Yamabushi: Japan’s ancient tradition of mountain ascetics

Dewa Sanzan, in Yamagata Prefecture, has been an important center for yamabushi since the beginnings of Shugendo in the eighth or ninth century, although it didn’t grow in popularity as a pilgrimage route for spiritual rebirth until the Edo Period (1603-1868). To this day, each yamabushi in good health is required to make the journey.

Read more (via The Japan Times)

Gran Canaria’s mini Camino de Santiago

I am sitting on the rim of a volcano crater, munching my midday sandwich while watching a friar and a frog. El Fraile and La Rana are sculptures fashioned by nature from solidifying magma 3,000 years ago. That might sound like an aeon, but in geological time is only about yesterday afternoon. I have reached my picnic spot by crunching over naked grey lava, feeling like an ant on an elephant’s back.

Read more (via The Sunday Times)

A visit to Konji-ji temple

Oliver Statler (1912-2003), a renowned scholar on the Shikoku pilgrimage and author of Japanese Pilgrimage (1983), said in a documentary that “visits to the temples do not constitute the pilgrimage, they merely punctuate it.” He was referring to the eighty-eight officially designated Buddhist temples along the Shikoku pilgrimage route, which at times are located very far apart. However, I would like to emphasize that there are many more sites such as Shinto shrines, bekkaku (別格:special) temples, bangai (番外: outside the number) sites, okunoin (奥ノ院:inner sanctuary), and odō (お堂: small building) that play an equal role in the pilgrimage and are worth visiting. Read more

Reported miracles at five temples in Tokushima

If you would like to experience part of the Shikoku pilgrimage route close to central Tokushima city, then I recommend going to Dainichi-ji (Temple 13), Jōraku-ji (Temple 14), Kokubun-ji (Temple 15), Kannon-ji (Temple 16) and Ido-ji (Temple 17). Visiting these temples is called gokasho mairi – a five-site pilgrimage that it said to have been created more than 300 years ago. The total distance is only about eight kilometres and since the route is on flat ground it can be easily completed in a few hours. Here are some details about each of these temples that all seem to offer relief from physical problems or cures from illnesses or ailments. Read more

Sorcery, a dragon and a long, dark, narrow cave – a trip to Jigen-ji temple

Do you like to go spelunking or contorting your body in all sorts of directions in order to pass through small rock crevices? Do you like tales of mystic rituals, sorcery and battles with dragons? If so, then I highly recommend going to Jigen-ji, which is number three of twenty bekkaku (other) temples along the eighty-eight temple Shikoku pilgrimage, and going through the cave there called Anazenjo (place of ascetic training). This temple, located on top of a mountain in Kamikatsu town about 35 kilometres from central Tokushima, can be best reached by car although it is possible to get somewhat close by bus. Read more

A Look at Temple 2, Gokuraku-ji

At about the midway point along the quiet route between Temple 1 to 2 is a reconstructed World War I German POW camp that was used as a set for the movie, Baruto no Gakuen (2007). The set, which was on a much larger lot located beside Oasa Hiko Shrine, north of Ryozen-ji, had to be dismantled and removed after the three-year land lease expired; yet local people wanted to somehow preserve it and make it open to the public. As a result, it was rebuilt with fewer buildings at this new and smaller location. Read more

A Look at Temple 1, Ryōzen-ji

Recent reports give a number of between 100,000 and 300,000 who annually participate in the Shikoku pilgrimage. Of these, it is estimated that about 5,000 are walkers and about 500 are foreigners.

With so many people now making the pilgrimage it is attracting a lot of coverage in the media and there is a huge amount of information on the internet, so I will try to refrain from repeating basic facts here. My aim is to provide a brief history of Temple 1, suggest some interesting things to look at when you visit and present what foreigners in the distant past have said and written about their visits to the temples. Read more

Stairway to heaven: hiking ancient pilgrimage trails in southern Japan

Normally I am not given to praying but the occasion demands it. After bowing twice and clapping twice, I make a silent entreaty that my trek will go well. My obeisance is taking place in front of a small wooden building, rather like a summerhouse. It is a shrine in the town of Takijiri-oji, a starting point for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails.

Read more (via The Guardian)

Trekking to discover sacred Japan

Whipped by the incessant rain, I am drenched and cold when I finally arrive at the hillside Negoro-ji Temple, exhausted.

The hike up the wet and slippery path has been hard as parts of the trail have been flooded by the heavy rain.

Near the entrance to the temple, an old man waves, beckoning me into a hall, which also serves as a kitchen.

Read more (via The Straits Times)