Yamabushi Training Program
Business operator : Megurun.Inc.
Project manager : Takehiro Okamoto
In Japan, mountains have been revered as places with spiritual and divine influence since ancient times. Yamabushi training refers to the practice of Shugendo, a form of ancient ascetic religion based on mountain worship established in the Middle Ages that blends elements of Shinto, Buddhism, Animism and mountain faith. Practitioners shroud themselves in a white gown as if they are deceased and enter the mountain area, which is seen as being in the womb. When the practices are complete, the person is said to be reborn.
In terms of Buddhist significance, the practices are believed to purify the six roots of human perception (sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and awareness). It is not permitted to speak during the training except to utter the word uketamo, which means “I accept with an open heart” and is an expression of the Yamabushi spirit.
1. Shiroshozoku (white gown): Dress for the deceased.
2. Hokan (headgear): Ear-like protrusions are a feature of the Yamabushi of Mount Haguro. The mother’s womb is expressed using the entire head.
3. Hora (conch): Used as a signal in the mountains and to contact others. It also has significance as providing protection from evil spirits.
4. Kongo-zue (staff): Said to lead people to enlightenment.
A Waterfall to Purify the Soul
Mt. Yudono has a waterfall that worships the god Seoritsuhime in Japanese mythology. Water and waterfalls have been objects of faith since ancient times. Immersing one's body in the cold water at the basin of the waterfall and getting hit by the cold water while offering prayers brings one into unity with the water and nature.
Sutra Chanting throughout Training
Continuous chanting while visiting a shrine or temple enshrined in the mountains forms part of the training. Practitioners repeat the heart sutra, three phrase worship and three mountain worship until the words become their own and it becomes a prayer from the soul. Voices echoing in the tranquility of the mountains are deemed sacred.
Training the Soul through Meditation
Practitioners work on mental concentration through zazen, a sort of seated Zen meditation that aims to rid the Soul of the negative thoughts that gush forth. This involves sitting cross-legged on the floor with both hands forming a circle and the eyes fixed on a point on the floor. The body does not move at all and is maintained in a state of rest. the Soul is alert but free of thought in this training as a discipline for the Soul.
Eating as Training
When being reborn, one has to experience the spirit world, a kind of hell for hunger and thirst following death. When eating, practitioners transform into a hungry spirit and eat food without restraint. This is also part of training.
Takeharu Kato was born in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. He used to work for a large advertising agency but retired in 2011. Aiming to realize a happy and sustainable community, he moved to Tsuruoka-shi in the same year. He is currently actively inheriting the Yamabushi culture as a guide of Daishobo Haguro Yamabushi.
The spirit of uketamo, or “I accept with open heart,” is the way of the Haguro Yamabushi. I was impressed with the attitude of leaving all preconceived notions aside and accepting everything, and that’s what led me down this path. The number of pilgrims in the mountains is decreasing as the world moves away from religion. However, there are still many people craving spirituality and people of various races and religions visit the area from overseas. I think this willingness also stems from the flexibility, openness and tolerance of Shinto.
Together with Master Hoshino, a leader in Haguro Yamabushi, I present individuals with the opportunity to return to their essence through cultural and spiritual places.
Yamabushi is a unique culture and is highly respected as an outlook on faith. While the region is special in this way, it still requires attention in terms of forest preservation and social rehabilitation following damage in a typhoon. I hope people also understand the critical state of affairs and agree to help maintain it.
Daishobo, located at the foot of Mount Haguro, has been a pilgrim lodge for over 400 years. It has continued to pass down the spirit of Mount Haguro, where belief in the coexistence of Shinto and Buddhism was strong until the Meiji Era.
Master Fumihiro Hoshino is the 13th generation of his family to follow this vocation at Daishobo. As a leader in Haguro Yamabushi, he provides training not only on the Three Mountains of Dewa but on other mountains used for such practice throughout Japan. He advocates the notion, “To live as you feel.”
Dewa Sanzan, Yamagata
Dewa Sanzan refers to the three sacred mountains of Mt. Haguro, Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono that straddle the Murayama and Shonai regions of Yamagata Prefecture. Mt. Haguro represents birth, Mt. Gassan represents death, and Mt. Yudono represents rebirth. A pilgrimage to all three mountains is seen as a passage of death and rebirth that has been an object of faith since ancient times in this sacred area.
Megurun was established in 2011. Its main business is to promote natural energy and other operations that lead to regional vitalization and creation, which includes activities promoting Tsuruoka-shi as a creative city of gastronomy. Megurun gained approval as one of a limited number of tourist operators in the region in 2016. It has commercialized the provision of the Yamabushi training experience.
120-2, Konkoji, Yabase, Tsuruoka-shi, Yamagata