in present-day Yamagata Prefecture): Haguro (419 m.), Gassan (1980 m.) and Yudono (1504 m.). This grouping became fixed sometime between the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; before that, Yudono was considered the inner temple (okunoin) for the three mountains, which then included Hayama. The change in designation was related to the vastly increased importance during the sixteenth century of the Rokujūrigoe highway, running past Yudono to the south, and to the success of local shugenja (see Shugendō) affiliated with Yudono at asserting their superiority over the shugenja of Hayama. According to Haguro Shugendō, the original Buddhist divinity (honji) of Haguro was Kanzeon (Avalokiteshvara) and its manifest kami (suijaku) was Tamayorihime (now Uganomitama), while those of Gassan were Amida (Amitābha) and Tsukuyomi and those of Yudono, Dainichi (Mahāvairocana) and Ōyamatsumi. During the ritual period known as natsu no mine (Summer Peak) when shugenja traveled between the various sacred sites in the three mountains, they prayed for peace and tranquility in the present at Haguro, attained assurance of buddhahood in the future at Gassan, and reached the Mitsugon Pure Land, the paradise of Dainichi, at Yudono, traversing the barriers of the everyday and the sacred realms, experiencing the unity of the everyday and the sacred, and achieving the enlightenment of buddhahood in this very body. This was described as "crossing the three barriers." Gassan has a long history, appearing in the Engishiki (905-27), together with Ōmonoimi Jinja on nearby Chōkaisan, as meijin taisha. Haguro too has been identified by some as the Ideha Jinja of Tagawa district mentioned in the Engishiki. A large number of small ceremonial bronze mirrors have been excavated from the pond (Mitarashi-ike or Kagami-ike) in front of the Main Shrine on the summit of Haguro, most of which date from the Heian and Kamakura periods. This suggests that Haguro became a powerful shrine-temple complex in the early medieval period, and Haguro Shugendō a great force based there. By around the fifteenth century records began to appear which claimed that the founder of the religious organization associated with the three mountains was an imperial prince, a son of Emperor Sushun called variously Mifuri (or Sanfuri) Odoto (literally, "body-shaking," perhaps a reference to shamanic possession) and Nōjo Taishi. Yudono however, asserting its independence from Haguro, maintained a separate tradition, that it had been founded by Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi). With the development of the route south of Yudono in around the fifteenth century, there was a great increase in the activities of ascetics (gyōnin) in the area, and an associated rise in its popularity as a pilgrimage destination. During medieval times, Haguro was a composite shrine-temple complex made up of temples belonging to a variety of traditions, including Tendai, Shingon and Jōdo, which held the rights to perform rituals on Gassan. Ritual rights for Yudono on the other hand were held jointly by four supervisory (bettō) temples in its immediate area. In 1641 however Haguro became a branch temple of Tōeizan (Kan'eiji) in Edo and as a result became affiliated with Tendai. Conflict ensued with the Yudono temples, which maintained their Shingon affiliations, as Haguro tried to bring Yudono under its direct control. Here there appeared a number of gyōnin who, following the example of Kūkai, who was considered to have entered eternal samadhi at a time of famine in order to relieve the suffering of the people, undertook a special diet excluding grain and had themselves buried underground when approaching death in order to preserve their physical bodies. Their mummified remains are even today revered as sokushinbutsu (buddhas in this very body). During the Edo period Haguro consisted of 32 fully-ordained shugen priests, under whose control were around 360 married shugen priests, as well as ascetics (gyōnin), shrine priests and miko. In addition there were a large number of local Haguro-affiliated shugen priests scattered among parishes (dannaba, called kasumi) in northern and eastern Japan competing with Honzanha shugen. During the Edo period, local mountain-pilgrimage confraternities (kō), called variously Sanzankō or Oshūmairi, formed throughout the Tōhoku and Kantō regions; in summer representatives would visit Dewa Sanzan under the guidance of shugen known as oshi, who ran pilgrims' lodgings in Tōge, at the foot of Haguro. In Tōhoku the pilgrimage was closely associated with male coming-of-age rites while in Kantō it was more an activity of the old. Mounds known as Sanzanzuka and commemorative stele were erected throughout the region, and in places like Chiba and Ibaraki distinctive rituals developed around the pilgrimage, such as bonden kuyō and tendō nenbutsu. Yudono was particularly revered and the Dewa Sanzan steles widely found throughout northern Japan generally center on the images and Sanskrit "seed characters" (shuji) associated with the Yudono deity. This is evident too in the large increase in pilgrims in the year of the ox in the sixty-year cycle, Yudono's auspicious year. Following the separation of buddha and kami worship (shinbutsu bunri) in the early years of the Meiji period, many shugen priests became Shinto priests and shrines sprang up throughout the area, supervised by the chief priest (guji) of Gassan Jinja (based though at Haguro). After the Second World War, Dewa Sanzan Jinja, on Haguro, formally took over this control. Five of the former subtemples on Haguro remained Buddhist temples after 1870, and mountain-entry rituals (haru no mine, the Spring Peak; natsu no mine, the Summer Peak; aki no mine, the Autumn Peak) were continued under the authority of one of them, Kōtakuji. After the war, Hagurosan Shugen Honshū was set up as an independent sect. The shrine also runs strongly Shinto-influenced mountain-entry rituals (natsu no mine, the Summer Peak; aki no mine, the Autumn Peak; fuyu no mine, the Winter Peak). The Winter Peak is known as Shōreisai. Two of the four Yudono temples, Dainichibō and Chūrenji, remain as Shingon temples.

— Suzuki Masataka
Dewa sanzan as seen from Tsuruoka City

Yamagata Prefecture, 2005

©Ōsawa Kōji

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