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Home » 6. Belief and Practice » Mountain Beliefs and Practices
Hikosan shinkō
Beliefs and practices associated with Mt Hiko, in the southern part of Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu. Hiko is made up of three peaks: Minamidake, Nakadake, and Kitadake, the highest of which is Minamidake at 1200 m. Formerly "Hiko" was written with the characters , meaning "child of the sun"; in the first half of the ninth century, during the reign of the Emperor Saga, it was changed to the single character ɧ, and then again to ɧ, its present designation, in 1729, at the order of the Retired Emperor Reigen. According to the Kamakura-period Hikosan ruki, the Gongen of the Three Places of Mt Hiko (Hikosan sansho gongen; see gongen shinkō) was composed of Mt Zokutai in the south (Shaka), Mt Hottai in the north (Amida) and Mt Nyotai in the center (Thousand-armed Kannon). The present shrine Hikosan Jingū Honsha (the jōgū, or "upper shrine") is located on the central peak and amalgamates the enshrined deities (saijin) of the other two peaks. Formerly there were nine other sacred sites: Mt. Hakusan, Daigyōji, Kitayamadono, Hannya Cave (Tamaya), Ōminami Cave, Buzen Cave, Chimuro Cave, Takanosu Cave, and the middle shrine (chūgū). Added to the Gongen of the Three Places, they were worshipped as the Gongen of the Twelve Places (Hikosan jūnisho gongen). Altogether there were 49 caves, sites of veneration and religious training, which were considered to correspond to the 49 halls of the Tushita heaven, the dwelling-place of Maitreya. Each was said to have contained statues of the Gongen of the Three Places or protector deities, but today the only ones which remain sites of veneration are the Hannya, Ōminami, Buzen and Chimuro caves. The caves can be thought to preserve an aspect of religious practice which was prominent in the medieval period, that of retreat (komori) inside caves, before the introduction of mountain asceticism in the form of moving from one sacred place to another (tosō). Seasonal mountain entry rituals (junbu in spring, hanaku no mine in summer and gyakubu in autumn) took form during the Muromachi period. Here, Mt Hiko was considered to be the realm of the Womb Mandala, while the role of Diamond Mandala was fulfilled by Mt Hōman in spring and Mt Fukuchi in autumn. Forty-eight places of ascetic training (gyōba) were established over a sixty kilometer route through the mountains, and the goal of training was represented as the unity of the two mandalas. Most of the sites fell into disuse after the discontinuation of mountain-entry rituals in 1870. According to founding legends, Ame no Oshihomimi, son of Amaterasu, descended to this mountain and was enshrined here, En no Ozunu, with his mother on his back, climbed Mt Hiko and then went to China by way of Mt Hōman, and Jugen, having trained at Ōmine, brought the divided spirit of Kumano Gongen here. Another legend says that Zenshō, a priest from the state of Northern Wei in China, brought a Buddhist statue to Hiko and taught a hunter called Fujiwara Kōyū about the precept of not taking life by means of a miraculous occurrence whereby he restored to life, as a white hawk, a white deer the hunter had pursued and shot. In 538 Zenshō built a hermitage called Reisen on the mountain, and Kōyū, having taken the Buddhist name Ninniku, became his successor. The third priest in the lineage, Hōren, went to Kyoto at the order of the Emperor Saga; at this time the characters to write Hiko were changed (see above) and the hermitage was given the temple name of Reisenji. It also received a land commendation ("seven ri in the four directions"), which it kept throughout the medieval period. Hiko later thrived as a center for yamabushi; at its height it had 3800 priests, and, with Ōmine and Haguro, it was counted as one of the three great Shugendō sites of Japan. In 1333, the imperial prince Yasuhito (said to have been a son of the Emperor Go-Fushimi) was invited to the temple as its head (zasu), and the shrine-temple complex on the mountain was organized under a hereditary married head, made up of priests (shūtō), kami priests (jinin) and shugen priests. Shugendō rituals and organization became fixed during the Muromachi period. Of particular importance were doctrinal developments, in which Hiko played a leading role. A comprehensive compilation of records was made by Akyūbō Sokuden (dates unknown), who had come to Hiko from Nikkō. In the Edo period, Hiko was not under the authority of either Honzanha or Tōzanha, but maintained its independence from them. However in 1696, as a result of a dispute with Shōgoin (head temple of Honzanha), Hiko was designated a "special headquarters Shugen temple of Tendai" (Tendai Shugen bekkaku honzan). Its economic base was an income of 1200 koku donated by the Hosokawa and Ogasawara clans, plus the distribution of talismans and medicines among supporters (danna) throughout Kyushu, as well as the promotion of pilgrimage (sankei) to Hiko. By the end of the Edo period, it had 250 shugen priests and around 420,000 households in its parishes. The organization of the yamabushi was threefold – gyōjakata, shūtōkata, and sōkata, with lower-ranking shugen priests below them. All were under the authority of the zasu. As a result of the separation of buddha and kami worship (shinbutsu bunri) and anti-Buddhist actions (haibutsu kishaku), virtually all buildings associated with Shugendō were lost, with the exception of the former Great Hall, which was converted into the shrine's Buheiden. Shugendō ritual was also abolished. The shrine-temple complex known as Hikosan Gongen became Hikosan Shrine, the Buzenbō became Takanushi Shrine, and Hannyakutsu became Tamaya Shrine. The zasu became the hereditary gūji. The shrine supported devotees of the confraternities (), drawn mainly from farming families. The clay bell, a famous souvenir of Mt Hiko, is still used as a magical implement for agricultural rituals among farmers.

— Suzuki Masataka
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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